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Monday, July 28, 2008

Mad Birding Skills

I will probably always be just a so-so birder. Don't get me wrong. I love birding. I go birding every day. I can usually identify almost everything I see or hear. But I'm not sure I'm ever going to really put in the time it takes to develop mad birding skills! Some incredible birding feats that I'm not sure I'll ever be up for:

1) Flight call ID. My hat's off to those folks who can identify all the sparrows and warblers at night, just by hearing the little notes they make as they fly high overhead. I've got the flight call CD-ROM, but I'm not sure I'll ever really be very proficient at this mad birding skill!

2) Fall warblers in flight. I remember standing next to the pre-field guide published David Sibley at Higbee Dike at Cape May during the 1995 Partners in Flight conference. He was calling the ID of warblers as they zoomed quickly overhead. Since then I've gotten better binoculars (those Zeiss 7x42s that seem to have been made just for such a purpose), but I haven't been able to spend much time back there or anywhere else where you can really see that many warblers pouring by overhead. Maybe some fall I can spend some time down there working on this mad birding skill!

3) Hawks in flight. OK, I've even taught workshops on this. Back in the day, I was OK at this, but in the past few years I haven't put in the hawkwatching time to keep those skills fresh. Maybe this fall I can head up to Hawk Mountain or down to the hawkwatch at Fort Washington to brush up on these as well.

4) Immature Gulls. I've done a fair bit of gull watching at landfills and other gull haunts. Given a good look, and enough time, I can usually identify most birds. But I seem to lack the patience to really get excited about identifying every last gull down to their state of molt. I'm afraid once I get my ABA Slaty-backed Gull, my days of careful gull watching may be limited!

5) Big Day birding. Rushing around for 24 hours to see how many birds you can find sounds like fun on one level, but makes me just feel tired thinking about it. I'm more of a big year guy--long term strategy, spending unreasonable amounts of time in the field. That's more my speed. I guess I'm more of a marathoner, rather than a sprinter. That said, I love Christmas Bird Count birding to see how many birds you can find in a day, so I could probably be converted to this one if I had a birding area I cared enough about to really want to try and cover like this.

So while these mad birding skills may elude me for now, I did manage to get my Bird RDA today on the drive into work--including snippets of Northern Mockingbird and Chipping Sparrow songs and a Red-tailed Hawk alarm call caught at 45 miles per hour with the windows rolled down. That's gotta count for something!


Anonymous said...

Man, you're not kidding. Each of those areas you've listed could take a lifetime to master. I'm just wondering... if you're only considered a so-so birder, I shudder to think what that makes me!

Anonymous said...

Gulls are just gulls right now. Sparrows are tempting but only if I got a good picture of it. There are very few bird songs I can recognize. There is hope and yea, what Mike said. If you're only so-so, then I show great courage in calling myself a birder at all.

Anonymous said...

Hope you stop by Hawk Mountain this fall, I'll be counting there a few weekends. I have to say that the flight calls are definitely the hardest to master. The only person who I actually believe when he ID's a flight call has been recording hundreds of flight calls, spring and fall for several years. Its just to hard to get enough exposure to the flight calls through 'normal' birding.

birdchaser said...

We all have different birding horizons, and we all do OK in some areas, and know folks who are much more skilled in other areas. I have friends with mad birding skills I really admire--and covet?--which I have to humbly recognize!

dguzman said...

Those are some crazy mad skills. As egretsnest said, if you're only so-so, then I stink out loud!

Seriously, I guess it's all in how confident one feels out there, and how much experience one has. I do okay, but I'm sure I miss tons of bird call IDs. But I prefer to see the birds, not just hear them.

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