When I first started birding, I wondered if I would become a good birder and I can happily say that after 6 years of trials and tribulations, I did in fact become a good birder. But, now I wonder…can I achieve “crack” status?
What makes a good birder? Good birders are reliable, honest and accurate in the field. They consistently identify birds correctly, and if/when incorrect, they accept their mistakes, learn from them, and move on. In the field, they take good notes, they are adaptable and are in a state of continual learning. They often perform best when adopting a student mindset, vs. that of a (false) sense of expertise in their field; for me, the latter of which mentality did begin to rear its head after about 4 years of birding but I quickly brought it to its knees with well-timed doses of humility. Here in Ontario, there are countless examples of good birders. It’s at the next level that they are few and far between…
What makes a crack birder? A God-given, quite rare level of talent that is realized and brought to its full, functioning form through years of hard work. Crack birders often exude a very relaxed disposition, and possess a subtle, all-knowing air about them when you first meet them. In the field they are very precise, have years if not decades of top pedigree to their names, and are living encyclopedias of bird knowledge. They are naturally very intelligent, perhaps gifted, and some possess rare skills, such as an eidetic memory. Identifications seem to come very easily to them, even the difficult ones. After 6 years of birding, I can say I’m somewhere in between the two (good and crack)…but I do achieve (and it’s my belief that this is widely regarded as true) “crack” status in some ways, for example: the identification of birds from photos or the field identification of Accipiters. Four specific examples of crack birders that come to mind are Kevin McLaughlin of Hamilton, Glenn Coady of Whitby, Don Sutherland of Peterborough, and Bruce Di Labio of Ottawa.
A special operative is by far the rarest of the talented field types. They are true luminaries. These are the men and women that the committees (filled with experts) call on for the final word when in a bind. Many are the authors of field guides and as a rule, are widely-considered by their peers as authorities on birds. They are completely unique entities in their level of skill set and “wow” onlookers with their talents. The following Special Operatives come to mind: Claudia Wilds, Ted Parker, Jerry Liguori, and Steve N. G. Howell.
Photo: The rarest of the field-types, the Special Operative, as seen through the mind and vivid, childlike imagination of Jon Ruddy.