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My Life’s Birds: Intermission

February 10, 2010

I know, I know.  Guatemala posts start tomorrow.

February 10, 2010 – Chapel Hill, NC – Regular readers will no doubt know that I’ve been tallying the experiences surrounding my life birds for nearly two years now.  It has become one of my most long-lasting, if not necessarily the most popular, concepts of this here weblog.  The vast majority of my life birds occurred not only early in my birding career (though it occurs to me now that that is hardly a unique situation just on principle), but when I was a young birder myself.  My early teen years were a haze of binoculars and feathers and as I think back on it, I realize how lucky I was to be in a position where I not only had a hobby that got me excited about being outside, but parents who were incredibly supportive of my obsession.  I couldn’t have seen so many birds, 371 in the United States before I turned 16, without the accommodation of my parents, willful collaborators in many of my experiences and always enablers of my obsession.

But by the time I was 16 things had started to change, my interest in birds was waning and I essentially began what would become a nearly 10 year break from the hobby.  The reason for this is unclear.  Maybe I went too hard too fast and burned out once the lifers stopped coming fast and furious.  Maybe the regular trappings of life in high school got to be more appealing.  I don’t really know, but I think the lack of a social network of young birders to provide validation for what was and still is something of an unusual hobby for a young person had a great deal to do with it.  I still consider the members of the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society who took me in and taught me fieldcraft to be mentors in the truest and most valuable sense of the word, but there’s only so much hanging around friends their parent’s age that a teenager can do.  And the lack of a similarly aged birder in my social circle at the time probably had as much to do with my falling out as any lifer slowdown.  It’s probably this reason that I’m so adamant about young birders having a community in which to continue to ply their trade.  Without the camaraderie, there’s a very real possibility that they will turn away from birding.  And no one wants that, least of all someone like me who considers those lost years one of my greatest regrets.

Anyway, I drifted, becoming heavily involved in music as a high schooler until college destroyed my illusions of being a notably special musician (turns out every high school has a good musician at it).  As a college student I was aimless.  I studied biology out of a sense of duty to the interest that had sustained me as a younger person but it was almost as if there was a hole there, and without a passion I was left as a biologist without a direction or field and thus, without motivation, which in turns leads to poor performance. Something was missing.  One of the wonderful things about birding is that it provides the layperson a window into the scientific community and without that connection I lacked a way to make the complex study of ecology, chemistry and the like fit into my wider world.  Now I can’t get enough of the stuff, but then it seemed to foreign, and I was unable to make the connection from theory to practice that an interest in birds can make so abundantly clear on so many levels.  So college was something of a missed opportunity.

As a hobby I turned to racing bicycles on the road, eventually becoming one of those cyclists with the shaved legs and the serious looking sunglasses tooling down the road on my fancy lightweight road machine.  As it turns out, I simply wasn’t very good at athletic ventures even if I looked the part, and when I moved to North Carolina I found the roads too dangerous to even try to keep that up.  So I was left without a hobby and the stage was set, so to speak, for the triumphant return to birding as chronicled by my wife last week.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see birds incidentally.  While the knowledge of identifying birds gets dulled by time, the “birder’s eye” never really goes away.  You might be surprised what you see even when birding is not your primary activity, and several birds came to me over those lost years that I still remember and cherish.  They were waystones on a path, a dotted line connecting the birder I was as a young person and the birder I’d eventually become as the person writing these words.

So for the next few weeks, that’s where this meme is going to take me, and by extension, you the reader.  I hope you’re ok with that. I think it’ll be an interesting journey.

  1. February 10, 2010 7:30 am

    I personally think your “Life Bird #” posts are one of the most interesting features of your blog (that is, if Danielle isn’t taking over 😉 ), but I can see that an Outer Banks piping plover post will usually get you far more hits.
    I am looking forward to those non-birding life birds!

  2. February 10, 2010 3:26 pm

    Glad you are back among us, but also enjoyed reading what your wife had to say while you were away~

  3. Nate permalink*
    February 10, 2010 6:36 pm

    @Jochen- Thanks! I’m glad to know someone is reading them. I’ve tried to treat them alternately as memoirs of a life birding and thoughts on a species in the hopes that they’ll stay fresh. They’ve been fun to write inthe very least and I guess that’s the most important thing.

