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Friday, September 17, 2010

Let's Go Birding!

Last night at the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club meeting I was able to hang out with Ted Floyd and pick up a copy of his latest Let's Go Birding! booklet published by the American Birding Association.

While the 32 page booklet was written "with the modern beginner in mind," it is probably more useful for someone who is off to a decent birding start already. For instance, there are no tips about how to choose or use binoculars, or even much about the specifics of identifying birds. What Let's Go Birding! delivers is more of an extended essay on what makes a good birder. And we're not talking Kenn Kaufman's "Birding is something that we do for enjoyment, so if you enjoy it, you’re a good birder" kind of good birder. What we are talking about here is a serious, or maybe better yet, a more detail oriented birder.

What Floyd is urging beginners, and all of us really, is to take up a regimen of more rigorous bird study. Floyd wants us to slow down, spend more time looking at individual birds, and study their every move, feather, habit, and song. He wants us to really know our birds, and he offers plenty of thoughts about how to do that by keeping a notebook, learning bird songs, and regularly birding a local patch.

The booklet features photos by Bill Schmoker. They are mostly decent, but I did wonder why were are given a fuzzy Long-tailed Duck image on page 16. And the printing quality of the copy I got seems dark and muddled--for instance the cover shot looks nowhere near as clear as the image online here.

In the end, I enjoyed the booklet, and it did inspire me to take a look at my own birding. I too frequently fall into the "identify everything that moves" groove, where I dart from looking at one bird to the next, rather than spending much time looking at any individual bird. After reading Let's Go Birding!, I did follow Floyd's instructions to go outside and really look at a robin. Fortunately there was one on the power line along the alley behind my house. It was fun to just watch the robin, and I think I will start sketching birds again--something I've let slide for the past few years (except when I see a rarity). I fully expect my own birding skills will improve as I take Floyd's message and methods to heart.

So while you can be a good birder (ala Kaufman) without following the path of a good birder (ala Floyd), it is nice to read one very dedicated birder's take on how to be a better birder. I also enjoyed musing about Floyd's encouragement to "think of this little book as your personal guide for exploration and self-discovery." Birding as self-help. But in a nice way.
"Our basic human nature endows us with the skills, the wisdom, and most of all the mindset to become expert birders. All we need to do is turn off the television and power down the computer. All we need to do is step outside, smell the flowers, and look for robins."

And there you have it. Let's Go Birding! is a guided meditation on birds and how to be with them in a way that you will become more intimately acquainted with them, and hopefully, derive more enjoyment from the deeper acquaintance. The Way of Birding outlined here isn't the only way to bird. But it does represent one path to development as a birder. And maybe even enlightenment and freedom:
"We live in a land of plenty, but our lives can be empty and unsatisfied. We crave beauty, but sometimes we don't know where to look for it. Do yourself a favor. This weekend, head out into the woods or off to the shore. Take a young birder with you. Together, you will rediscover beauty, abundant and free."

What's not to like about that?

I think this would be a great little book to give someone with a casual or growing interest in birds. Backyard birders especially, who regularly watch birds, but are perhaps open to developing a closer connection to the birds in their yard and neighborhood. It might be a good tool to help some of the tens of millions of casual birdwatchers become a more serious or committed birder. I would think wild bird feed stores would be a good place to sell these booklets, and it might be nice to pick one up for your local public or school library.

As Paul Baicich told us Wednesday night in his talk to the Delmarva Ornithological Society meeting (it's been a full week of bird meetings for me!), bird conservation depends on growing the number of people connected to and supportive of birds. Let's Go Birding! is a fun little tool that will surely inspire some folks to take their enjoyment of birds to a deeper level. Again, what's not to like about that!?!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Rob. As a long time bird watcher, and relatively new "birder", I find myself needing guidance and useful information. @yankeebelle10 (Josee)

Birding is Fun! said...

Good reminder.

Bird Feeders said...

Thanks for the comments on the ABA's new booklet "Let's Go Birding!". It sounds like a good introduction for a new birder as it provides insight into an important mindset to have when birding. It also sounds like it would be a refreshing read for seasoned birders as well; like you say, it's easy to go out there and just try to identify everything with two wings and a beak and lose sight of the importance of really studying the morphology, behaviors, and ecology of each bird.

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