The Element of Discovery in Birding

I’m not much of a lister beyond keeping a life list, but admittedly adding “lifers” is my favorite part of birding. Maybe the main part of what drives me in birding is what also drives me in being a naturalist: there’s so much to see in the natural world! You couldn’t see it all in a lifetime if you tried, and I find that as exciting as I do a little disheartening. In that sense, life is short, so see as much as you can!

As such, the continuing experiences in bird diversity in the now almost decade I’ve been birding, just in places I’ve lived in the US, is awe-inspiring. I still have more to see, right where I am in the upper Midwest. I moved to the boreal transition zone last year, but I’d visited it many times when I lived further south, mostly to go birding. There are birds that breed and visit in the winter where I live that I’ve still never seen. There are also rare-regular migrants that come through that I can hope to find in my “new” home if I go out and spend time looking. The sense of discovery is what keeps me birding.

I discovered through a conversation with a friend that the element of surprise is just as important for me. I can’t underscore the importance of eBird to the citizen science bird community enough, and its tools are, in my opinion, too useful! šŸ™‚ Apparently eBird is to be integrated into newer Subaru models, which I think is a neat way to potentially get people interested in birds. Some were already complaining, though, that it would bring too many people to see birds (I disagree). However, there its power is shown: you can see real time info about peoples’ bird reports, and look it up any which way. Going to a local park? Pull it up on-line and see what’s there! My boyfriend is an eBird reviewer and we do this often when we’re birding together in a new place. It’s the modern go-to tool to see “where to go,” and it’s probably the most commonly used tool for birding these days. “Anyone who’s anyone” birding does this. It’s a savvy way to be in-the-know about what to expect.

However, I realized that I don’t always want to know what to expect. Actually, that’s perhaps why I bird. I did want to come up with a good itinerary of birding spots, but I did it the “old fashioned way” of looking up local area websites and write-ups. I was chatting with a friend about our trip to Seattle at the end of the week (!!!) and he mentioned, as any birder would, to look at the eBird charts. I had even pulled them up some time ago when I learned exactly when our trip would be. I looked again to confirm something we’d been talking about, and I saw the full list of what was seen where we’d be going just the day before. I immediately closed the tab as my eyes fell on species I didn’t even know would be there! I felt like I’d unwrapped my Christmas presents a day early, in secret. (OK, that’s a little dramatic, because it will still be thrilling to actually see these birds.) Yet, there was definitely some part of the thrill of discovery that had been taken away, and I found myself a little disappointed.

Of course, that’s the great thing about birding too: who knows what will be there by the end of the week when we land! šŸ˜› We could have terrible luck (not that I’m rooting for that, but you never know)! In birding, nothing is guaranteed, and even when it’s frustrating and means missing something you wanted to see, it’s what makes it worthwhile. All said, I’m trying to better “know my experience” of being a birder and what it means to me, in order to follow the natural paths of my hobby and hopefully engage others, too.

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