Herald Outdoors Columnist
I’m a birdwatcher. There, I said it.
Actually, I guess I’ve been a birdwatcher for decades, just not an “official” one. I’ve long enjoyed observing avian species from deer stands, duck blinds, and fishing boats. It’s a wonderful way to pass the “down” time and be a part of the overall outdoor experience.
Thing is, though. I’m not all that casual about birdwatching anymore. It’s gotten pretty serious. Time was, I saw a bird I couldn’t identify and simply wrote it off as “pretty,” “interesting,” or “fascinating,” thinking little more about it. Not so now. Now I’m much like all the “bird nerds” at whom I once snickered.
Over the past couple of years I’ve amassed a veritable library of field guides, field tested countless binoculars and spotting scopes, and am keeping a life list of species sightings (171 to date). It’s nothing for me to drive more miles than I can really afford in hopes of seeing a certain bird in a certain place. If I fail to spot my “target” it’s also nothing for me to gas up, crank up and do the whole trip over again a few days later. Geez, I fear I’m becoming that stereotypical little old man or lady all us good ol’ boys used to joke about. You know, the pith-helmeted shorts-and-knee-socks folks with the horn-rimmed spectacles, otherwise harmless individuals who’ll bowl you over like an NFL pulling guard to catch a glimpse of a rose-breasted grosbeak eating a ripe mulberry.
I can’t put my finger on the root cause of this newfound addiction, but I’ve considered a number of possibilities.
First, there’s the challenge. Think it’s difficult to outwit a trophy whitetail buck? Try getting close enough to positively identify a fall warbler species or the “eye ring” of a certain vireo that insists on staying just two or three feet farther than you can clearly see. Heck, a positive ID can make a birdwatcher want to get tipsy and walk around at a party with a lampshade on his head.
Then there’s the variety. A deer hunter with a .30-06 is pretty much limited to bagging a deer. A squirrel hunter with a .22 is largely bushytail exclusive. A birdwatcher armed with a good pair of binoculars might “bag” anything from swamp sparrows to turkey vultures to swallow-tailed kites, all on the same trip. True, one can’t tie a swamp sparrow to the hood of the truck and show it off in the processor’s parking lot, but it still ain’t a bad way to spend a day.
Birdwatchers also have ample opportunity to show off. The vocabulary is wonderfully impressive. Say “deer,” “rabbit,” or “‘possum” to the average Joe and he’ll raise not an eyebrow. Mention “anhinga,” “tyrannulet,” or “pyrrhuloxia” and he’s awestruck, totally confused, or thrown into a religious fervor by your divinely inspired tongue-speaking. A word of caution, though. Avoid the utterance of “titmouse” and “yellow-rumped warbler” around ten-year-old boys. They’ll giggle and embarrass their parents.
Birdwatchers who also hunt and fish have good excuses for failure not afforded non-birding sportsmen. Big buck walk by you and give you the slip? You were distracted by a particularly acrobatic nuthatch. Miss an easy shot at a decoying mallard? You took too long because you were studying his flight silhouette. Make a bad cast? Wholly excusable. A more accurate one might have conked the red-winged blackbird perched on the lily pad. The alibis are practically endless.
Birdwatchers don’t have to awaken at three a.m., don 46 layers of clothing and drive 20 miles to sit in a tree on a cold day. A birder can bird anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances. Back porches, back yards, or back forties make excellent birding sites. He can even bird from his automobile while traveling leisurely along the highway. Of course, he can also veer off the road in the process, but that’s what insurance is for.
Primarily, however, I think I bird for the camaraderie. Birders belong to a quite cordial fraternity. Never found one yet who wouldn’t gladly pass on information and advice, help me fill an empty space on my life list, or pull my clumsy, hopelessly mired self out of three feet of mudflat silt. Gotta love ‘em. I’ve loved ‘em even more since the day one told me pith helmets are no longer required birders’ headwear.
I look really silly in one of those things.
Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at firstname.lastname@example.org