Wednesday, August 16, 2006

8 Reasons Not to Start Birding

This week, Darren Rowse has been running one of his group writing projects; this time the subject is list posts. After I saw Mike's list of 12 reasons to become a bird watcher, I decided to add a list of my own. Just to be contrarian, I tried to come up with a few reasons not to start birding.

  1. It's addicting. First you see a house sparrow, then a starling, then a rock pigeon, and then suddenly something you have never seen before. And you think: "Wow! I never thought I would see something so colorful/large/exotic around here!" And the next thing you know, you'll be arranging day trips specifically to see lots of birds.
  2. The early birder gets the birds. If you're anything like me, you're not a morning person, and you can't imagine getting up at a quarter to four in the morning for anything, let alone birdwatching. But early morning is the best time for see birds. Before you know it, you'll be dragging yourself out of bed super early to catch flights of migrants as they come in.
  3. Birding requires patience. Learning the birds in your area takes time to appreciate the subtle differences that differentiate one species from another. When going out to bird, you have to be prepared not to see anything unusual; this is not a hobby of instant gratification.
  4. Some bird families are a pain. While some species are easy to identify, others are not, which frequently becomes a source of frustration. Want an example? Try identifying silent Empidonax flycatchers.
  5. Local limitations. While over 900 species have been recorded in North America and around 9500 in the world, one is not likely to see anywhere near that many in one's local area. This, too, can be a source of frustration, especially in some areas with very small local lists.
  6. Ecological impact. While birding has been an impetus for conservation, birders may also leave a heavy footprint in pursuing their hobby, whether in trampling through fragile environments or in consuming large amounts of fossils fuels to travel to exotic locations.
  7. Competition. Like many pursuits, birding has taken on a competitive aspect, whether in comparing the lengths of life lists or in seeing who can see the most birds in a single 24-hour day. For some people this is thrilling, but it turns other people off.
  8. Expense. Birding can be done at different levels. It is often said that all you need are binoculars and a field guide, and this axiom is true to a certain extent. But to go beyond a basic level usually requires some investment, in other books to fill in the details, in better optics (even spotting scopes), and in travel. Many of these can be had reasonably, but cumulatively are not cheap.
I do not mean to discourage anyone from taking up bird watching. In fact, it is an exciting and fulfilling activity. Obviously, since I am writing this on my personal birding blog, I have not heeded my own advice.