Thursday, March 6, 2014

Medium Birder

Within the blog description we call ourselves "casual birders", but that isn't quite right. Sure, we don't have the time or ability to go out and birding all the time, but we are not just casual. Trust me, I run into casual birders all the time and, while there is nothing wrong with being casual, the term "casual birder" seems to imply someone who doesn't quite have that obsession with birding. It isn't an insult to be called a casual birder, but I don't think Paul and I are really casual.

We aren't quite the hard-core birders either, but I think that is based one two thing dealing with time: accessibility and experience. Accessibility because we just have access to quite the same amount of time to go birding as others do. I mean I would love to go out every morning and go birding (and some weeks of the summer I do!), but with kids and work it is quite impossible for either of us to have so much time to spare for it. Experience is related, but another matter altogether.

You may remember from other writings, but before about a year and a half ago I was the definition of a casual birder. I kept a yard list, was good with neighborhood birds, and went to my field guide far too often. But once I moved to the Philadelphia region I had some more time and more ability to go birding, and that was when I convinced Paul to do this whole blog and birding thing. So my birding career has only been about 15 months.

This leads to weird things where I am an oddly mottled collection of beginning birder, experienced birder, and even advanced birder, depending on the group or location. I've been with experienced and great birders and picked up Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Chimney Swifts by ear before they did, IDed distant Common Nighthawks and Broad-winged Hawks before they did, and even spotted a Connecticut Warbler by myself. Yet common chip notes from White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows are not always obvious, I still have to check the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker calls every time, and I can't quite get the swallows by flight pattern yet. But then I see a sparrow...

Ok, I can pick up Song Sparrows quite easily because I have seen them for years and years in my various yards. My brother sent me a picture of one the other day that he was sure was Lincoln's Sparrow, but I could tell right away it was a song sparrow. White-throated, Chipping, and even Field Sparrows? No problem! Fox Sparrows are easy (at least around here), and American Tree Sparrows aren't that bad, though they can be scarce. Hell, once Lincoln's Sparrows start moving through, I get pretty good at them too. But Savannah Sparrows? God, those always get me, and they really shouldn't; It is one of those "not quite a really good birder" things. And that one yellowy-splashed sparrow that I saw at Heinz for 3 seconds? Yeah, I had no chance of IDing it, but I knew it was different and probably a rarity (I wonder if it was a Nelson's?).

You see, some things I am great at and some I am OK at and some I suck at; it is the awkward teenage years of birding. "Casual birder" doesn't describe me (or Paul) and while just "birder" is apt, I think a better name for us would be Medium Birder. At least for now.

Damon Orsetti and Paul Frost: Medium Birders.

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