Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My State of Birding

The other day I was looking at the New Jersey bird list and found a reference to a "Morris Plains Pacific loon." Morris Plains is a small borough in northern New Jersey.

I didn't know which was more startling, a Pacific loon from the west found in New Jersey or a Pacific loon found at all in MY TOWN.

My photo of the Pacific loon, Morris Plains, NJ
 The loon, a juvenile, had been in the area for five days by then - as of today it is still being seen (and a second one was found even more recently at Lake Parsippany a few miles away!).

I was angry as hell that I'd missed it all that time but quickly caught up the next day by getting MH away from his books and papers and grabbing our binoculars and cameras to rush to the pond where it had been found, in an otherwise ugly office park at the edge of our town, literally five minutes away.

We saw the loon, we took our pictures (semi-decent because even with a long lens the bird was still too far for me) and even got to see that ringnecked ducks, redbreasted mergansers and hooded mergansers were in the pond, with a lovely redtailed hawk in the clear blue, chased by two less-than-happy American crows.

Another photo I took.
A good day, I thought. It's not often an unusual bird is found in my "backyard" and easy to see during a workday break. Oh, the joy of working from home.

Then, that evening, I was checking the list again and came upon a post that amazed me.

It was from a Bayonne (NJ) birder who posts regularly. Something set him off, however. A gyrfalcon had been found at Gilgo Beach off Fire Island in NY and, I'm gathering by his post, the bird chasers had gotten out of hand.

In "The state of birders/birding" he wrote:

It seems that the current atmosphere favors the "birder" and not the "birdwatcher." With RTD (real-time data), listers (chasers) seem more numerous than "birdwatchers." This concerns me because then it is sport (the extreme) and not science (the desire). Obviously, most fall somewhere in between.

Well, he's right about that. Many are the times I've complained about people who take the fun of birding much too seriously, traveling miles just for a glimpse, lugging gun-like lenses and trampling the environment in the process. In its extreme, it's the plot of the movie "The Big Year."

At the office park we met one woman who had driven two hours north from Gloucester County in south Jersey. (This wasn't odd to us as we've been known to drive two hours south for the same reason. But we always combine that with other things, such as visiting a bookstore.) Another woman there said that on a whim she decided to throw her dog in the car and drive over -- from Delaware.

Talk about a loon!

So yes, there are nutcases out there who time their movements to those of the birds.

But here is where Mr. Bayonne got me mad.

This all goes back to grade school. As far as I can tell, most lurk and wait for the "real birders" to "find" and report birds that they then "chase." Boil it down and these are the people that copied homework back in the day.

Now wait a minute, buster. I don't LURK.

Those "real birders" must not need money because they are reporting odd birds in far-flung areas every day. MH and I can only do any real birding on the weekends because during the week we have a little thing called WORK to do.

That's why I go to the list, to see what's out there so during my precious free weekend time I am not going off half-cocked. It gives me an idea, and then it's up to me to interest MH in joining me on the drive.

I don't cotton to being called a homework copier.

I don't put myself in the same league as those who read the list, learn of a gyrfalcon 500 miles away and then go nuts trying to get to it, find it and take a picture of it for his or her Flickr page. As MH likes to say, it's supposed to be a hobby.

Most times, whether I go with MH or alone, I don't find anything worthy of such frenzy, even if I wanted to report it. (I read the list but I am not a subscriber; only subscribers can report.) Most times I go out and find birds and am happy to see them, especially familiar ones I haven't seen for a while, such as the brown creeper or the bluebird. If someone else reports to the list about a flock of redhead ducks on nearby Lake Parsippany, as one did the other week, I plan my time and energy accordingly.

During weekdays I must content myself with the wonders of my own backyard.

Redtail picture by RE Berg-Andersson
For instance, the redtailed hawk above decided to just hang out for a while one day, and then it came for short periods during the next two days. Redtails are buteos. They like to eat squirrels, among other small mammals, so the ones in my yard disappeared as soon as this hawk flew in. The feeder birds knew they'd be left alone because it wasn't hunting, just sitting. However, the 200 grackles that were about to divebomb the feeders quickly took off from the surrounding trees.

...time to get out and find your own birds...might be the most fun you ever had;) he concluded.

Oh, I will, boy-o, I will indeed, as I do almost every weekend.

And when I do find an unusual bird - like the greater shearwater along a New Jersey beach or the sedge wren found in the wet grass of Somerset County's Lord Sterling Park, both seen a few years ago - I ain't gonna be reporting that news to anyone for the very reason that pissed you off about the gyrfalcon: the resulting overkill by zealous birders.

On that, Mr. Bayonne and I agree.

Otherwise, to Hell with him.