Birdspot. On the road. Drawing birds.

Whether through corporeal genetic makeup, or via upbringing and freedom of choice, I have managed to do just about everything backwards in this life. If I were to stand as an example of how to pursue a career, participate in the world of contemporary art, write a blog, make photographs, it would become painfully apparent that I have gone about it all wrong.

I spend an awful lot of time looking at birds. As a result, I meet a lot of other people who also look at birds, and in doing so have found a pleasant subculture of people who don’t mind if you stop mid-sentence and whip your head around while mumbling something completely off-topic and avian-oriented. I have to stress, though, that the community is an added bonus and not the impetus. I think a lot of birders would agree with this. When my circle of bird-related friends and acquaintances first began widening, I was a little overwhelmed as to the cultural codifications within the activity of birding. To me, it was a very quiet and personal experience, not something to compete over or cement my personal identity around. I had no interest in being identified as a birdwatcher, a birder, a serious birder, a whatever-level birder, a twitcher, chaser, or any of the other strata that exist.

That said, I am horrifically competitive by nature. I am also highly focused and goal-oriented, as long as the activity involved is 1. not lucrative and 2. slightly off the beaten path.

There are events called Birdathons. It is desirable to see as many species of bird as possible during one of these events, ostensibly because they are fundraisers for conservation efforts, and the more species you see, the more pledge money you bring in. We all know, however, that the underlying motive is the challenge. I LOVE BIRDATHONS. I can’t think of anything I would rather do than spend 24 hours through any weather with three or four excellent birders in one vehicle with just this purpose in mind. It is exhausting, it is barely sane, and it is my idea of heaven.


When Amy of WildBird magazine first contacted me to see if I might like to join her for the annual World Series of Birding in Cape May, NJ, I was ecstatic. I was not going to participate on a team, but would have a chance to scout out the event with excellent company, and spend the weekend in an area renowned for its spectacular birding. I would also have the opportunity for a civilized cocktail in the evenings and full nights of sleeping.

For that weekend, I put aside my insaner tendencies and enjoyed a relaxing tour of Cape May with a friend. In a few short hours, with little fanfare and full meals, we saw about a hundred species, including a couple of rare and off-course migrants. I did not even keep a list (though my hard-wiring makes it difficult to forget what we saw and heard). We stopped to talk with other birders. We paused in the middle of a field to watch the incredible blue of multiple male Indigo Buntings, or to analyze variations in a White-eyed Vireo song.

The above photograph is from the Meadows, looking out towards the Cape May lighthouse, just before a late afternoon squall opened up on me (and on a number of WSB teams racing through). What made this moment memorable, however, was the couple standing behind me. I had scoped the beach and found Piping Plovers just minutes before, when the two walked up. They were overdressed for a beach walk, having come over from a wedding, and were grumbling as they looked through their binoculars about how impossible it was to find the plovers, so tiny and perfectly camouflaged, so far away in fading light. I was not in a hurry, so I offered them my scope, and sat back and enjoyed the light as they cooed over seeing a rare species.

8 Responses to “may 18”

  1. Very nice post. You are artful with your words!
    Nice photos as well!

  2. I USED to be an enthusiastic birdathoner, and even was part of a number of winning teams, but now I am of a different mind. I find birdathons (1) bad for the environment. Other than Big Sits, they encourage lots of gas being used for no really good reason. (2) bad for birding. Having done this for decades I, and others on my teams, have witnessed … Read Morefar too many people making bad calls. Thats what being in a competition does to some people. And if you don’t think it doesn’t, you are naive. (3) bad for birds. In MA, teams line up to try for the same list of staked out specialities. For owls and rails this may include TAPING. I just bumped into three MA teams in my atlas study blocks this weekend all afetr the same list of birds. This cannot be great for breeding species.
    I think a better competition would be to bird a quad; state park, IBA or some reasonable entity and see what your birding skills could get out of there, and others would bird other quads; IBAs et. Or bird by bike, walking, canoe. A bike birdathon would be excellent.
    BTW: Sheila and I have been actively lobbying MAS Audubon to change thier Birdathon entirely because of this. It’s one thing for the ABA or some other birding organization to sponsor such a competition,but for a CONSERVATION organization to run one, it’s a crazy disconnect. We used to put on 450 miles every MAS Birdathon. Other teams were the same. That’s why we stopped.


  3. Thanks for joining me! You added immeasurably to the weekend. I hope we can gab/grub/bird again soon.

  4. Wonderful post Catherine. I love the photos too. Both. :-) )

  5. re: Mark’s comment: I am, and have been from day one, so torn over that issue. I admit that I love Birdathons in the post, but did not go into some of the larger issues for the sake of brevity, hoping that the quieter acts of that visit would speak for my viewpoint…

    I do not chase birds for year lists any more, for exactly the reasons Mark pointed out. I might consider, once a year, doing a big day list for the WSB, rationalizing that the $ raised would offset my fuel-guzzling hedonism, and further rationalizing that by choosing an urban lifestyle and environment where I constantly use public transport, I’m way below a normal carbon footprint. But I thoroughly recognize that this is still rationalization.

    The chasing/taping harassment of migrating birds during Birdathons has and is being addressed by many of the sponsoring organizations, so I will keep my fingers crossed that that issue is not as pertinent.

    And finally: the Carbon Footprint sector of WSB is one of the most exciting things about it: let’s get people involved with the potential numbers there!

  6. I can’t help but comment on the beauty of your two photos in this post! How do you view your photgraphy lately? Are they still tools for your final drawings? Or have they evolved out of that role and more as final art pieces?

  7. Cathy, do you have this?

    Seems like the 3D aspect would be useful for birders somehow.

  8. It was the crazy photo that got me in to reading the post. and I am really glad I did. It was one of the best blog posts I have read in a long time. I love it when people share a little spark of who they are on their blogs.

    bird races appeal to the manic birder in me. but i find that by the late afternoon, the birdwatcher in me comes out: I tend to want to sit somewhere, and appreciate a really cool bird. or watch the sunset. and take photos like the ones you have here.

    Great blog, btw.

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