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The Most Important Thing About Birding (Hint: It’s Not Birds)

The most important thing about a birding trip is not the birds. Really.

Here’s why:  All kinds of things can influence the birds you see and hear.   So let’s focus on stuff that really matters on a field trip: the people.

Some of my favorite folk- Birders!

It’s like soup; too much of one ingredient is boring. I love time alone in the outdoors, to be sure, but being with a group of fellow bird nerds/naturalists when everyone gets a good look at a fun bird? And it’s a lifer for someone in the bunch? And everyone is smiling and giddy?  You can’t help but be excited too.

The fun of birding in a group comes mostly from these moments.  They’re contagious. People are dancing smiling laughing when they see something that’s -how can I put it- exotic for them.  It’s fun to share these moments.  Who you’re with is way more important than what you might see.

I’ve been on dozens of field trips under every type of circumstances, from research and banding to formal surveys and counts to paid private guided field trips.  And with the most bizarre groups you can imagine.  By far the best groups have beginners in them; If you go out with a bunch of really good birders it can get boring real fast.  I think it’s because they all know every peep and who made it and why.  There’s no give and take about what is going on around you.

Also sometimes I think they are afraid to say anything because they might (heaven forbid) make a mistake. I promise you if you are on a trip with me I will miss ID a bird at some point during the day, every day. And it’s usually something really obvious and easy like last year when I called a chirping Cardinal a Chat (this is a major bird nerd no-no).  Everyone looked at me like I had lost my mind, and by that point in the week, I had.

But I’m not a hired gun. No degree.  No life list (that’s another story).   So maybe it’s okay for me to make mistakes.  Personally I like to see the pros make a mistake once in a while it shows they are human too.  Perfection is way overrated.

When you have a good field guide, and some beginners, and you mix them in with other levels of interest and experience, it’s more fun.  Makes me smile just writing about it.

That's a goldfinch, and those are fingernails.

That's a golfinch in those fingernails.

The most rewarding bird trips for me are when we’re giving back.  You don’t have to be a great birder to be a ambassador for nature. You don’t have to be great at anything. “Showing is better than telling” a 4 year old told me, as I was talking too much to a school group I did a bird presentation for. She wanted more action.

I get really excited when out on a field trip and I see a new bird or bug or critter of some kind.  Even plants.  But when I see someone, young or old, really getting excited about what’s around them, maybe for the first time ever? That’s a wonderful feeling.

The New River Birding and Nature Festival sponsors hands-on learning experiences for local schools.  These are the trips that give me the best feelings of all.

Share what you know, right?

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