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My Life’s Birds: #381

April 14, 2010

October 15, 2005 – Butner Gamelands, NC – Birding by yourself is all well and good, but eventually you’re going to want to get involved in a community.  It’s great to make yourself available for conservation projects and bird-related outreach but from a purely selfish point of view, these are the people who know where the birds are.  And if you’re new to an area and want to expand your horizons beyond the limits of internet searches it’s in your best interests to meet some people.  Fortunately, the triangle has no shortage of excellent birders and birding specific groups, and I soon fell in with the Chapel Hill Bird Club, who ran trips every Saturday morning to local hotspots.

It strikes me now, looking back on this day from a few years on, how odd it probably looks to an outsider that we as birders are so casual, even eager, to hop into a complete stranger’s car and ride off to the middle of nowhere for nearly an entire day.  Is there any other group that engenders such a response without a single cautionary tale to speak of?  We birders generally trust each other with our very lives with a naivete that’s fairly refreshing in this day and age.  Maybe it’s a throwback to the sort-of-misguided-but-not-quite stereotype of the birder as a kindly old lady, but birders of all stripes are quick to offer help and fellowship to our fellow man so long as that man is wearing a pair of binoculars or hauling a scope.  There’s an instant repoire, an implied shared history among unfamiliars, that transcends nationality, age or life list total.  It’s one of the things I love the most about this community, that there are virtually zero axe murderers or kidnappers among our numbers.  Hey, I’m just old-fashioned that way.

On this day, the Chapel Hill Bird Club was heading up north of Durham to the Butner Gamelands, avast expanse of state land managed for deer and turkey and a popular spot for turning up some interesting sparrows in the fall.  As I was still getting my feet under me with regard to North Carolina birding I nonchalantly called out a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow, not realizing that it was a pretty good bird for the area and it would be a couple years before I found another one in the triangle.  The Vesper Sparrow we found next was completely out of my league then, but I enjoyed the lingering looks we had of it anyway.  The best bird of the day, however, was the Merlin on the back of the trail that perched for several minutes before strafing a flock of blackbirds and circling off into the distance showing us that trademark checkerboard underwing.  Now, that’s a great bird!

I’d get out in the field with the Chapel Hill Bird Club often in the weeks to come.  Being in the field with birders who are better than you is one of the best ways to improve your own skills, and even the most studious birder needs to learn the ebb and flow of seasonal changes and expected birds in a new place.  It was something I was starting to feel comfortable with again.

MERLIN by Sean Clawson via flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

  1. April 15, 2010 12:09 am

    I think that the attitude described above is one of the things that I really appreciate about birders and birding in general. The people are usually genuinely good and helpful, even with fairly new birders like me. I can’t believe that you were a comparable neophyte birder just 5 years ago as you are one of the top birders in my eyes. As a matter of fact, your attitude with new birders and probably with the kids that you are leading makes you a very big person in my eyes. Also good training for being the father that I know that you will be with your young son. Thank you for your support.

    Speaking of Youth birders, I have come in contact with somebody who is supposed to run a national program for bringing the youth to birding. Let me know if you are interested in being contacted by him.

    Thanks for everything

  2. April 15, 2010 9:39 am

    Well, the Merlin is not really a great bird, it is indeed rather small.
    (I know it doesn’t really work, great = big versus small, but still couln’t resist).

    Agreed about the fellowship of birders. I am equally trusting and have never made any negative experience whatsoever. I have also never heard of anyone who has had an unpleasant experience with fellow birders beyond maybe a difference in birding style (taping in versus not, or just ticking-off species quickly versus taking your time to look even at the common ones).
    I guess that is a more special feature of our community than is realized?

  3. Nate permalink*
    April 15, 2010 10:49 am

    @Dave- That’s kind of you to say. I was able to pull from my previous experience to accelerate the learning curve a bit, but becoming a good birder takes a lot of work and I was fortunate to be able to put in that work. Birding with excellent field birders helped too, and there are no shortage of them in my area fortunately. I’ve been a beginning birder twice in my life, so I guess I know how to relate. Sure, pass my name along to your contact. You never know what could happen.

    @Jochen- Oh, so you’re so comfortable with english you’re going to tell me how to use it, eh? 🙂

    Yes, the schisms among our group do seem to run along the lines of attitudes towards listing and taping and such. But the general friendliness is pretty pervasive.

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