Daily Archives: September 2, 2020

Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Meaning of Birding

 After reading the title I am sure you are envisioning a birder climbing a secluded mountain into the clouds, searching for the wise, old, all-knowing, all-seeing sage (who looks strangely like David Sibley) that dwells high up on the peak only stopping on their gallant quest to check EBIRD and argue with a friend online about the best spotting scope as they search for their lifelong pursuit to find the true meaning of birding. Well, that just may be me.

Of course if that birder ever managed to finally meet the wise old sage his answer to that question would be as different, diverse and unique as the birds of the Meadowlands. While this question is most often asked by curious non-birders I think in the so called “new normal” of birding in a pandemic world birders themselves have become more retrospective and discovering that birding for them may have a deeper, more personal meaning than ever before.

So in our wonderfully diverse, multicultural world of birders I thought I would ask the eternal question, what does birding mean to you?

Friend Eric Mitchell told me “Since I got into birding it has given me a chance to connect to the nature around us in a urban environment.

“More importantly for me though, it has been a chance for me to teach and share something special with my two kids (ages 4 and 2) and show them beautiful spots in NJ to see nature around them! Especially during covid when we could go anywhere…it gave us an alternative to playing around the yard…and now both my kids can identify some birds by sight and even by call and they get so excited when they see one.”

Thank you Eric. Families are now creating birding legacies, passing on the great tradition of loving birds and nature.

My conversation with Karen Clemments brought more insight into how much birding means to us all.  “You asked what birding means to me personally. Well, here goes: It connects me to my parents (both now deceased) and our son, who are amateur naturalists and enjoy seeing and finding birds in the wild. Feeding birds in the backyard, especially now that we are self-isolated with Covid, has created a true paradise right here at home. Inviting birds to our home feels like we’re doing a tiny bit towards supporting our environment and the NJ native critters.”    

 I also had a great conversation with Lindsay McNamara, Bergen County Audubon Society’s amazing Field Trip Leader. “ As my mom recently put it, birding is my salvation. I’ve always loved to go outside and spend time in nature but this year it has been especially important to me.

“Healing after a difficult end to an abusive relationship, I ran into the woods with arms wide open. Quarantine showed me just how beautiful and important my local patch is. During spring migration, I went birding there every day and was amazed by all of the Neotropical migrants using this small green space on their epic journeys.

“It completely rocked my perception of nature. I realized I was way too elitist before and am working to continue to shift my own perceptions as well as others. As lockdowns continued, I soaked up all I could about the birds I love. Since we are able to safely walk in groups now, I love, love, love leading bird walks.

The opportunities that have come out of all of this have been life changing for me. I love to bird in groups and lead folks, but I also love to bird with a small group of friends or my family and bird alone. They are all important and healing in their own ways. It’s hard to put it all into words. Birding is much cheaper than therapy. As Scott Weidensaul once put it, “each bird has been a revelation,” Thank you Lindsay!

 Birding is the eternal constant. No matter what is happening in the world, in our lives the birds are there waiting to embrace us, to connect with us, shouting quietly to some and loudly to others if you allow yourself the honor of taking a moment to look and listen.

 For myself birding connects me to the people I have loved the most, from my first birding partner, my little brother Todd that has long since passed, to the wonderful people that allowed me to tag along with them and learn from their years of birding knowledge.

It is the link to my childhood growing up in the Meadowlands and the special times I spend with friends today, though illness and times of doubt, from sadness to joy, birding has been there for me waiting patiently for when I needed it the most. It has never about how many birds I see, or how many I add to a list. Rather now it is about the people that I have the honor and joy of introducing to a part of life that has helped me though these last 65 years of life.

Birding ultimately is about faith in the future that the birds we have come to love will be there for our children and grandchildren, faith that the places we love that have renewed our souls and strenghened our hearts will be there for future generations as it was for us … The birds are now helping us through one of the worst times in our history, the least we can do is to help them through it also ….see you in the Meadowlands.