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.