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The Birder I Am

November 24, 2005

I recently went on a birding trip with my neighbor Nick and a few other area zealots. We drove down to the southern half of the state, to Pueblo, Cañon City, and South Park, looking for Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, scoters, and swans. Lots of birding chatter in the car all day, and often in scenarios like that, I get a little introspective. I found myself a little envious of these other guys and their exploits, and their bird ID knowledge. And in my usual self-deprecating way, I began to compare myself to them, unfavorably. I wondered when my skills would ever be as well-honed as theirs, and to have the confidence to call in an ID on virtually any bird I saw, and not be afraid of being wrong.

But later it occurred to me that my evolution as a birder is such that I will probably never feel “comfortable” or “adequate” in this way. The confidence I refer to above is one borne of complacency, of thinking that I will get to a point where I know all that I’m interested in knowing. And that doesn’t describe my approach to birding or birds at all. Every year or 2-3 year period of my birding life has been markedly more intense than the period before it, which leaves me with the feeling of being far more interested and focused on birds than I was just a couple years before. For example, back in 1999, I bought a Kowa spotting scope (with a fluorite-coated objective) for the purpose of IDing wading birds in the marshes of San Francisco Bay and around Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. My life list reflected the purchase too, as I found my first Brant, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, and Pelagic Cormorant with its help. For me, this was a statement of how serious of a birder I was becoming, and that I wanted to be able to pick out those birds way out on the water. I didn’t think along those lines back in ’97 or ’98.

In 2002, I went to Costa Rica for the first time. I bought the Skutch and Stiles Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica and studied it in preparation. I read the bird descriptions, habits, and distribution info intensely when I was there, which helped me in many cases, like in nailing down the Green Shrike-Vireo, Red-faced Spinetail, and Yellow-bellied Elaenia. And even though I got frustrated at times with the challenges of birding in tropical forests, I realized I was taking a step forward in my birding life. I just felt so much more…serious, and intent than I did just a couple years before.

Now, in 2005, with all the free time I’ve had, my birding life grew again by leaps and bounds. My life list finally grew up, and I took the time and trouble to learn bird taxonomy and sort all my lifers appropriately. For the first time I actually did my birding with other people, which gave me a chance to see how confident I was in IDing around others. I went on frantic bird trips with Nick and others, and my life list grew substantially. Cole inspired me to start other lists, like a Colorado list and a year list. Trips to Peru and Costa Rica had me starting lists for those countries as well. And I’ve joined two different local mailing lists to share and get info on local rarities that pop up and now and again. I just feel so much more…serious, and intent than I did just a couple years before.

So the cycle continues, and I now think that in a couple years, I just may feel the same way then as I do now. In any case, even if I’m not quite as astute and sure of myself as those other guys I went with a few weeks back, I’m probably the kind of birder now that 5 years ago, I’d have been fairly impressed with. For a normally self-deprecating guy, that’s a welcome admission of self-esteem.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for this post- it makes similarly self-deprecating me feel a lot better about myself and my birding abilities- both as they are, and as they will be 5 years down the line. I hope I’ll have the honesty to see it as you laid it out in this post.



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