Your little book of special moments
Throughout your birding journey, I recommend getting in the habit of journaling. EBird provides you with your quantitative data to look back on, and journaling provides you with your qualitative data. Writing down your highlight/special birding moments is a wonderful pastime and brings forth the excitement of the moment, all the while creating an important historical snapshot. Much later in your life, while you’re resting in what the kids in your family call “Grandpa’s/Grandma’s chair,” wouldn’t it be nice to flip through the pages of your earlier birding adventures versus click URL after URL? Memory recall (which, at some point, we will all need any help we can get), will be more fluid while you’re reading through your journal versus clicking eBird links. Take time in your day to journal. Your 75 year-old self thanks you.
Finding beauty in the Everyday Face
As you continue to bird year after year after year, the chasm between seeing common and rare birds will be quite apparent. You’ll see the common ones over and over and over, and find rare ones once in a blue moon. Birders, in general, look past the common birds in search of something better; something “good.” Visit Point Pelee in May and you’ll get your confirmation on this fact within a few minutes! As birders, perhaps we have to *choose* to focus on the common birds; only then will their beauty really come to the fore. To describe things one step further; perhaps we have to train our brains (create new neural pathways) to renew our appreciation of the common birds. Repetition and force-of-will are what is needed.
To use but one example: the next time you see a male Northern Cardinal, stop dead in your tracks, and really look. Imagine it is your first look at one; imagine the joy you’d feel…
Fundamentals First; A Case for Simplifying ID’s
To use myself as an example, when I first began to turn heads in my birding journey, I was the kind of birder who identified *everything* and tried to classify *everything.* I became known within the Ottawa birding community as a details guy. I found “good” birds and turned interesting stuff up on the regular. I was a careful student of birding. However, I was prone overcomplicating the fundamental, and from time-to-time, fell victim to over-stepping. One morning, I located a female Barrow’s Goldeneye on the Ottawa River sometime in early-November and classified it as a first winter female on the basis of its bill colour. Bruce Di Labio happened to be birding nearby, and we crossed paths and chatted. He pointed out that the orange of a female Barrow’s bill comes in gradually in the early Fall. He wondered how the bill colour of the female Barrow’s would develop over the coming weeks. I pondered his point, and realized I had overstepped/over-complicated the ID. For Bruce, it was a Barrow’s; that is what was important. He simplified the process and illustrated the important detail. Bruce’s reduction effect to ID’s was an important crosswind to my birding sails. I’d be “struck” by it, take note and adjust my sails accordingly. In your birding journey, it’s important to sit quietly during a teaching moment, and it’s important to understand the fundamentals. Bird ID is quite complex and quite difficult, especially while in the field wrestling and toiling with subject after subject. Reduction…to the basics…”this is species X and this is why. Period” is an important skill-set to have, especially during a busy day. If you, like myself, love to study and classify birds, photos go a long way in helping to satisfy that desire. Pull up those photos after a great day in the field, and, while relaxing in the comfort of your home, study them. Make notes, ask questions, add comments; these are the fine details to your birding expedition, and, often, it’s a good idea not to hurry or rush them. Get to the fundamentals first; reduce things to the ‘what-they-are-and-why’ and then get to the fine details later.
Stop doubting yourself!
You…yes, YOU…I have a feeling that you’re doubting yourself in the field. Erms and umms, hums and haws over birds and field-scenarios for no good reason. Cultivate confidence. Believe in your counts; believe in your finds; trust in your identifications. Document to the best of your ability and never look back! Tomorrow is a good day for a Fresh Start.
The Body of Birding
The first moment you focused your binoculars or camera lens on a bird, you forever became a part of the Body of Birding. The Body of Birding comprises innumerable working parts, with each working part dependant on the next in order to operate smoothly. Not every birder is born a “foot,” and not every birder is born a “leg!” In time, your function will come to light. And, at no time, should a “foot” ever look upon a “leg” with envy! Each part plays an important role, remember. During your birding journey, I recommend “going inside” and searching for the meaning of, and purpose behind, your interest in birds. Some birders are destined to become wildlife photographers, others—to advance scientific research, others find their true calling in conservation, while others are destined to heal and enrich human hearts through nature exploration. So, why is it that are YOU are here? Just what exactly is your true function? Things to ponder as you stare out at snowscapes this week.
Mixed Martial Birder
You might have a good stand up game with Birds of Prey, but how is your ground game when it comes to Gulls? Is your fall warbler footwork up to snub? How about your high kick flyovers? As you’re in the clinch with your Catharus thrush opponent, are you taking note of Cree and Zeet and Chip and Chup as they pass by, overhead? If you wish to become a strong field birder, you must become well-rounded in all field scenarios, and well-prepared, at any given moment, for most! This week, take out a piece of paper and begin to list the bird groups you’re most familiar with. Then, list the groups you’re not as comfortable with. Also, list the field skills you currently possess; then, list the ones that need some work. Be honest with yourself. After you’ve created your list, begin to investigate the ways in which you can strengthen your weak spots. Once that’s complete, you now have your “To-Improve-On” list for 2021 and beyond.
Bird Your Own Birds
We have all been there before, walking in to a birding area as a birder is walking out. As you approach one another, you see that it’s a well-known birder, and they remark, “real quiet today; no shorebirds, even!” It’s easy to feel slightly discouraged with this scenario. Do you turn back? Give up? What if you bird the site and begin to turn up bird after bird after bird—even a rarity….what then!? What about this scenario: arriving onsite and following up on an uncommon, or even rare, bird sighting, only to find that you’re identifying the bird differently? In that moment of realization, how do you/should you respond? Are you going to doubt yourself? Will you begin to waffle? It is best to take good care of your own birding; it is best to BYOB; Bird Your Own Birds! Back your sightings up with notes and photos, and find that belief within yourself! You are a strong birder and a great note-taker; in other words, you’ve got this!
The Rarest bird might just be the one right in front of you!
The “best” birds aren’t necessarily the hardest to see/furthest away! Time and time again, I have found locally (Ross’s Goose), provincially (Tufted Duck) and even nationally (Northern Fulmar) noteworthy birds within 100 ft of my standing position. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there could be a widespread psychological tendency to work harder, and look farther out and away, for rarities. Check those birds right in front of you! I’m telling you, you’ll soon expand your horizons, big time, when you find a rare bird on a lawn, along the shoreline in front of you, or perched on a fence post right alongside the road.
No matter how advanced or “expert” a birder you think you’ve become, continue to be open to receiving feedback and continue to be open to making public misidentifications. Be brave and push your field performance limits forward by exploring and challenging them. Never beat yourself up over mis-ID’s; are you doing the same whenever you forget why you entered a room?