Monday, July 03, 2006

Birds and Blogging

In anticipation of the first anniversary of I and the Bird, Mike has asked that we bird bloggers think and write about why we bird, why we blog, and why we blog about birds. This is an especially fitting time for me to reflect on this question, since my blog recently completed its first year in existence as well.

So why do I bird? In this blog's inaugural post, I told the story of when I started birding in earnest. For me, this meant the summer when I began to take walks and longer trips specifically to look for birds. It was sparked by the realization that the exotic-looking birds that I saw illustrated in field guides and other sources could be seen with just a little extra effort. In that first year of birding, I came to know many wonderful species - everything from waterfowl to warblers. As a result I was hooked, and I have been watching birds ever since.

For me, there are four things that make birding appealing. First, I have always loved the outdoors, and I would be trying to get out as much as possible with or without birds. Birding has made me more aware of my natural surroundings - not just birds, but also trees, wildflowers, and various insects. Second, birds are notable for their diversity, so there is always a new species or plumage variation to see. Third, there is a thrill that comes from looking for birds and nailing down identifications. Finally, individual birds are fun to watch. Even the ubiquitous house sparrows can be fun to observe over an extended period of time.

Having answered that question as best I could, why do I blog, and why do I blog about birding? I have always enjoyed writing, or at least I have enjoyed writing since the later stages of high school. In many ways I prefer writing to speaking. I do not think on the fly all that well, and in conversation my thoughts tend to come out in a jumble, sometimes with critical points or connections left unclear. But with writing I have time to get my thoughts in order and form them into something logical and persuasive. My comfort with writing turned into an interest in blogging as I became more aware of the world of blogs. I first learned of blogs via some baseball sites that I used to read; then in the 2004 election cycle I was introduced to political blogs, many of which I still read regularly. Blogging seemed like a natural fit for me. It is writing, which I enjoy, and I am free to write about whatever topic most interests me.

Eventually I chose birds as a topic for my nascent blog because it was a topic that held my interest. My experience with blogging (and writing in general, for that matter) has been that it is very important to choose a topic that will hold one's interest over the long term. The next most important thing is that it be a topic that one knows something about.

Now I could just as easily have started a blog or website on something related to work or school. But I did not want to do this for two reasons. One is that when people have gotten in trouble for blogging, it has tended to be because of blogging about work or school in too much detail. The second was my worry that blogging on academic issues could create future problems for me when it came to getting papers published. So I decided to turn towards a hobby instead. For me, that meant birding.

I did not choose to blog about birding solely because it was an available - and safe - topic. The idea for bird blogging grew out of my tendency to write up details of my birding walks for my own use, and to report sightings to the local birding listserve, MD Osprey. At the same time, I was keeping a birding journal in a word processing document on my computer. I wanted a way to record and discuss my observations in more detail without cluttering up the local listserves. A blog seemed to be the natural way to do this. (I must note that this idea did not originate with me, since I had been reading a few bird-related blogs before I started my own.)

Blogging has been an enjoyable and fruitful experience for me. I find that it has enriched my birding experiences since I now pay closer attention to bird behaviors for possible blogging topics. Starting the "Birds of the Mid-Atlantic" series has led me to learn more about the natural history of our native bird species. Even my link posts have been educational. Since I look actively for articles to blog, I have more exposure to recent research and trends. Finally, the existence of a community of bird-bloggers has been a source of encouragement and inspiration in my writing.