Friday, April 13, 2007

Birder in White

Bad Birder wearing White!

There he is...the bad birder, clad in white, digiscoping a Lapland Longspur while a group of Sanderlings saunter past. Yesterday after work I went to Borders Bookstore to find a new book to read and saw “Good Birders Don't Wear White - 50 Tips From North America's Top Birders” on the shelf. I picked it up, thumbed through it and recognized many names among the contributing authors. Much of it is probably satirical because it's so easy for birders to poke a little fun at themselves. Just as Laura Erickson inquired on a recent post on her blog...ya do gotta wonder how it's decided who America's top birders are. Well, actually you don't have to wonder for too long - they're mostly celebrity birders.

Lapland Longspur I was photographing.

The best birder I know is an unassuming, almost savant-like character who has been birding for over 40 years. I like to think I have a pretty good ear for birdsong, but he's always about 10 or 20 yards ahead of me in what he can hear, and about half a second quicker on making an identification. He may not be the most sociable guy and sometimes barely mumbles out what he's seeing or hearing, but I've learned a great deal about what to listen for by birding with him during spring and fall migration. Though he well knew the Tennessee Warbler he found last April 20th was a record early, he's not the sort of person who cares much about reporting such sightings to a records committee. He keeps notes on all his sightings, but I have no idea what he does with them. He'll never read this blog post and you'll never read a book by Charles Naeseth, but he sure is an interesting person and great birder.

Though probably included somewhere in the book, the greatest tip I can give to any novice birder is to regularly bird with more experienced birders. Another tip is to get out in the field as often as you can, during all times of the year. And finally, don't just tick the bird, but watch it for several minutes - observe what they do. During my field trips or just casual birding with my regulars, I can't tell you how many times I've urged patience with a skulker - give the bird just a few moments to relax and you'll be rewarded with the look of a lifetime.

As my good birding friends Sylvia and Dottie will attest to, though I may be counting the hits and ignoring misses, predicting exactly what a bird will do is something I have a natural knack for. One time we were listening to the chatter of a Winter Wren and I pointed out its location. Though it was mostly obstructed by some brush, I announced, "The wren is going to make its way through the brush, scamper across the rotted logs right there, pause and then perch on that large rock just near the water's edge. It'll briefly pause again, and then make a quick dash back into cover. Watch for it!" Sylvia and Dottie fixed their binoculars on the rock and waited. Perhaps this ability comes from spending thousands of hours waiting for birds to perch just right in order to photograph them, but the jittery little wren did not disappoint.

Winter Wren

Back at Borders, I set the book back on the shelf. I'm sure probably pick up a copy sometime down the road. But now is the time for the best birding - it's mid April and the big push is upon North American birds. They're coming and I'm grateful this spring to again be birding with the best birders in the friends.

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

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