Perkasie, PA (March 2, 2036)--30 years ago this week, George W. Bush was president of the United States, a few crackpots were still questioning global climate change, and birding was very different than it is today. Before bird banders routinely used RFID chips on their bands, and public websites allowed birders to get real time coordinates for RFID banded birds, bird watchers had to actually depend on skill and luck to find the birds they wanted to see. Of course, there were more birds back then, but birding was still more challenging, and in many ways, more rewarding.
A review of bird-related blog posts from 30 years ago provides a window into birding and human-bird relationships at the dawning of the 21st Century:
For a look at the pure joy of an early 21st Century birding trip we can take a look at an account by John at A DC Birding Blog of his trip to the beach. While some birds were declining even then, a birding trip could still produce sightings of dozens of species, without the use of RFID technologies.
Another interesting account of birding in the early 21st Century is B and B's narrative of a cold Great Backyard Bird Count and an unexpected bird of prey. The GBBC was still less than a decade old, and fewer than 70,000 people participated each year...a far cry from the 15 million birdwatchers who participated in the recently completed 2036 GBBC.
For birders interested in the social aspects of enjoying birds, birding festivals and birding celebrities were becoming more popular in the early 2000s. Before Pete Dunne retired from heading up the Cape May Bird Observatory and became the first birder to list over 10,000 species on his world list, he was already a popular speaker at birding festivals. 30 years ago, Amy at WildBird on the Fly made a video of Pete Dunne pishing in Arkansas.
This was back when the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology was furiously trying to follow up on birder reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Big Woods of Arkansas. As Rob of The Birdchaser noted, by late winter of 2006, the case for Ivory-bills in Arkansas was beginning to come apart. Later commentators were tempted to see these Ivory-bill searches as a fin de siècle phenomenon, a grasping for good news at the dawning of a new Millenium ushered in with terrorist attacks and consequent U.S. military responses. For a few brief years, we all hoped for a re-appearance of the Lord God Bird.
Home Bird Notes gave evidence of how some how people in the early 21st Century were seeking positive interactions with birds and nature in what she described as "a little good news".
Other signs of birds as important in American culture at the turn of the 21st Century, include Dave Bonta's vision of Black-capped Chickadees as genius loci at Via Negativa.
In 2006, penguins were popular icons in American culture, following their visibility in the animated children's feature Madagascar and the breakout documentary March of the Penguins. Tai Haku at Earth, Wind, and Water commented about Penguins and People as revealed in tourism to a colony in South Africa.
However, birds were already slipping from the popular consciousness in other areas, as demonstrated by this story about The Euphemisms of Life from Angie at Premenopaws.
30 years ago, nature enthusiasts were increasingly turning to urban birds to get their nature fix close to where they lived. Red-tailed Hawks nesting in Manhattan provided this fix for thousands of Big Apple residents, and in early 2006 Trout Grrl at Science & Sarcasm wrote a review of a popular book about Pale Male.
Biotechnology was in its infancy in the early 21st Century, and researchers were still learning some of the basics of avian physiology. The prolific blogger Bora at Circadiana wrote about Persistence in Perfusion, the struggles to better understand vision and circadian cycles in quail. For a less technical view of quail, see his post at Science & Politics.
Birders in 2006 were still behind their hunting and fishing neighbors in effective support of wildlife conservation, though writers such as Birdchick encouraged birders to join with hunters in supporting bird conservation through the purchase of Duck Stamps.
Charlie Moores wrote on Charlie's Bird Blog about Blue-winged Pitta he observed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Looking back at Charlie's stunning photos now, we should count ourselves lucky that this beautiful bird survived the rampaging of Southeast Asian forests that fueled China's wooden furniture export markets in the early days of the 21st Century. Many other species weren't as lucky.
Dave at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, Alaska wrote about preparations to protect the ravens in the Tower of London. This was written as the H5N1 bird flu was exploding across Western Europe, and before governments had learned to take effective measures to prevent the spread of the disease in shipments of poultry and poultry products. While the H5N1 bird flu never became a human pandemic (that didn't happen for another few years with another flu strain out of China), it was a wake-up call for the poultry industry and governments around the world.
In 2006, the American Bald Eagle was well on its way to full recovery from its pesticide-induced decline in the mid-20th Century. With over 10,000 pairs of eagles nesting along rivers all across the United States and Canada now, its hard to remember that this magestic bird was once down to 450 nesting pairs in the 1960s. In February 2006, photographerMike Blair got a great shot of an eagle flexing its muscles to intimidate a crow.
The nests of other common North American birds was celebrated in the Roundrock Journal. Fortunately, many of the same birds that commonly nested in and around human habitations in the early 21st Century, persist in their neighborly habits today, wherever people make space for them in their yards and urban planning.
In the early days of the 21st Century, it was still fairly easy to see many of the colorful birds of the American tropics, such as the Black-faced Dacnis celebrated by GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life. However, as economic development and population pressure in South America (currently at over 700 million, up from 540 million in 2000) fueled increased forest clearing, many of these birds have become harder to find. Others are easier to find now, but restricted to small remnant populations in isolated forest reserves.
In Australia, bird conservation has been difficult due to continuing struggles with invasive exotic species, though few birds have actually disappeared entirely since Duncan at Ben Cruachan Blog wrote about his garden birds back in February 2006.
Meanwhile, in North America, we get some interesting views of bird populations at the turn of the 21st Century. Gwyn at Bird Brained Stories! captured some beautiful images of some common North American birds--including a rare shot of a Brown Creeper on the ground in the snow. 2006 was a banner year for Brown Creepers, with twice-the-normal numbers of birds reported that year on the Great Backyard Bird Count. As with many annual fluctuations in bird numbers, this historic creeper influx was never explained. Meanwhile, creepers have maintained their turn of the century hemispheric population trends by increasing in areas that became reforested, and declining in areas cleared for urbanization.
Other species have also not fared as well, including the Painted Bunting, like this one photographed by Kevin at NaturalVisions. These birds need expansive shrubby areas for nesting, and declined as urban areas expanded across their range in the American South. Fortunately, some neighborhoods and communities banded together to form neighborhood wildlife co-ops, and jointly landscaped adjoining yards and parks with native shrubs to attract and conserve these beautiful birds in their communities--so while Painted Bunting numbers have declined, they still persist thanks to the work of these grassroots bird conservationists.
One bird that has increased in numbers over the past 30 years is the Pied-billed Grebe. When Mike of 10,000 Birds reported a Pied-billed Surprise in 2006, the species was declining throughout much of the Northeastern United States, but with the creation of artificial wetlands and improved water quality, the grebes have become much more common.
Since Tucson has grown from a population of 485,790 to over 630,000 in 2036, its interesting to get a glimpse of the birdlife there in early 2006, when Rick at Aimophila Adventures wrote about Verdin songs as a sign of spring in Tucson. Thanks to an emphasis on native landscaping, and the establishment of habitat protection measures in Pima County, Verdins are still commonly heard there as harbingers of spring.
With all the changes in birding and birdlife that have occurred in the past 30 years, these views from the past provide both cautionary tales and hope for the future. Humans have managed to help some birds, while others have become less common or disappeared due to our neglect. Birding is still enjoyable, though technology has changed how many birders interact with birds.
One of the things that has changed the most is how bird enthusiasts communicate with each other. In 2006, birders had to manually type messages to each other and send them via wired computer systems that were usually larger than books, and sometimes not even portable. But even then, just as now, bloggers posted their comments and views of birds and birding.