So call me a worrywart. Some days I worry that I may have forgotten to turn off the coffee pot before leaving the house and on occasion I am deeply concerned that I have never actually seen a toad sit on a toad stool. But lately I have been feeling a deep uneasiness that many birders are not enjoying birds like they could be and might even be missing out on the real passion of birding.
One of the many wonderful things about birding is that there is no right way to enjoy it. You can travel the world or never leave your backyard. You can have a life list that spans all seven continents or not keep a list at all. The most important thing is that no matter what kind of birder you call yourself is that you enjoy the birds and become part of our natural world.
But I am worried that folks that are just getting into birding believe that to become a so called REAL true birder one needs to only be concerned with finding those rare birds that show up and cause an online ruckus in the birding world. Now, I am trying my best to avoid sentences that begin like, “Why back in my day!” or “We would bird in 3 feet of snow while we walked 10 miles to school.”
So before I sit back to read my AARP magazine let me just say that modern technology has revolutionized birding . It has helped beginners learn about the birds faster and helped introduce them to the natural world in ways not possible before, but along with all the technological advancements there are always cause for concerns .
Online resources for birders are incredible. An e-mail blast or a text message gives birders an opportunity to see birds they may never have seen before or may never have a chance to see again . Participating in a Big Year creates lifelong friendships, promotes sportsmanship, and is a prime example of friendly competition with a purpose, to promote the wonderful bird life we all love so much and work so hard to protect. But at times I feel birders are caught up in a belief that they need to be the first ones that get to report that rare bird or need to add more species to their list before the next guy.
I worry they might be getting lost in between the almost minute by minute postings of rare bird alerts that they feel pressure to have their names attached to. I am concerned they could be missing out on the real reason why lifelong birders are lifelong birders and why they have come to love the birds as much as they do. They could be missing the fact that there is beauty in all birds no matter how common or rare they may be .
Of course we all want that life bird, the rare bird that we never forget, that is part of the fascination and why birding becomes a lifelong passion for millions of people , to see that bird you have never seen before can be a magical time in a birders life. But that is just one part of it. There are memories to be made from every bird no matter how common. I always tell new birders that if you don’t learn something new on every trek out into the field than they are not paying attention.
To only look for the rare bird is to set yourself up for disappointment and that is not what birding is about at all. I fear new birders are missing something as they are chasing down that rare bird. I sincerely hope that they are not looking past the beauty of a Red-winged Blackbird , ignoring the song of a Carolina Wren or closing their ears to the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk as their binoculars scan the skies for the bird that may never have been there at all.
I hope they don’t forget to take a few minutes break from the endless search of a rarity to observe a pair of Cardinals as they pass a sunflower back and forth to renew their bonds of Spring or a White-breasted Nuthatch caching away a special little morsel of food for another cold winter’s day. Yes, of course search for that wonderful bird you have never seen before, but not to worry if you’re the first, second or last, or for that matter or if you ever find it at all.
It is the joy of the journey to see that bird that you should be careful not to miss out on. The magic will still be there whether you see that special bird along with 50 other birders or you’re the only one that knows a bird was ever there. That magic is in every living thing. For birders it manifests itself in every Sparrow and every Eagle equally, and to look past it or to forget it is to never know why you went outside in the first place.
Every outing to see birds is filled with new experiences and new lessons no matter how rare the bird is. To forget that is to miss out on the real joys of birding and to run the risk of never truly knowing and experiencing the passion of nature that will carry you through the many years of birding ahead.
A friend once told me that there will come a day for all of us when our legs get too old to carry us through the fields and hills of our favorite birding places. But when that day comes we will be fine because we will all have the memories of all the birds we have seen, the friends we have made and the deep love of nature that has helped us through those many years of life. My wish is that all my friends will always remember how special all our birds are. So please, don’t make this old guy worry.