‘The birding community’ hates birds: Introduction

In 2009 I made a dedicated effort to participate actively in “the birding community.”  This is something I had not done before.  Though I am one of the most successful birders in Texas—by statistics alone, I saw and photographed more than 430 species in 2009, a number that easily ranks as the second-best birder in the state—I had never before opted to report my sightings, to send rare bird alerts to those who might be interested, or to seek out and participate in local, statewide, national and international forums and groups.

I am by no means a birder, at least by the definition most use; I am instead a naturalist who generally can find a great many gems in the wild that most others miss, hence it behooved me to try my hand at engagement with the birding community at large given my success in that area.

So throughout last year I dutifully submitted my sightings and records to Cornell’s eBird platform; I actively participated in conservation efforts; I answered questions, posted sightings and photos, and engaged in general conversations on various birding discussion forums; I monitored and posted to various birding mailing lists, sharing any noteworthy encounters I myself had that others might be interested in; I offered assistance with the local Christmas Bird Count given my knowledge of some exciting additions to the day’s list that others had not seen; and I did my fastidious best to offer insight, education, assistance, guidance and general camaraderie to birders of all levels in the DFW metroplex, in Texas, in North America, and throughout the world.

And what I found in my twelve-month experiment is this: when it comes to “the birding community” as a whole, I don’t like what they do.

Don’t get me wrong.  Individuals and groups can be exceptional and different from the mass, yet in toto there exists an air of pomposity, of superiority, of hypocrisy, of selfishness, and of disdain for anyone outside the inner circle who challenges in any way the standing of the birding community’s upper echelon of self-proclaimed experts.  Even more disturbing is that “the birding community” harms birds and disrupts the natural behavior of avifauna, and all the while they declare their sincere interest in protecting the very creatures they threaten.

Let me share my experiences and perhaps you’ll better understand why, in 2010, I am reversing this participatory trend and turning my back on “the birding community.”  I love nature.  I love birds.  And I can prove with anecdotal and scientific evidence that “the birding community” does neither.

[to my friends, family and online contacts, I assure you that most or all of this will not apply to you; for the measure that does hit you at home, I ask only that you be objective and open about what I write; this series is more than twelve months in the making, imbued with science and research and personal experience that you should want to know about; if it offends you up front, my findings stand justified before they’re given]

[cross-posted to The Clade]

30 thoughts on “‘The birding community’ hates birds: Introduction”

    1. Mary, I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. For you, I suspect this will be a learning experience, an opportunity to see a bit deeper into the whole troubling ordeal.

      Truth be told, my dear friend, you’re an inspiration for me with regards to birding. When it comes to the community as a whole, you’re what the “experts” and “professionals” should aspire to be.

    1. I’m betting you’re right, Laura! I’m going to refrain from naming individuals, but I’m sure you’ll recognize the types from your own experiences. Which is quite unfortunate since it damages the community and dissuades people from participating.

  1. I’ve read a few birding books that document this well. The Big Year comes to mind. Also Birders: Tales of a Tribe. I would argue that you’ll find this sort of selfish, competitive behaviour in just about any serious hobby-become-passion, but birders seem to be among the worst for it.

    1. Quite true, Seabrooke. I bet the same spirit invades other activities as well. It shocked me, though. Terribly. In this case, the scientific need seems to outweigh the egotistic needs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen, and worse yet is that organizations at the forefront of avifauna conservation promote methods which are shown scientifically to be harmful and disruptive. I walked away from the experience feeling shamed that I was part of the mess, even if only for twelve months.

  2. I await this series with slight trepidation but hopeful curiosity. (I feed birds in the garden and worry about whether I’m upsetting the natural balance or giving a hand to help them survive!) Whatever the outcome, I admire your philosophies and shall try to learn. Truthfully I don’t think I’m a birder. I just enjoy whatever I see when out and about. We’re lucky here to have so many birds appear in the garden.

    1. No worries, Clive. I won’t be talking about feeding birds. That’s a rather complex topic that hinges on a million different things, such as climate change and habitat loss and inroduced/invasive species and so forth. I’m rather ambivalent about bird feeding: I don’t do it but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. What I’m going to address is the life list-toting, get-out-of-my-way birding clan and the methods and mentalities that make the lot of them harmful to birds and harmful to their own cause.

