Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: We Need a Field Guide to Birders!

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As the cold weather finally took hold this weekend and birders began to bundle up into unrecognizable bales of hoods, masks, gloves and boots I thought it was time to revitalize an idea had a few years back: A Field Guide to Birders!

As I looked across the marsh at DeKorte Park and saw a group of birders scanning over the Meadows the same as me, I wondered if there was anyone I knew. Were they other Bergen Audubon folks or maybe some old friends I haven’t seen in a while? That is when it came to me , just like it must have come to Edison when he invented the light bulb or when Ron Popeil invented the Chop-O-Matic: what birders really need is not another field guide to the birds. What we really need is a field guide to birders!

That’s right. We have enough new field guides to birds of the East and West, Warblers, Sparrows and Shorebirds . What we need to know is who is that birder is just ahead of us. After all, if that guy beats me to that Avocet in The Meadowlands I would like to know who it was before I see it posted online.

Now I realize having a Field Guide to Birders of North America would be a bit of a problem. Since there are about 46 million birders in the United States, the book might be almost as big as the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds and too difficult to carry afield. So I thought we could start out by doing a more local guide by State or even county.

Now before you think that I have been spiking the birdbath water this is a project that is doable, though of course it will take a person with the devotion of a John James Audubon and the farsightedness of a Roger Tory Peterson to see this come to fruition. The good news is that unlike Mr. Audubon, the author who takes up this challenge will not have to “harvest” his models and pin them up and pose them in order to paint them. After all, this is the digital age.

The birder-birder will just use the same cameras and blinds that regular birders do. They will just be photographing birders instead . Now I think in order for this new field guide to work the photos of the birders will have to be taken without them knowing they are being photographed. Posing will not work as we need real action shots in order to ID other birders from far off distances. I realize that this may meet with some initial resistance with some birders so we will have to have a code of ethics to go by, much like the ABA puts out.

Birder-Birders Code of ethics rules such as you can’t yell out things like “ look, there goes a Western Grebe,” just to get a good action shot . We would definitely need a rule against baiting, such as leaving out a hot cup of coffee and a donut just to lure in innocent birders to get that once in a lifetime photo.

In order to make our new field guide to Birders a reality it will take the cooperation of all birders from the area. This means that birders will not be able to change their “plumage” anytime they want , and by plumage I mean jackets and hats . Yes, birders will be able to wear different clothes in different seasons, much like the Goldfinch does, but they will have to keep with the basic colors that they are wearing in the field when they are photographed.

Of course our field guide will have full pictures of distinguishing field marks such as if “Alice” the birder wears a white shirt under her jacket it might look like the field marks of the White-throated Sparrow or if “Dave” the birder wears, say, black pants, the arrow in our new field guide would point to his legs much like the Semi-palmated Sandpiper. Behaviors could also be listed to help ID birders in the field, like if a certain birder tends to forget his field guide in the car, our new guide could show him racing back to his car. Or if a known birder seems to miss all the rare birds sightings the guide could show him or her sitting on a log with tears welling up in their eyes.

And of course we would need Range Maps. If “Al” the birder migrates to a condo in Boca Raton each winter than the range map will indicate Al’s –Winter Range- Florida

Before you say “Gee Don, you have much too much time on your hands,” you need to realize what full value of a new Field Guide to Birders. For example, if a birder is playing hooky from work during Spring Warbler migration and thinks it may be his boss ahead of him on the trail he can open up his field guide and decide if he should turn around and go home. Or if you open up your guide and see that the birder next to you is the guy that always lists the rare birds everyday on Jersey birds then you can inconspicuously shadow him all day while pretending you don’t really know who he is.

Just think if your Birder Field Guide helps you ID me while we are out in the field than you can tell me how much you love the idea of having a field guide to birders…. Hmm, I might have to rethink this a bit.


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