Friday, March 29, 2002

On Sunday I took part in the Essex Country Field Naturalists Spring Excursion at the Ojibway Park and Nature Centre. I’m not a naturalist, but after spending a Sunday afternoon, normally fitfully spent indoors, walking and listening to a sea of chorus frogs sing, I’m seriously considering becoming one.

I did used to go birding occasionally with my mother and so I know a little bit about bird watching. I’m not a birder yet, but I’m comfortable with birders and most of the people on the walk were of that ilk. We spotted a pair of redheaded woodpeckers, a pair of red-tailed hawks, some bluebirds and some sparrows – which I still can’t get myself excited about, even if the fox-red sparrow is a “good bird”.

You hear this when birders talk among themselves. I spoke with my mother on the phone later on that evening to reported on the birds that I had seen. “Bluebirds! And a red-headed woodpecker!“ Mom exclaimed, “Oh those are good birds”. I’m still not experienced enough to know which bird sightings are worth bragging about (this is my secret definition of what constitutes a “good bird”)

After I reported on what I had seen that day, my mom gave her report: she had recently seen a pilated woodpecker in Canatara Park. There had never been a known sighting of a pilated woodpecker in the park and my mom got the tip that the bird could be found there from a fellow birder who got word of its presence from an email bird-alert list. My mom and her friend met in the park and searched for two hours until a third birder they had met there had found the woodpecker and then found them to tell them where it was lurking.

You would know that that a pilated woodpecker is a “good bird” – it’s a woodpecker the size of a crow. I saw one myself in when I was living in Peterborough. Its size was almost menacing.

I think to outsiders, bird watching sounds like walking in a park and watching whatever birds happen to cross your path. But the sad strange appeal of birding is that the scarcity of wildlife and natural areas has made nature-watching oddly scalable. Some naturalists know how many breeding pairs of certain birds live in their city or even their county. I remember listening to “The Nature Guy” on CBC Windsor Radio One and was both impressed and scared that he knew exactly how many bald eagle nests were in Essex County, how many had eagles in them, and how many were destroyed when homeowners sold the trees that they were in to a logging company.

There are lots of bird watchers in Canada. There was a piece I read somewhere sometime ago that suggested that the number of bird watchers was growing so high, that the author speculated that birders could become a political force for the environment if they could only recognize their own clout.

And if I join now, I'll be ten years ahead of my time:
(from: SOCIAL STUDIES: A DAILY MISCELLANY OF INFORMATION BY MICHAEL KESTERTON, The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, March 27, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A20)

Spotting a birder

When a stray Asian bird, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, showed up in Caswell Lakes, Alaska, this month, birders came from thousands of miles away to gawk at it. It was a rare chance for locals to have a close look at birdwatchers. Some field notes, from the Anchorage Daily News:

Appearance: A disproportionate number of birders are doctors and engineers.

The young: Most new birders are female, 40 to 59, who earn more than $50,000 (U.S.) annually.

Behaviour: Most stick to their home territory, but a few will migrate to "chase" a rare bird.

The call: Excited birders "make sounds that are, well, orgasmic," says Myrtle Heinrich of Caswell Lakes. "You should hear them. I wish I had a tape recorder. We had a guy here, I thought we were going to have to do CPR. These people are nuts."

Must have been a good bird.

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