Just as I started to type the first sentence of this blog a pair of Wood Ducks flew past. As usual in the mornings, I am sitting outside by the lake and watching the birds and listening to all their songs. Bird calls are echoing from almost every direction excepting only directly in front of me which is towards the body of the lake. Right now a male Red-bellied Woodpecker is calling his rattling call. That is probably a alert call, letting others know that I am outside. I, of course, being an intruder.
All of this is part of the joy of both being outside and living on the water.
My first thoughts this morning were about a reoccurring topic that I have had for quite some time. It is all related to being a birder, trying to define what a birder really is, and trying to see where I fit in that.
As a scientist, and I still use that designation for myself, I do have trouble sometimes getting away from precise measurements and definitions. But then, being an artist, with which I also self-identify, there is a more free-spirited side that rails against such close confinement in definitions. Those two juxtapositions and thought do create a mild quandary now and then. However, don’t get the impression that I struggle mightily with such conundrums for that is definitely not the case. There is something more to this thought and question about defining the term birder and seeing my self in that definition.
When I think of a birder, I think of someone who is really interested in watching, seeing, and enjoying birds. Now that is a fairly broad definition. If I could just leave that definition alone I wouldn’t have the thoughts about my role. Here is where the dilemma emerges. There are, of course, different types of birders, just like there are different types of almost everything. Don’t worry. I am not about to dip into philosophy and begin to discuss Plato’s typos philosophical definition of an exact and representative example of a particular definition. That is just too heavy of a thought for a morning spent overlooking the lake and taking in the sounds of all the different species of birds calling on this spring morning.
The more that I have become involved with some of the more serious birders, the more I am having trouble defining myself as a birder. Again, we are back to the scientific precise definitions — perhaps I should say operational definition — of a birder.
Let me back up for just a second. The artist and the scientist within me are having a problem writing this next sentence. I have to chuckle here. The sentence was going to start off with “When I define myself . . .” And the more free-spirited side of myself rebelled against defining myself at all. Oops. Here I go again getting philosophical. Let’s get back to the real world.
In defining the ways that I present myself to others or to the public (that satisfies both sides of my inner identity), I normally state personally that I am a naturalist. That is usually followed to include I am a photographer and a writer. Somewhere later in the self-identity I may come across the inner definition of being a birder. Each time I referred to myself as a birder, I almost want to stop and define birder. For the confusion in my own mind of what a birder is and how I don’t identify with all of that definition bothers me somewhat.
We are back to my definition of a birder, in particular, how I defined it until spending more time around “serious” birders. I apologize for this conversation getting so convoluted. But that does reflect on my struggle with the term.
In my way of thinking there are basically two types of birders.
The first type of birder is the one that fits my original internal definition as well as fitting what I see as my role as a birder. That is someone who perhaps fits the not as frequently used term these days of birdwatcher. That is someone who enjoys birds, wants to spend time in nature observing birds, is probably thrilled by seeing new species, and loves the opportunity to get outdoors and spend time enjoying and watching birds.
The second type of birder, the serous birder, enjoys getting out and seeing birds, is thrilled by seeing new species, but seem more intent on the numerical value of their venture into nature’s realm. In other words, they seem much more intent on counting the number of species and adding to their lists: their trip lists, and life list. How much they actually enjoy merely being out of doors remains somewhat of a mystery. In many cases, when in their presence, I feel more like being with a group of accountants then being with people who love and enjoy being out-of-doors. Yes, I know that is a bit harsh. And of course it is, perhaps, a bit extreme. For no one, not even our birding accountants, can be so narrowly defined. But wasn’t the confusion how all of this discussion originally began?
I realize there is an overlap between the two definitions. But I keep seeing the more extreme side, the more time that I spend around the really knowledgeable and experienced birders. Perhaps, that is based upon a limited sample size but I’m not really sure that true.
For it seems I see so many “serious” birders who focus more on counts then appreciation. In some cases, to me, it’s almost an obsession with numbers. You may hear them say, “I just got back from a trip to Big Bend National Park and saw 73 species”. Since that is the first thing that they say about their trip, it would indicate the number of species was the important factor — the measurement of their satisfaction with the trip. Rather than, how beautiful Big Bend National Park was or how all interesting the wildlife was. The emphasis was not on the beauty of the new species or how they enjoyed any part of seeing them other than as a number in their total species count. I know, I am treating this with a bit of an over emphasis on the numbers, but I really don’t think by very much.
That is not to say that I don’t pay attention to the number of species I see. I am proud of the fact that right here where I am sitting I have seen 143 species of birds since I moved here about 6 years ago. That is interesting as a fact about the amazing diversity of birds that can be seen in this small area. But when I think about my experience as a birder, sitting right here as I am now, it is not about the numbers. It is more about hearing all of the varieties of songs, observing the behavior of the different species, enjoying seeing them (just like I am now watching the female scissor tailed flycatcher sitting about 40 feet away from me). If you asked me about my experiences here as a birder, I would probably tell you how much I have enjoyed seeing the majesty of the Bald Eagles flying past. I might tell you how much fun it was to watch the antics of the Brown-headed Nuthatches this morning as they played along the branches of the trees, sometimes hanging upside down, and just being little clowns. I might tell you about the acrobatics of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher’s as they dart about catching small insects that made the mistake of flying nearby. Do I know that I’ve seen 143 species here? Of course. Is that an important factor in my enjoyment of birding? Absolutely not. It is merely a measurement of the diversity of the species and an encouragement that I use to invite others to this area to enjoy what I consider to be the finer points of being a birder.
The birder accountants temporarily put a bit of a damper on my self-identification as a serious birder for it is antithetical to my own self identity as a birder and a naturalist. My own self-definition and role as a birder overlap strongly with my self-identity as a naturalist — as someone who loves and enjoys nature — not as an accountant who is trying to put a numerical value to enjoying birds or nature. Of course, these thoughts do not apply to all birders. It does seem the more serious ones do at least lean in the direction of wanting to be a CBA – a Certified Bird Accountant.
Understand, this post is mostly tongue-in-cheek. Most of my closest birder friends fit in the above category, and, I must admit, I fall under its spell at times as well. It doesn’t hurt to laugh at ourselves now and then.