Date: 7/31/20 6:13 am
From: Kathleen Anderson <andersonka...>
Subject: Re: "The Call of the Birder" - No Sightings...
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Birding is getting me through this pandemic and isolation. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, to get out of the house and see what birds I can find each day.
Kathleen Anderson, Columbia

From: "Terry Miller" <millert832...>
To: "mobirds" <MOBIRDS-L...>
Sent: Thursday, July 30, 2020 10:36:30 AM
Subject: "The Call of the Birder" - No Sightings...

WARNING: This message has originated from an External Source. This may be a phishing expedition that can result in unauthorized access to our IT System. Please use proper judgment and caution when opening attachments, clicking links, or responding to this email.

The following is a reflection that was inspired by a conversation with a former high school student of mine (now 30 yrs. old). Earlier this summer, he was camping with some of his friends. He had his binoculars with him and he spotted a male American Redstart. After he let his friends view the stunning bird, they agreed it was “pretty” but questioned why he would get so excited… “It was just a bird”.

I think we all can relate to such ridicule…as many people, including family and friends, just cannot grasp “wasting” so much time and money to view our feathered friends? In the late 1970’s, I remember looking at a photo album created after my fraternity brothers had returned from Florida during a Spring Break. One picture was of a fraternity brother who had about six very colorful macaws on his outstretched arms and one on top of his head. The caption read: “This photo is dedicated to Terry Miller and his wasted profession” (I was the only Wildlife Ecology and Conservation major). Pretty good friends, huh? Their loss unfortunately….

So, the following is kind of an apologetics for Birding. It is an attempt to describe to the non-birders the dynamic aspects of being a “birder”. I realize many of you could add so much more, but here is a start :

“The Call of the Birder”

All birders know that “birding” is one of their vocations and to deny this personal calling would be to deny their very selves. As every person alive is attracted to the good, the true, and the beautiful…we know that birds satisfy all three of these categories. And, they provide such depth and insight into the wonders of our natural world. Each of their natural histories is a grand chapter in a never-ending novel for understanding the complex relationships among various species and habitats. In fact, birds are our “entry drug” that leads to a diversity of other interests in nature!

Our pursuit to view birds helps us to better “see” and appreciate the diversity of habitats and their unique ability to support and attract different species…of not only birds but of other animals. This ultimately leads us to identifying plants found in each habitat and a growing appreciation of them. The more we pursue birds, the more we expose ourselves to all the other beauties of nature…those intimate and joyful experiences of discovery of which non-birders and most of our culture have been deprived.

Although we can take pride in the knowledge and awareness we have gained through our birding pursuits…an ever-present humility is always lurking…because there are always new birds, new calls, new behaviors, etc.… to challenge us. Even the most avid birders are limited in their knowledge and experience. The world is Big!! To travel to a new area of the country or world is like enrolling in the next higher grade…. we bring with us our previous knowledge and hope to build on it with new species and new experiences. All these aspects, and more, continually contribute to a growing humility in us that is so healthy. It is healthy because humility is a prerequisite for gratitude! And a life without gratitude…sucks! And because of the gratitude we feel with seeing even the common species…birding can never suck!

As most birders are pure or basic scientists in their reported avian observations, they themselves have become somewhat of an “indicator species” for the applied scientists, the trained ornithologists and conservationists. The reported data may be an early “alert” to a species decline and the focused effort to understand why? Such contributions may eventually benefit numerous species of organisms and/or habitats. And this may lead to a healthier world for all of us too!

Birders are adventurers and gamblers! They are adventurers because they inherently know that some rare bird, some beautiful bird could always potentially be out there…just waiting for our eyes to feast upon. They are gamblers because there is no guarantee that something “special” will be seen. It is kind of like fishing in a big river…you just might have a “bite” from a monster catfish or you might simply return home with only a multitude of mosquito bites. Either way, we take the chance because the chance is still more enjoyable than not taking it!

Birders have no need for calendars. Why? Because they can see the changes in nature, in plants, or in the current bird behaviors that indicate what time of year it is and of what other species of birds may be present. We are also contemplative forecasters. We are always thinking and forecasting what species should be migrating through our area or contemplating the worthwhileness of traveling to distant areas to bird. We are also kind of funny…stormy forecasts get us excited!

Some birders flock together, others are more solitary. In either case, birders easily recognize other birders. Roadside parking, spotting scopes, old hats, and welcoming smiles are easy giveaways! New friendships usually take only a few seconds… “I already have it in the scope if you want to take a look” or “Did you know that a “_____” was here?”. Thus, an unspoken unity is quickly displayed, the warm acceptance of each other in our common love of birds….

As birders are not satisfied with even frequent birding trips, most birders feed birds at their homes. The expense for seed and suet is easily justified for the countless hours of enjoyment, through casual viewing, that enables us to always be near our “friends”. Whether we view them from our home’s windows, or we have to travel afield, I guess birds are kind of similar to our pets. There is a comfort in their presence, there’s delight in seeing them, and we are always confident we can trust them not to hurt us, as can often occur with our fellow man.

Speaking of our fellow man, our passion often compels us to educate others to our fascination with birds. It is the long-lasting and genuine excitement we continually express for birds that eventually causes others to cease their skepticism and give our hobby a “look”! As we are all born with a great wonder for things of nature, the introduction to birding can often be more receptive in the young. But it may be that a latent desire for wonder will also be appealing to the “mature” and allow them to feel “young” again with the delightful wonder found in birding!!

Unlike almost all other vertebrates, birds fly! This visibility, along with their songs, enables a birder to effectively spot and pursue various species to learn or confirm their identification. And hearing an unknown call, hidden in the leaves or bushes, adds an intriguing mystery to our quest! Our natural curiosity and desire to learn is greatly stimulated. We then get to remember our early “sneaking” skills, which is kind of fun, as we struggle to see but not scare away our feathered prize!

Are there any unpleasant difficulties while birding? You bet…. mosquitos, ticks, poison ivy, humidity, heat, cold, snow, wind, heat waves, etc.…. But nothing cherished is obtained without accepting and overcoming obstacles and struggles. And to the birder, the opportunity to view our feathered friends, all decked out in “original” colors, is worth all the discomfort or challenges. We also know that in our passionate pursuit of birds that our understanding of nature will continually increase. Sure, the bird songs are always music to our ears. But as our time in the field and our experiences accumulate…we begin to steadily “hear” (imperceptible to our physical ears) more clearly the profound music of nature’s symphony of rhythm, balance, and harmony! All of it translates into a peace beyond words…a peace that permeates one’s soul!

So, to conclude, to all the non-birders still skeptical of our passion for birding, the previous justifications are only second-thought motivations to us. The intimacy we have gained and have found in the various areas of nature, in birds, provides all the conviction we need to answer our “calling” and find another excuse to head to the field….and we hope to see you there!!

Terry L. Miller
Plattsburg, MO
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"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." Romans 1:20

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