      1. I await that with interest.

        Yes, the bird-feeding thing is complex. I confess to being a tad selfish in wanting to get a better look at the birds (observation for paintings) and the feeders facilitate that. To my knowledge we don’t have invasive species here at Ty Isaf… or certainly none that pop out at me… though I see more sparrows since I’ve been feeding, which is not to say they weren’t here before though keeping to themselves. If I come up against any feeding issues that perplex me then I may be back at you for advice.

        1. Clive, you’re more than welcome to ask me questions. You know how much of a geek I am, so I’m often full of information–and what I don’t know I can quickly find. And I’m always willing to help, dear friend.

  3. My biggest complaint with birders is their calling in of owls and pishing for other birds. If birds respond, it means they’ve been interrupted in their daily routine, taken away from food gathering, territory defense, and whatever else birds do for a living. I did some casual research a while back, to see if anyone condemned it, and didn’t find any strong statements against it. I hope you touch on this. Looking forward to your piece.

    1. You hit one of the nails on the head, Jain. I will definitely cover those practices. And I have found some related research that couples nicely with what we already know about biology, behavior, physiology, predation and other aspects of the natural world.

    2. I’ll second Jain’s complaint about birder’s pishing, calling, or using iPod-type devices to coax birds into showing themselves. Just doesn’t seem right. I noticed very early on that there are different kinds of birders…as I’m sure you will discuss in future posts.

      1. Absolutely correct, Amber. I’ll be covering some of the birding types and their impact on birds and the naturalist community as a whole, especially the compound issues of active versus passive birding and what I call “pro birding” versus true birding.

  4. Jason,
    I truly cannot wait to follow this series. I’ve read several shorter articles that poked fun at various types of birders, but it seems like yours will be rather in-depth? I’d like to raise a few points with you that you might address . . .

    “Don’t get me wrong. Individuals and groups can be exceptional and different from the mass, yet in toto there exists an air of pomposity, of superiority, of hypocrisy, of selfishness, and of disdain for anyone outside the inner circle who challenges in any way the standing of the birding community’s upper echelon of self-proclaimed experts. Even more disturbing is that “the birding community” harms birds and disrupts the natural behavior of avifauna, and all the while they declare their sincere interest in protecting the very creatures they threaten.”
    I too have had problems with others who exhibit some or all of these characteristics. I recognize far too many of them in myself. But I would argue that this competitive drive also furthers scientific knowledge. As an educated individual, you must realize that almost all nation-wide avian population tracking data are from citizen-science efforts such as Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counts. I am currently beginning work on a Master’s Degree studying King Rails at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, and the BBS provides the best data available for observing population trends. It is this very competitive drive which makes our CBCs and BBSs so successful.

    I also had to laugh at your opinion of “self-proclaimed experts” indulging in “hypocrisy,” when your introductory paragraph included the statement, “Though I am one of the most successful birders in Texas—by statistics alone, I saw and photographed more than 430 species in 2009, a number that easily ranks as the second-best birder in the state-” Surely you must notice a disconnect here. I can imagine who you are attacking here, I would probably include myself in that group, but you must realize that most or all of us have degrees in Biology, Environmental Studies, Wildlife Management or the like, and many of us have been or currently are paid field biologists. That would remove us from the category of “self-proclaimed” experts, and place them squarely in the expert category.

    I would be remiss not to admit that jealousy or envy is certainly a driving force as well. When I saw that you had reported 200 species of birds in two days . . . from Dallas and Tarrant Counties . . . in the fall. My first response was complete disbelief, and if it were in fact true, pure green envy. Greg Cook and I once turned up 184 species in two days in the spring (a more productive migration period?) from the entirety of North central Texas. We did not have ideal conditions, but I considered it to be a near maximum number, with 205ish perhaps being the ultimate goal to strive for. Greg is also one of the best field ornithologists I have ever had to privilege to spend time with (I have unfortunately never been able to experience the White Rock area with you. I would love to do so at some point in time if you would be willing). I asked you for a list of the birds you had seen, as any list of 200 species observed in the fall would surely include some real rarities. You were unable to provide one. I believe that you will find extravagant claims with no supporting evidence to be challenged in any hobby or professional field. You must realize that many of these people, just like yourself, have spent a lifetime acquiring these skills, and it takes some time before they will believe that someone whom they have only recently met and/or heard about could be as talented or more talented than they are.

    Anyway, I have to meet with my advising professor at 1. I truly have no personal vendetta against you, would love to meet you, and I ADMIRE your photography, I was just a tad puzzled by some of your statements. It seems that you expected people to immediately believe your claims and opinions which were often contradictory to their own experiences? Perhaps try and think about it from that perspective.



    1. I appreciate the feedback, Thomas, and I’m glad to see you here again!

      I’ll certainly address the sporting drive and its negative impact on birding and the science you mention. Sincere hopes aside, it’s difficult to overcome human nature in such regards when honorable places like Cornell present the science in such competitive terms like top 100 lists and who saw what first. My hope is that I can document and demonstrate the impact of that in this series. I ask sincerely that you don’t hesitate to speak your mind if you feel I’ve failed in that regard.

      To be quite honest, I hadn’t drawn the line between those two statements (“sucessful birder” et al.). What I’d hoped to show is that 20 years of being a naturalist had given me some experience with birding. I therefore felt last year that perhaps I should engage with the overall community based on my success which heretofore had not been—and hereafter will not be—public. Unfortunately I didn’t view those statements outside that context, hence I missed your very insightful implication. Thank you for pointing that out. I’ll happily include the dichotomy in this series as my very real and personal faux pas. Twelve months of immersion in a community that thrives on the sharp edge of counterproductive competition obviously wasn’t kind to me.

      And I’m happy to say I won’t compete with you. If you and another saw 184 species in two days and feel that’s an exemplary and unrivaled record in our area, I won’t argue. In fact, instead I’ll say this: Congratulations! Having lost so much of my data in the “extravagant claim” of a laptop death that was fully documented here on my blog and by University of Texas and Audubon personnel with whom I had initiated a bird conservation project that later suffered from my loss of data—all of which happened before you showed up—well, I have nothing to say other than I have the utmost respect for such educated experts who are so accomplished in the field, especially considering all that classroom time you no doubt have to deal with that probably keeps you from “living in the field” like so many of us. I can’t imagine how frustrating that is for you.

      (By the way, if you prefer that I update the entry in question with your findings and how that demonstrates that someone without your credentials can’t possibly have seen more than you, please say so and I’ll readily add your report and findings to that entry. In that case I’ll also include UTSWMC and Audubon communiqués that confirm my laptop problems and how that event negatively impacted our efforts to protect the wading-bird rookery on the UT Southwestern Medical Center campus near downtown Dallas. I strongly suggest you check with Betsy, Anna, J R and UTSWMC personnel about who researched and initiated that effort, and if that data was lost in a laptop problem later, before you ask me to update the post in question.)

      Please don’t assume that what you’ll read in this series is all from me, Thomas. On the contrary, you’ll be hearing from people right here in North Texas, from people elsewhere in North America, from people who visit the forums and the lists where you’re an expert, and from people around the world. This isn’t just about my experiences; it’s about experiences from real people in the field every day who find themselves the whipping boys of those “in the know” and who cringe at the practices and beliefs of the experts who have no time for anyone saying something contrary to the accepted “facts.” I wish I could say I was alone in that regard. But I’m not.

  5. There are many a twisted lister out there, that’s for sure. I despise when people use playbacks for non-research related stuff. That’s crap. I’ll admit I keep track of lists and photograph what I can and get pretty excited about rare species and the like. But I know what you’re saying. There’s part of the intense birding crown that makes me want to pull my hair out.

    One of the things I don’t get is birds are the only thing they notice. We were at High Island this spring and I was watching a snake capture and eat a frog. that was awesome. some people came by and I pointed it out and they just almost laughed and blew if off . So weird.

    I’ve noticed the uppity trend with a lot of things, for instance, climbing and white water paddlers. I climb and I used to do white water stuff. I cant stand the climber/paddler crowd as a whole and they remind me of the birders you’re talking about. All right, enough nonsense from my end.

    1. What a great term, Jill! “Twisted lister” indeed. I have reports from people in the Caribbean as they hold a dying hummingbird in their hands whilst “a professional birder” pushes into view so they can check the species on their list. Horrible!

      I do keep a list. A total “life list” that has lots of “unidentified” entries on it. It’s not a list of what can be seen; it’s a list of what has been seen, including photos of things I can’t quite identify–yet! But I don’t keep a list of what I might see.

      And you’re so very right: Birds are a bit player in the whole biome. I see birders who step on, over and around so much beautiful life just so they can check off a name on a list. What a shame! So much beauty ignored, so much “life” left off the “life list”…

      I hope I can meet expectations with this series, that I can show an objective view of something that I feel harms birds rather than helps them. That’s my true effort here: To show a bit of truth in what’s an otherwise subjective field, and hopefully thereby I can help the very creatures the community wants to save. I’m not perfect, but I’ll do my best.

  6. Jason,

    Anyway, I wanted to apologize for my rude comment. I just wanted to make you aware that typically when someone reports something out of the norm or exceptional, it turns out to be incorrect. That is why the “professional” community’s judgement can often be so harsh, pessimistic, and even accusatory. Sometimes we are humbled and apologetic, most of the time we are correct.

    To go back to my last point, its hard to expect people to immediately believe statements which are contradictory to their own experiences without irrefutable proof. If I’ve done something (birded WRL in winter) often enough, and rarely or never seen Green Herons, and you tell me that they’re usual, one of us has to be incorrect . . . If you showed me Green Herons a few times in January next winter or pictures from the last few winters, I would gladly apologize, because I want to see them too?! Do you see? It’s upsetting to myself because these are things we’ve never/rarely done/seen and then an unknown (yourself) claims to have seen them. We don’t want you to be wrong/lying, we just want to be able to do these things as well!

    Or in the “two day north central Texas list” case. Our best effort yielded 184 species, including some real rarities. You had one less observer, during a less productive time of year, in a smaller area. I also assumed that you must’ve found some real rarities in the course of observing over 200 species, and wondered why you didn’t report them when you have reported other seemingly uncommon or occasional species this year, as others would’ve loved to see these rarities, whatever they might have been.

    It is this natural sense of competition/pride, the “if I can’t do it, they can’t do it attitude,” combined with a large percentage of others’ reports which do turn out to be erroneous, which have made some skeptical of unproven observations. The simplest way to quell doubts is to provide evidence. When you have a huge area list . . . post the list, or when you spot a rarity, report it.

    I would also argue that removing yourself from the birding community is counterproductive in the extreme. As I stated earlier, citizen science is currently the ONLY real nationwide avian population monitoring system, and we need people (just like you and me) to provide observations. E-bird is a valuable resource but it is still in its developmental stages and rarely used by any real scientific entities due to its lack of filter. Perhaps your big two-day results are still in E-bird??! Please come to the CBC next year, Jim Peterson’s zone, I’ll meet you there.


    1. I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring your comment, Thomas, but I’m quite ill today and lack the synaptic wherewithal to be thorough. Hence, please excuse my brevity.

      Some of what you’re discussing digs deep into this series, so I don’t want to delve into it here lest I wind up writing the rest of the entries in the comments. Know that I agree with your sentiment about seeing things and wanting to see things; that’s why I spend so much time wandering around in nature. Know that I can’t debate the 200 species issue due to my loss of data (the only thing I have from that time are photos, and from those I can come up with the hundred-something number I mentioned in the comments on that post).

      On the green herons, all I can give you are my observations from living here for a decade. Keep in mind I’m at the lake for all but maybe a handful of days each year. That no doubt skews my idea of normal because my exposure is so high and so intimate. Since I never even knew before last year that it was possible to report sightings–heck, I’d never heard of a CBC before last year–everything I see and experience rests in notes and photos.

    2. I’m so embarrassed, Thomas, but it just occurred to me that I missed something terribly important that you mentioned. You said it’s “hard to expect people to immediately believe statements which are contradictory to their own experiences without irrefutable proof. If I’ve done something (birded WRL in winter) often enough, and rarely or never seen Green Herons, and you tell me that they’re usual, one of us has to be incorrect . . . ”

      I had no idea you lived here as well. I’m glad to know I have a neighbor! I’m also glad to know that you’ve lived at the lake for ten years, and that you’ve visited the lake daily for twenty years, and that you’ve lived within biking distance of the lake for 40 years (my mother, who comments here, will gladly confirm that we kids were cycling around White Rock Lake some 30 years ago). My humble apologies for missing the fact that you lived here. Whereabouts do you reside (please be vague for personal security)? I’m so excited to know a kindred spirit is right here with me!

      Yes, I’m absolutely in agreement: Considering you must certainly have your “own experiences” that are different from my firsthand, on-site, in-person experiences spanning a very long time, I’m more than interested in knowing what you’ve seen and how that sheds light on the question of green herons in winter. Though my photos and notes and observations tell me what to expect, I’m more than interested in learning how another resident of the lake sees a different world than the one I see.

      (By the way, as “irrefutable proof” that you live here and have the same daily exposure that I have, please say how long Sunset Bay was frozen during our last cold snap. Or lacking exposure to that place, please mention where the American wigeons were hanging out while the creeks were frozen. And if that seems unfamiliar, please say where mallard ducks were frozen in the ice [there are five spots available around the whole lake]. I admit it was perhaps too cold to be out and about, so maybe instead you can describe the tree between Winfrey Point and Dreyfuss Club that has the most pronounced lightning damage [it’s unmistakable]. If you need them, I have photos to answer all of those questions. Oh, it might behoove you to mention how old you are so we can ensure you have at least three decades of your “own experiences” at WRL. Though I’m 40, I’ll only claim 30 years of recognizable experience based on when I started biking around the lake.)

  7. I look forward to reading this series as well. I’ve been birding mostly my neighborhood trails and around Austin for about 2 years. I’m especially happy birding places I can walk to from my house. It somehow feels more right.

    I’ve generally avoided the birding scene precisely because of some of the things you suggest in your intro. As someone who isn’t part of it, it seems oddly cultish to me. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s why I typically bird alone.

    Also, as some of your previous commenters have pointed out, there’s more out there than birds, and I hate to miss that.

    1. You’re a man after my own heart, James! When I’m out and about, I’m there to see as much as I can. One thing nature has shown me is that she’s full of mystery and magic. I’m also a tad capricious, hence the pretty bird gives way to the gorgeous flower which gives way to the fascinating insect… I want to see it all. And walking there is why nearly all of my time in nature is at the lake where I live; I don’t have to drive anywhere–and the walking is good for me.

      Like you, I do better on my own–and I prefer it that way because I can stop as often as I like, I can enjoy watching one thing for as long as I want without worrying about moving on, I can sit for hours waiting to see something specific, I know how to be as unobtrusive as possible, the only schedule I have to pay attention to is my own, and the only conversations going on are in my head. OK, scratch that last part since it makes me look more insane than I really am!

  8. I’m twenty two years old. I’ve only been a part of the birding community since 2004 or 2005 although I’ve been ‘birding’ since I was about ten or eleven. I did not claim to have the same daily exposure as you do, my words were “often enough.” Correct? I’m currently at graduate school at SFASU in Nacogdoches. I just moved down here, and I have not been to the lake since December 31st. I lived at my folks’ house about a mile and a half east of the lake and often biked to the lake, much as you must’ve as a child.

    I’ve got class in an hour and I really can’t waste any more time debating the veracity of your sightings. I thought about responding with, “Perhaps you could tell me where the Rufous-crowned Sparrows nest in Throckmorton County? etc.” It’s pointless. I think I made my points clear, although you still seem to have trouble grasping them. It would behoove you to re-read your writing and then compare it to your very own complaints about the ‘birding community.’ You might discover an “air of pomposity, of superiority,” in your own writing.

    Anyway, I wish you a speedy recovery from your illness, and I hope we can put our status as “internet enemies” aside long enough to go wander about the lake when I return to the big, smog-covered city in the spring.


    1. I don’t hold grudges, Thomas, and I don’t even see this as anything more than a lively debate. One thing I cherish is honest discussion–especially disagreement, since that’s the best way to learn. If I was mean or upset or uninterested in the views of those who see things differently, your comments probably wouldn’t have made it through.

      (I should note I don’t have enemies. Well, one: sweet potatoes. But that’s different. One thing that took me years to learn that I now hold dear is that anger should be temporary. That’s just too much time lost on something that hurts no one but me.)

      I stand rightfully corrected if I at all implied on the green heron question that I was speaking to any environment other than WRL. I thought I clarified that that was the only place I was referring to, but if I didn’t make that clear, you’re a good man for pointing it out. I can only speak to what I know, and the one place I know best is White Rock Lake. Though I do travel, I’m only an infrequent visitor to anyplace except where I live.

      And I appreciate the well wishes. Thankfully it’s nothing more than a vicious little cold, albeit a rather mean one. But no limbs have fallen off and today I feel less like I’m dying and more like I’m just suffering, so I’ll take that as a sign of improvement!

  9. Jason, your title implies a homogeneity in “the birding community” that simply doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing in reality — there are only individuals who go birding and have varying degrees of interest in birds. Some of them associate with some of the others. Some of them join organizations like Audubon, some, like you, don’t. Some of them are rabid “twisted listers” (i like that term, too!) who are more interested in ticking a bird off on their life list than in actually spending any time with it (I confess I haven’t actually met any of these because I’m not a rarity chaser — I’ve only read about them), some of them (I for one) are more interested in bird behavior (one company that does guided bird trips says it asks people which type they are so as to try to avoid combining them on the same trip), some of them are more interested in bird photography, some in conservation — some travel shorter or longer distances to see birds, some are mainly interested in the birds they see in their yards — there’s great variation!

    To gain the respect of others engaged in a similar enterprise, whatever it might be, it’s always necessary to create a reputation. That’s especially true when you’re saying anything that runs counter to what your reader/listener has observed if that person has been a diligent observer him or herself. I attended a talk/slide show by Greg Lasley, then a retired policeman, at an Audubon meeting. He related that he initially ran into disbelief when he reported seeing birds that were rare or unknown in the regions where he was observing and didn’t earn respect for such reports until he started photographing the birds he saw and reported. (See his bio here: http://www.greglasley.net/gregbio.html ) You have to expect that, because experienced, careful observers have often encountered people who haven’t trained their eyes well and mistake more common birds for highly unlikely birds — while in the company of the more carefully trained observers! Those experiences tend to make people sceptical of claims by people who haven’t established a reputation. (Nevertheless, a few years ago I took a photographer with me to investigate a farmer’s belief that he had a Yellow Warbler nesting in his orchard, since that would have been extraordinary and warranted a rare bird report to the TBRC, but it turned out to be an Orchard Oriole.) Your acknowledged avoidance of “the birding community” prevented you from establishing a reputation for expertise and believability, so you can hardly complain when you encountered scepticism. It’s how people avoid being overly credulous!

    I think your reports over the last year — especially when you provided photos, as of the Immature Vermilion Flycatcher (wish I’d been able to find it!), as well as your ability to identify an assortment of other creatures, have gone some way towards earning you a respectable reputation as a naturalist and birdwatcher. Your blog account of all the diversionary behaviors of a Killdeer protecting its nest, for just one example, marks you as an acute observern my mind. The fact that you live at the lake means you get in far more observation time than those of us who don’t, yes, I agree.

    I’ve noted, however, that you have a penchant for overdramatization and exaggeration at times. When someone is looking for precision in a person’s reports, that works against you. How is one to know whether a particular report is precise or exaggerated when you do both by turns?

    Perhaps it’s partly a question of interpretation. When you write on the Audubon forum something like Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have been “common” and everywhere at the lake in winter for years, one expects to be able to see them on every winter birding outing — like Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. If one doesn’t, and one is a frequent, skilled and diligent observer (who keeps records) at the hatchery, as Chris Runk is, and one hasn’t seen BGGNs there in winter until recent years, one is justified in questioning what you say. Perhaps they’re more likely to be found on the east side of the lake where you are and he doesn’t bird that much. White-breasted Nuthatches, for example, show up there but not in the hatchery.

    So, Jason — perhaps if you cultivate more precision of expression and continue to establish your reputation you’ll encounter less scepticism?

    (This is not to say that you don’t have valid complaints about some birders — there’s a sport birder contingent that’s highly competetive and which I generally try to avoid, but it must be admitted that competition inspires many people to develop their skills better and some value it for that reason if no other.)

    1. I would argue, Betsy, that I use “the birding community” in quotes to express an outside view. From within the community as you see it, I couldn’t agree more: a vast difference exists, many people and many styles and many intentions. Please note I specifically mentioned that individuals and groups could be different and that I was referring to a whole, not pieces. Also keep in mind that from outside where most people stand, it’s one big group with no differences. That’s what I’m trying to show, and it’s why I use “the birding community” in quotes. Still, your point is well said and well taken–a valid point if ever there was one.

      My approach is to show from the outside observer’s view, however, as I think “the birding community” needs to look at itself from a different perspective. And you make clear I’m on the outside, a fact I accept and hope gives me a different perspective on things. I admit that’s probably wishful thinking on my part, a large slice of being above my station. That’s why I’m not disallowing disagreement–even personal attacks (not you!)–in this regard. I look at this as an opportunity to learn–for everyone, myself included.

      You hit the nail on the head! Only recently have I become aware of how ubiquitous terms like “common” and “abundant” and “usual” are given very precise meanings within the birding world. (Think “infer” and what you learned when I used it to mean “imply.”) People like me who have no experience in “the birding community” can only go with the turn of phrase that comes to mind. When it runs against organizational vernacular, we–those of us from the outside–don’t know better unless someone helps us understand. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to have anyone from within the community stop me and tell me that maybe I’m using the wrong words to describe things; instead, I get the “exaggeration” and “dramatization” and accusations of dishonesty because someone visiting the same place once or twice in a month didn’t get to see what I said was common.

      I used that word to mean usual, that is: they can be found in most winters. I didn’t mean they were overflowing the lake. Sadly, I didn’t realize at the time that “common” means something very specific in birding colloquialisms. ‘Common’ is/was the wrong word within the community yet correct in its basic definition (i.e., ordinary); nevertheless, I still don’t know what the right term is.

      Anyway, please don’t be a stranger. I would very much appreciate your input on this series. I trust you and I think you have a charitable nature that could help many, including me, but I also think you’ll be honest–even if brutally–and that’s something this discussion needs as it develops.

  10. “Only recently have I become aware of how ubiquitous terms like “common” and “abundant” and “usual” are given very precise meanings within the birding world”

    Ah — that clarifies things! It definitely does help when we all use the same words to mean the same things. I’ve been trying to conform to the usage given on Jim Peterson’s checklists for the sake of consistency. I think the more serious birders in the area do that as well. They’re defined at the top of each checklist section — here’s one section:

    Are you mentally dismissing Chris Runk, a person who birds at WRL, as “someone visiting the same place once or twice in a month”? Because ten years ago he set himself the task of discovering all the kinds of birds that appear in the hatchery, in the service of which task he birds there three or more times a week. He can tell you some species that arrive on the same date each spring! He’s now doing the same thing for migration seasons at the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant.

    Warren Pulich, in his working days a professor of ornithology at the University of Dallas, made and collected sighting reports for all of North Central Texas and compiled the data into the book “The Birds of North Central Texas,” now out-of-print and somewhat dated.

    Jim Peterson, formerly the resident ornithologist at the Dallas Museum of Natural History (until they lost funding for the position) took over the job of collecting this data from Pulich and produced the checklists that appear on his website: http://www.nctexasbirds.com/ . He has been in charge of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for the Dallas area for years and years and is also co-author of a book on Trans-Pecos birds. I don’t even know all of his credentials!

    Among birders who are familiar with each other, Greg Cook, who spends every spare moment he has birding (the one Thomas Riecke goes about with and learns from) is generally acknowledged to be the best birder in the area. There are other very fine ones as well (which is not to say that they spend as much time at WRL as you do, of course).

    These are not “casual birders,” to be easily dismissed, as I get the impression you believe. Just so you know.

    As for being an “outsider” and not a member of “the birding community” — you characterized yourself that way. I consider you to be a member of the birding community in the all-encompassing sense in which you seem to be using it at times, although one who is not in touch with many members of it. In tnat sense only are you an outsider.

    I have to laugh when you take exception to being accused of exaggeration and dramatization (I think I’m probably the only one who has accused you of that.) You don’t think “the birding community hates birds” is an example of both dramatization and exaggeration? C’mon, Jason! Of course it is! And it serves its pourpose as an attention -grabbing headline that provokes reading and discussion. If you had written the more accurate, undramatic, measured statement “Some members of the birdwatching community care little for the welfare of the very birds that interest them” people would probably have said, “Ho hum, so what else is new?” and bypassed reading it! So, you provoked a dialogue, from which we and you learn things. So much the better. I’ll be followiong this series with interest and continuing to comment on it if I have anything useful to add — even if it’s only to inform you of things I’m not sure you know. (And now you can say that someone has given you an idea of the appropriate words to use when describing the relative abundance of a species at WRL or anywhere else. btw, I found it useful to look at Jim’s definnitions of the seasons as used in the checklists, too.) And yes, I’m pretty likely to be honest in my comments, and charitable when I think it’s warranted. (Your headline is rather brutal, too, don’tcha think?) ;>)

    1. You’re the best, Betsy! Thank you for the link to the nctexas site. And in truth, I’m more thankful than anything that someone has an explanation–or something like an explanation–of terms. I downloaded the checklist for Aransas because I’m familiar with the place, but I’m discovering that I haven’t a clue how “common” and “occasional” and “rare” and other such terms are used (except beyond standard English–which, by the way, doesn’t seem to fit with my vocabulary). I’m so embarrassed that I haven’t looked into this before–and I’m even more embarrassed that I’ve put my foot in my mouth repeatedly by using these phrases well outside this usage. Now I understand a great deal more…

      No, absolutely not: I don’t dismiss Chris, Thomas, Jim or anyone else, and I don’t disregard their experiences. My only contention was a comparison of experiences based on even three or four days per week versus every day per week. I’d bet none of them can answer the questions I posed to Thomas–only because living someplace is quite different from visiting some place. Those questions speak to the level of WRL experience I was being mindful of. But they don’t speak to overall experience or expertise, and I didn’t mean to imply a failing on anyone’s part in an overall sense even if they lacked the specific and constant experience I spoke to.

      As for the title, I hope you saw my previous explanation of that. It’s intentional. And I don’t think it speaks to me being inside or outside the group, so to speak. (In fact, I think your impression is well outside the usual, especially because I’m not compliant. Mom always said that a major shortcoming for me…)

  11. I just came back to read this…I only started watching birds 5 years ago when I became too ill due to MS to work. I moved to a house with a pond and woods and started watching birds. I was excited and joined our local birding list. I was dismayed that I was ignored almost totally. One nice man would answer me off list and that was it. The list was mostly for pointing out this and that bird so people could run there to see it which seemed to me to be stressing the bird, but I was new to this.

    I joined another list and found a few people who were very helpful and very more naturalists than birders. Two were wildlife rehabbers. I have come to feel that I am more a naturalist than a birder. I will never be able to climb, hike or do anything that a real ‘birder’ does. I am strictly a backyard birder, but I find as much joy in the mammals, insects and trees that I can photograph.

    Yes, I do feed the birds. I feel that for me in my suburban area, this is right for me. The birds especially the wood peckers are being squeezed with the loss of woodland habitat which shrinks every year here. It does change their behavior and I would like to eventually have a yard that has all natural foods, but that is in the future.

    Interesting blog..It makes me think and that is a good thing.. Nice work Jason….You are an intelligent and caring guy…..

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