Monday, December 5, 2011

The Human Birdwatcher Project Presents: Birding By Yourself - A Lonely And Embarrassing Habit.

Ospreys are everywhere in Florida. They are confident birds, and make good eye contact (unlike many birdwatchers).

Back in the fall of 2009, I was working for Bat Conservation International in western Pennsylvania. When that project wrapped up, I thought "Well....I've heard a lot about Florida. It's where people go to die. And there are birds there that I must see. This is the closest I've been there, so....ROAD TRIP."

And so I birded my way down the eastern seaboard, being chased by Nor'easters the entire way down to Georgia. The birding was good when it was not raining (Brown-headed Nuthatches made for good company), but there were times in which I wish I had company...except for that one very embarrassing incident in Virginia City, which I will not divulge the details of.

Since a lot of bird bloggers are posting from Florida these days, and I want to get back there, that's what we will deal with today...but only by taking a serious look at people's social birding habits. That's right...the Human Birdwatcher Project has returned to action.

Florida Scrub-Jay was a lifer. It's all about the endemics. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

In much of the country, a White Ibis is a fantastically rare bird. In Florida, they are parking lot birds.

I go birding by myself a lot. I'll admit it. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to this. The advantages are this:

1) Complete freedom. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want, and stay as long as you want.

2) Birders, as a rule, generally suffer from various glaring personality flaws. You do not have to worry about getting annoyed with anyone but yourself.

3) It's a lot easier to photograph birds when you are rolling Han Solo.

4) There is a time and place for solitude. For me, that time and place needs to happen relatively often.

Royal Tern. Fort Clinch State Park.

You gotta love the native forest and "prairie". At this spot I found a massive flock of Eastern Bluebird, Pine Warbler, Bachman's Sparrow (!!!) and...

Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Sweet sweet victory. Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.

Now, there are also some distinct disadvantages:

1) Birdwatching is, intrinsically, an extremely nerdy pastime. This is easier to deal with in large groups, although the effect is usually magnified.

2) Pishing around a bunch of nonbirders makes you very conscious of how ridiculous you must look. If I was a nonbirder watching somebody spitting and sputtering at a large shrub, I would think they were batshit crazy.

3) You often have a lot more motivation to Keep Going to find that good bird if you around other birders.

4) Extra eyes and ears are crucial to finding More Birds. And the more birds, the better. Obvi.

5) You can do a lot of learning and/or teaching about birds with other people with you. Both of these are good things.

6) Birders are huge gossips. You cannot gossip by yourself. Well, you can, but that's usually called "Schizophrenia".

7) Obviously, doing something fun with like-minded people is a big part of what makes human culture tick. We are social creatures. Simple.

This young Bald Eagle was being mobbed by an Osprey in Everglades National Park. An aside: as some of you know, google has now somewhat integrated Picasa, Blogger and Google+ with each other. As a result, for some reason I get a lot of people I don't know commenting on my bird photos. Most of them are from other countries, and they leave pretty hilarious compliments. The comment I received for this photo was "Huauuuuuuuuuu!". I love it.

Florida birding is weird. You have to get used to the fact that there are alligators everywhere. In most places I have lived, there are not giant, dangerous reptiles in every wetland you go to, and so the presence of these ancient beasts is....strange. I liked having them around, but I guess people can get pretty scared by them. I suppose I can understand...

And there you have it. Clearly, birding by yourself excessively could have massive and horrible consequences. A lot of people are into this mode of birding, but now they must what cost?

Personally, I know a lot of you who bird on the lonesome often. You may even prefer it. This does not mean you are doomed. But I can point to a lot of birders who are known to have almost exclusively birded alone for many years, and these are clearly not the people you want to become.

Caution is warranted.

White Ibis, Great Egret, Roseate Spoonbill and a Willet. Wading birds are one of the things that make Florida famous to birders. With the exception of White-faced Ibis, they have every wading bird you can find in the United States. I am fiending to go back and get some award-winning Roseate Spoonbill and Reddish Egret shots. Someday....even if its by myself.


  1. OH man, Florida bird blogs make me drool... I'm surprised you didn't mention disadvantage #8- if you get eaten by an alligator, it might take some time for anyone to notice. Awesome awesome photos, all of em. I keep hoping someone I know will move to FL so I can go visit them. This just happened with Texas (I hope to go down in the spring) so it's possible.

  2. I think if you get eaten by an alligator, you won't be able to care if anyone notices. Thanks for compliments. Where in Texas? Such a good state for birding...

  3. My friends are in San Antonio, but the plan is to drive there so really, Texas is my oyster...

  4. Awesome. I still need to bird West Texas (Big Bend, Hill Country). Make sure to make it to the coast, and/or the lower Rio Grande Valley. And Austin! Not for birds though...

  5. Yeah I've been to Austin a few times. Only hazy memories from those trips, though punching a chandelier stands out... And all the bats. Thanks for the tips.

  6. Awesome pictures! My jealousy is again running rampant at your birding adventures, as is my laughter at your constantly witty comments.

  7. @Jen - That's a cool party trick.

    @Hokie - Thanks! My ego is grateful for you.

  8. The point about alligators is funny. We quickly became immune to their charms, but they were still the main/only object of attraction for most 99% of people. So every weekend we'd have maybe half a dozen folks asking if we'd seen anything... we'd rattle off our list of notable bird sightings, and they'd nod patiently, waiting for us to finish so they could ask if we'd seen any 'gators.