Thursday, May 18, 2017


Serious birdwatchers write for each other. They write about how many species they have seen in an area, and when they travel, birding seems to be a large factor of where they choose to go.  If they go to a state, for example, they are likely to tell you a great deal about a particular wildlife area, island or marsh and the number of less-common birds they saw there, improving their overall lists.

Reference books have a different problem.  They will identify with great thoroughness everything you might see, including birds only seen briefly in migration. That is what they should do, certainly, as that is what we pay them for.  But this is unwieldy. Birds of Europe has many pages and many birds listed, but birds are often there only a moment. My wife will look through her binoculars and say things out loud, to help her remember them for later when she is looking at the book.  "Chestnut shoulders...small yellow beak...smaller than a robin..." Also, the reference books will go to great pains to identify the small differences between different types of seagull.  For my wife, who grew up in Scituate and surrounded by seagulls, this is not interesting. They're just seagulls.  After the common gull and the herring gull - which don't look all that different to begin with - the only interesting possibility in Norway was hoping one of the black-backed gulls would show up.

Most people who are birdwatching are looking for something different than what the serious birders write about.  They want to know what birds they are likely to see in an area and to bone up on those before they go, so that when they see them, they can quickly incorporate all those other cues of behavior and habitat. They hope not to re-do that work and waste time at every stop.  Once my wife had identified an oystercatcher, she could easily spot them in other places.  They are not going just for the birds and are not likely to make serious detours to places that have nothing else but birds going for them.  They want to see the birds in the places they are already going and identify those.  They might take a side-trip with the promise of many shore birds or if a migration is going on.

Best of all, these tourists-who-like-birds would like to know what rare birds are actually more common in the place they are going.  Tracy saw a golden eagle, but she had seen those before.  More exciting was seeing the white-tailed eagle, which is rare everywhere except northern Norway. If you are reading up on birds of the region before you go, it is good to have the idea "this may be your best chance at seeing a white-tailed eagle" tucked in your head. But I didn't find articles like that when doing research for her in anticipation of our trip.  Everything was reference or "serious birder spends a weekend at a park outside Bergen."

If you know a good birder in your area, you might get them to put up a few paragraphs on what the casual birder might look for on a visit to your area.


Texan99 said...

I live in a birdwatching Mecca, though I'm not a big birdwatcher myself. You can't throw a rock around here without hitting a fanatical birdwatcher. There was some kind of bird in the state park a couple of years ago that was so exciting that people were flying in from around the country to catch sight of it; apparently it usually should be in Cuba, not here. Some guy flew from Hawaii, as I recall. They all talk to each other on the net.

The Coastal Bend of Texas is always a good flyway, but sometimes we get a weather pattern, I guess a front from the north, that results in a tremendous bird fall-out; everyone who was traveling from Central or South America gets this far, sometimes having flown across the Gulf of Mexico, and stops dead until the weather changes. In the fall, a bazillion hummingbirds stop here to fatten up before heading across the water to the Yucatan on their way to Central America.

We saw a BIG bobtail cat crossing the road the other day in broad daylight. I would guess 40 lbs. or more.

Donna B. said...

I am not that type of birdwatcher. I love sitting on my front porch, watching and listening to *my* birds even if don't always know what they are. Apparently my front yard is good food source.

james said...

Our eldest son is a birdwatcher. He keeps track of his "life list," but he will also tell us "Look, a crow!" with enthusiasm for all birds. He's right, of course--if a sparrow were the last sparrow on earth birdwatchers would come from around the world to look at it and appreciate every detail, details that are there no matter whether it is rare or common.