Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are birds the journey or the destination?

Today I got an e-mail from an Anonymous Reader (OK, it was Sunwiggy)in which she shared the following story:

I noticed today, when I was IDing the bouncy little flock of pine siskins, that I was so stressed out over getting the ID that I wasn't enjoying the birds! And the way they were scooting around in the snow was cute. One little guy/gal flew over the tops of several little baby pine trees, just touching the very tips and making the snow "caps" fall off, and I wonder now, was he just doing that for fun? He proved later that he was perfectly capable of landing on a pine bough. So, this is something I'm going to watch out for, from now on. I don't want to get so into the listing that it spoils the sheer joy of seeing the birds! Has anything like this ever happened to you?

Has this ever happened to me? Is the Pope Catholic? In fact, I have touched on the topic in many of my posts, both explicitly (see "Birding without expectations," "In defense of listing," "Might as well face it, you're addicted to birds") and implicitly (just about all of them).

Those who are not Listers (or Twitchers as the Brits would say) might be scratching their heads at this point wondering what all the fuss is about. As it might sound, Listing begins with making lists of all the birds you see, but that is only the start of it. Once you have a List, you become obsessed with putting species on it! And that leads to the competitive element -- for example, right now I am hard on my Year List, trying not only to top my list from last year (so far I'm kicking my own ass!), but also to rank higher as compared to other Illinois birders who publicly post their lists. I want more birds, in more counties, and more new species, and I want them now!

I have no idea how many people who love birds are just casual backyard birdwatchers or those who enjoy a nice nature stroll, as compared to those who become a bit...obsessive. Several writers on the topic make snide comments about "listers," implying that we don't know how to appreciate birds and are just ticking them off a list. It's implied that we should be happy in the moment, just enjoying the bird we see.

But then there's the nature of personality. What works for one person might be a disaster for another. I've been reading a lot about dogs lately, and from what I understand, some of the working breeds are not good matches for many homes, because they need a lot of exercise, AND they need a job to do. They were bred to be busy, to have a challenge, and if you don't give them one, they'll find one--like "herding" all your couch pillows or digging up the yard--that you might not like. Well, MY mind is like a rat terrier. It wants to worry something to death; it has a desperate need to do this. So if I don't give it a project, it will find one. And believe me, the projects I give it (such as learning foreign languages, reading all the classics from a reading list, or listing birds) are much nicer than the ones it finds on its own! Think of it this way: if you're already prone to obsessing over an issue, wouldn't you rather pick a nice issue? And for me, it works. Even when I feel really tense about something, I can distract myself by thinking, Hey look, there's a bird! Get out the binoculars! Put it on a list!

Finally, I think we need to look at the bigger picture. If most birding trips start to be tarred by the disappointment of a missed bird, an unmet expectation, then obviously this is detracting from your overall pleasure. For me, there will always be disappointing moments, birds I've dipped on, trips spoiled by bad weather or bad tempers or bad directions, but overall, the more I list, the more I want to bird. When I get bored with one county, I try another. When I'm feeling sluggish, I find a reason to go out. And there's always January first to start the excitement all over, each bird "like a virgin...seen for the very first time"! So overall, I get more pleasure out of birding -- and life -- from my odd habit. If the time ever comes when you feel you get "less"--well, then time to re-evaluate.

And keep in mind: No birding trip is perfect. No birder is either. Hope this helps, Sunwiggy!

1 comment:

  1. There's a lot of food for thought, here! The competitive aspect of birding IS mostly fun, for me, and a great motivator, not only to keep an edge (especially in my home county), but also as an inspiration to get out there and bird. As in, hey, somebody's seeing Bohemian waxwings over at Tech; let's boogie! And there is something special about naming something; it makes me feel closer, somehow, to a bird or a flower if I know it's name. And smarter, because I can look it up and find out more about it. But I never want to get so hung up on my lists that I don't laugh when I see pine siskins playing in the snow! Sunwiggy