Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Human Birdwatcher Project Presents: Sketchy Birders Part II

Now that we know what a sketchy birder is, we can get into the gory details...

Once you label someone as such, it is extremely difficult for you to think of them in any other light. Are they good people? What are their intentions? Well...who fucking cares?! They're a terrible birder! The best analogy I can make to describe sketchy birders is when kids used to be called poseurs in the punk and skating scenes....they look the part, but are not exactly cut from the same cloth. As such, they are never taken seriously, are always skirting the edges of the community, and are generally considered human scum by the diehards.  Harsh, I know, but I'm only calling it as I see it.

Maybe we need a situation to really understand what is going on here. Lets say, for example, you are on a pelagic trip (for you nonbirders, youre on a boat out at sea looking for seabirds) with a known sketchy (or shaky, shitty, dicey whatever you want to call them....this isn't a technical term I'm using) birder. Chances are that there will be several people on this boat who are aware person X is a sketchy birder, and you will all have an unspoken understanding that you can't trust this person's judgement as far as you can throw them. Thats just how this works. Person X is blacklisted. BUT, everyone loses in this scenario. The sketchy birder inevitably starts calling out good birds that no one else is seeing, and quickly people give up on trying to dissuade Person X that those were Sooty Shearwaters that flew by, not Short-tailed. Sketchy birder becomes ignored. In the chance that our friend Sketchy does correctly spot something interesting, people will not try very hard to get on the bird, and everyone may miss out. Its a cycle of death.

The level of loathing these people can inspire varies, of course. Some birders take pity on them, and do their best to "educate" them whenever possible, hopefully without sounding condescending (this is very difficult). Some birders take the opposite approach, openly denying any rare bird claims a sketchy birder might have ton their face. Some become bitter about the whole topic, and openly share their hateful opinions of various sketchy birders with other, non-sketchy birders. Others simply ignore them and any bird they report.

Of course, one of the most frustrating things about the whole sketchy birder scenario is encountering unknown birders in the field. You don't know who they are, you've never heard of them, or they aren't a local. If they mention seeing a rare bird to you, eyebrows will be raised. This has happened to me a few times, which is incredibly aggravating. Personally, some of this goes back to the annoying ageism in the birding scene I think, which Ive covered in the past. Just recently I told a group of birders about a Pacific Loon nearby, and had some haggard woman repeatedly telling me "there was a common loon diving there 20 minutes ago". This is difficult to tolerate, particularly when you've literally seen tens of thousands of pacific loons. But I digress....

Finally, we get to the subject of The Hybrid Birder. This is someone you know who has great birding skills, but at the same time reports such remarkable things that you don't know if you have any business believing this person half the time. Every region has one of these people. Frequently, one finds themself speculating if these people are mildly retarded, senile, drunk, or have a more-than-recreational drug habit and going out birding all the time. I will venture that these people must be taken seriously to a certain degree, or else we may all suffer from being too arrogant to go look at that Worthen's Sparrow he casually reported being down the street from your house.

Now that we have discussed The Problem in great detail, we must ask ourselves.....what about The Solution? Can a sketchy birder have a change of face? Is there a birder rehab these people can go to? There is no easy answer to The Problem. However, no matter what skill level a birder may be, we always benefit from birding with other people. Its keeps you on your toes, and inspires a little bit of friendly competition to find the odd one out...and frequently, it can be very educational. So if you know any sloppy birders, offer to go bird with them. It may be aggravating, but it will be good for the both of you in the long run.

In the end, there is only one thing we should remember...the only thing more embarrassing than being a crappy birder is being an elitist, snobby one!


  1. that haggard loon woman is a Crotchy Birder. Crotchy Birders are the worst, Hybrid Birders are a bummer, Sketchy Birders are sort of a trip and ok until they retaliate and call you Darth McCreedy.

  2. Tucker, I love this. You are a birder commentator of the highest, most accurate degree. Keep it up!


  3. This provides excellent insight into my own personal venture as a Birderer, a Bird Watcher Watcher. It helps embarking on the difficult task of the diverse and ill-defined taxonomy of Birders, as they are bizarre, baffling, and bewildering bipeds.

    btw in looking for 'B' words to alliterate, I found the word bibelot: a small, decorative ornament or trinket

  4. McCreedy - Not sure if you meant Crotchity or just plain Crotchy, but I think you are on to something.

    Brady - Thanks mang. Just trying to spread The Good Word.

    Drew - Glad to be of service. I wonder if ocelots enjoy playing with bibelots. Gramatically, it would be proper.

  5. just plain crotchy

  6. those elitist fools give me the shakes. Also., I enjoy this post greatly. Yes, yes I do.

  7. There is a sketchy birder (e.g. a reported Short-tailed Albatross was a fulmar, etc., etc.) in my county, who birds a lot and does find some good birds (photos were on his Flicker site). I contacted him to see if he would call me when he finds good birds and was honest to him by saying that some local birders don't believe his sightings because he reports ultra rarities that no one else sees. His response was to ignore me and delete his Flicker site. Our loss!

  8. @Jim - Ouch!!! That fulmar identification says it all....clearly a disturbed individual....

  9. i still believe this is one of the best articles on birding i've ever read