    @Mary- She’ll enjoy reading that! I may have to bring her back some time in the future. Her post was my most popular in a long time!

  4. February 11, 2010 4:29 pm

    I say readily that the “life’s birds” series is fantastic and intriguing. I adore reading how each was discovered–not so much because of the bird but because of the man finding the bird. The sense of discovery is fantastic and the learning is always welcome. I’m thrilled to see you’re diving into this time (I was really worried you’d skip over it to the next exciting lifer).

    By the way, don’t let Danielle get away that quickly. You really ought to give her a recurring role here. Not that you’re lacking in any way, but she has a whole new and marvelous view of things that really captivates. It’s like finally getting a glimpse at the other side of the coin.

  5. James Higham permalink
    February 17, 2010 9:19 pm

    Maybe you should join an organization that really wants you to access areas of beauty instead of shutting you out. Audubon doesn’t want you to access any federal lands unless you can put money into their coffers and follow their leader who will take you into their realm of political horsetrading and shutting out the public and taking their tax dollars to boot. You will also learn how to take donations of $20 million from a company like Toyota.

    Go to Cape Hatteras or Cape Cod in June and see how many birds you will be able to see. Oh wait, you will need a spotting scope the size of the huble with the closure distances currently enacted. Don’t forget to not eat the eggs, as they are filled with poison. Great job NPS, playing God and saying this species is more important than that one. Of course, crows and foxes are not cuddly and do not serve the PR purpose of shutting the public out of areas that does nothing to significantly enhance the resources.

    I would love to hear of some efforts about the Peregrine Falcon, or the Golden Eagle. Anyone know how many Golden Eagles are killed in wind turbines on the West Coast?

    Oh, they are not cuddly and fuzzy like the Polar Bear or Piping Plover.

    Anyone want to talk about USGS surveys and their role in shutting out the public?

    Anyone care to enlighten me as to why a CHILD MOLESTOR can live closer to a school than I can get to some of these birds?

  6. Nate permalink*
    February 18, 2010 10:34 am

    @James- Um, ok. This is somewhat off topic.

    I can access the beaches, and so can you, just not when the birds are nesting. So what is the problem here? Fisherman and others are still coming to CHNS regardless of the misinformation people like you insist on spreading regarding complete beach closures. So your master plan to drive business away from HI and blame it on birds is apparently unsuccessful.

    Seeing the birds while they are nesting is less of an issue than making sure that they have a safe place to nest to protect the population. Besides, if the birds nest successfully in closed areas, then I will be able to see them in other places. That’s kind of the point. No one particularly cares to see the birds in June when they can see them in October.

    Wind turbines are a problem, and I’m generally against industrial scale wind farms because of their effect on raptors and I voice my concern about them to Audubon whenever I can. Care to make any additional incorrect presumptions about my policy positions based on the incredibly small amount of information you have about me? Or does the fact that the mindless automatons you love to make Audubon members out to be have nuanced opinions about Audubon’s activism not register with you?

    USGS surveys are data-driven, not subject to opinion. What, exactly, would be gained by including public input? Data is data. The survey results are used to determine policy that does solicit public input so I’m not sure what you’re whining about here.

    As for your child molester crack, well, grow up.

  7. James Higham permalink
    February 18, 2010 2:30 pm

    I am not blaming the birds. I am blaming Autubon and the SELC and upper NPS/DOI. So it has been ok to access the beach for the last 60 years when the birds have been nesting, but all of a sudden it is not ok? Misinformation, I suggest you go to and look at the beach access reports for anytime from April 1 to Aug 1. As you say, data is data.

    In regards to data, are you familiar with the scientific method? There are no dates on the USGS surveys. Also, peer review is a cornerstone of science. Where is the peer review? Where is the unbaised science? When you have Audubon lawyers contributing to USGS surveys, I think that is what they call conflict of interest.

