There’s something about a bunch of birders (or do birders come in a flock?) all fixated on the same rare bird. The smiles, the lifer dances, the high fives and slaps on the back. We may be perfect strangers, but the shared excitement overcomes all barriers.
Even when the bird isn’t rare, there’s still a sense of camaraderie rarely found in other activities. For example, I spend a lot of time visiting botanic gardens. I could assume that most people there share an interest in plants, but only rarely do people talk to people they don’t already know. No one gathers to exclaim over the beauty of a perfect rose, or to wonder at the bizarre form of a succulent. Yet, when birders gather, we can’t help but want to share our enthusiasm
I recently spent a day at Corkscrew Swamp, in southern Florida. I was on my own, as my non-birding husband deserved a day off from driving me through wildlife refuges while I hung my camera out the window. Corkscrew is for walkers, not cars, so I didn’t need his help.
Yet, I was never really alone. I arrived early, but even as I walked into the building to pay my entrance fee, someone remarked on the dense fog, hoping it would clear soon (it did). At my first stop, to check out any visitors to the feeders, everyone oohed and aahed over the Painting Bunting—and how could you not?
Then the sun peeked out, the insects took to the air, and suddenly there were birds everywhere I looked. Someone called out that they were on a White-eyed Vireo. When I mentioned that I’d never seen one, everyone wanted to help me get the lifer.
It was like that everywhere I went. Birders want to help one another. They share experiences, point out hard-to-see birds, and suggest IDs. The day before, at Ding Darling NWR, everyone asked if I’d seen the pelican from Africa. I hadn’t known to look. Even though the “Great White Pelican” turned out to be just another American White Pelican, it was more meaningful to share the anticipation—and the disappointment.
About halfway through my trek through Corkscrew, I ran into another photographer using the same lens I was. I commented that she had good taste in camera equipment, and we ended up spending the rest of our time there together—an instant friendship based on a shared love of birds and photography. She was from Rhode Island—I’m unlikely to ever see her again—but our brief time together made the day that much more enjoyable. The highlight was when I spotted a Short-tailed Hawk overhead, and she got the winning photo of it. (This one’s mine, not nearly as good.)
There are definitely times when I plan a day birding because I need to be an introvert. I don’t really want company, and I do my best to avoid the crowds. But most of the time, I welcome friendly birders. While I try to be observant, four (or six or eight) eyes are better than two. Birding with companions results in a longer trip list.
And while I’m reasonably good at winter shorebirds (we seem to visit the coast mostly mid-winter), I’m first to admit that sparrows baffle me, and I have little experience with eastern warblers, especially in their non-breeding plumage. I’m not too proud to ask for help. It’s highly unlikely that I would now have a White-eyed Vireo on my life list if I’d been alone when it appeared.
Apparently, many non-birders show up at Ding Darling NWR, probably because it’s on Sanibel Island, which is itself a vacation destination. It’s easy to pick the vacationers out of the crowd—they’re the ones without binoculars. As I stood at the various pull-outs, scanning the birds in the lagoon, I lost track of the number of people who asked me if the large, pink birds we were seeing were flamingos. They’d never heard of a Roseate Spoonbill. Now they have, and I had the pleasure of introducing them to one of my favorite birds.
Assistance in spotting and identifying birds is helpful, but there’s something I appreciate even more about my fellow birders. Any day birding is a good day, but it’s an even better day if I can share the joy. Life is more fun when done together.
The answer to this week’s quiz is Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: