The Sounds of Birding
Whenever Winnipeg winters got too much for me or my job got me down, I would fantasize about ditching everything to become a bird guide in some warm, sunny place. Costa Rica, for instance, or Ecuador, or Australia. Warm climates, lots of birds. Ah!
For an avid birder, could there possibly be a better job?
But bird guiding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be delightful sharing your knowledge of birds and helping novices identify beautiful winged creatures and discover the joys of birding. It can also be taxing.
In 2006 big-time novelist Jonathan Franzen (Freedom) wrote an article for New Yorker magazine called “My Bird Problem.” It so inspired a literary friend of mine that he asked me to help him become a birder. I soon realized that it would be easier for me to become quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens than it would for him to become a birder. He just couldn’t see birds lined up full-frame in a fieldscope; he couldn’t hear birds two feet away from him. That bird guiding experience didn’t last long.
He was an extreme example of those wannabee birders that I call the Whazzats. These are earnest people who can hear birds but can’t locate or identify them. There’s usually one on each bird outing. Every time they hear even the slightest sound, they ask: “Whazzat?!” In fact, it’s usually a command. This can drive even the most patient bird guide batty. Well, it can drive me batty!
I used to consider myself a pretty expert identifier of birds and birdsong. My confidence was shaken one time when a group of us heard a very quiet “seep” sound. Somebody identified it as a robin. Several of us were dismissive. But it turned out to be a robin.
That little bit of insecurity has grown as I have traveled to other places in May and June, prime bird sound season. Without constant reinforcement, I seem to have lost my ear for calls and songs. With so many similar and near similar birdsongs from other lands now jammed in my brain, cognitive dissonance has set in.
My fantasy of being an exotic bird guide faded until I heard about I-Phone and I-Pod bird apps. It’s the bird sounds of these bird apps that make them so valuable. These little gizmos have restored my faith in someday dropping everything and guiding people in some hot, sunny, birdy locale. Ah!