    A safe place to nest? Why has vegetation been allowed to grow unabated in areas that used to support vast colonies of nesting colonial waterbirds? Look at most interior areas, they have so much vegetation growing, which is where predators live and thrive. Have you looked at the data from Assateague Island which suggests that plovers and other birds whose nesting habitat is in the southern ranges are more successful using interior and soundside foraging areas have a much greater fledgling rate than those who forage solely on the ocean beach? My point is now the birds are forced out onto the beach where predation, weather, and disturbance is a problem.

    Its Audubon and the like whose master plan is to drive business away from Hatteras and Ocracoke. They want HI and OI to look just like Portsmouth Island. Why come to a place you cannot access even by foot?
    It is the same as taking your kids to disneyland and telling them they cannot ride the rides. Open the beaches and people will come. Do people really want to come to the beach Nov-Feb? Come on.

    As far as seeing the birds in Oct, I have not seen a Piping Plover, Black Skimmer, or American Oystercatcher at all in the past 7 years in Oct and have taken off the entire month to spend in Hatteras the last 5 years. Yes I have been looking. The only birds I have seen are least terns.

    Autubon members are part of an organization with leadership. I don’t hear anything about the membership trying to get rid of their current leadership. What about the land up in Corolla that has been used as a wildlife refuge, now they want to develop it into the largest per-density development on the OBX? Give me a break.

    USGS surveys are not data driven when you have lawyers with an agenda are contributing to them. I did’t say public input,I said opening them up to public scrutiny.

    Fledging rates are the numbers you should be paying attention to. Yes it is true that Black Skimmers nested within CHNSRA for the first time in years. But they had no birds fledge.

    AMOY-Fledged in 2009 13/ 2008 17/ 2007 12/ 2006 9

    Pipl-Fledged in 2009 6/ 2008 7/ 2007 4/ 2006 3/ 2005 6

    Lete-Fledged in 2009 174/ 2008 165/ 2007 85

    blsk-Fledged in 2009 0/ 2008 0/ 2007 0

    cote-fledged in 2009 0/ 2008 0/ 2007 1

    So with closed beaches, no major storms and predator removal still ongoing the birds (except least terns) are not fairing any better.

    Predators removed in 2009 464.
    25 Red Fox, 1 Gray Fox, 152 Racoons, 102 opossum, 105 opossum kits, 10 Nutria, 3 Coyote, 1 Mink and 64 feral cats.

    Predators removed from 9/07-7/08 270.

    That is not to mention predator control has been going on at least since 2002.

    No storms in 2007-2010.

    So its ok if a child molestor lives close to a school, but I cannot get as close to the birds because a judge says so. Come on.

    So do you advocate that child molestors should be able to live next to schools? Can’t wait for your response on this one.

  8. Nate permalink*
    February 18, 2010 3:01 pm

    @James- Give it a rest. You’d said your piece and I’ve allowed you to continue posting. My kindness has limits.

    As far as seeing the birds in Oct, I have not seen a Piping Plover, Black Skimmer, or American Oystercatcher at all in the past 7 years in Oct and have taken off the entire month to spend in Hatteras the last 5 years. Yes I have been looking. The only birds I have seen are least terns.

    Most Skimmers, Oystercatchers, and Plover migrate south to more protected beaches in the southern part of the state and parts south in the winter. As you know, the weather can be rough on the Outer Banks that time of year. You’re unlikely to see them.

    And you’ve never seen Least Terns in October, they’re typically all in the Caribbean by the end of September. So pardon me if I doubt your ability to identify any of these birds correctly.

    Autubon [sic] members are part of an organization with leadership. I don’t hear anything about the membership trying to get rid of their current leadership.

    The head of National Audubon recently resigned, a large part of it because the local chapters were frustrated with his involvement in Washington politics and top down bureaucracy rather than grassroots issues. So once again, you are wrong.

    Re: Fledging rates. This stuff takes time. You can’t expect populations that have been under siege for years to turn around in two summers. In fact, that they have shown any improvement at all is pretty incredible.

    Again, re: the bizarre child molester obsession. I can’t really say this more clearly.

    Grow. The. Hell. Up.

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