Wednesday, October 03, 2007

This advice is for the birds – er, birders

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, bird watching, bird listing

I confess, I am not a birder lister, a birder, or much of a bird watcher. I simply carry binoculars when I remember to, and look at whatever I see, or look for whatever I hear. We have a somewhat bird-friendly yard with a shallow bird bath, so we see plenty of birds through the kitchen window.

Now, if I decide to spend more time with birds in my retirement (not quite imminent, but getting close), I know where to turn. Pete Dunne, current director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, has compiled Good Birders Don't Wear White: 50 Tips from North America's Top Birders. In addition to the fifty essays, Robert A. Braunfield has contributed 24 illustrations in the text plus one on the cover. They are informative and humorous by turns, as the one shown, from page 174.

The essays are grouped in fourteen topics, and cover the gamut of birding attitudes and activities. Bill Thompson III (current editor of Bird Watcher's Digest) describes in detail how to clean the lenses of your binoculars or spotting scope. Hint: Don't use your don't know what kind of grit it has picked up from the dust in the air and from the washing machine. You'll scratch the coating, and maybe the glass. In the title essay, Sheri Williamson (author of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America in the Peterson Field Guide series) explains how a moving patch of white mimics the alarm displays of many birds. Just how close do you imagine you'll get?

Kevin J. Cook (a writer-naturalist and columnist for The Coloradoan) urges us to shift "from birding to birds," taking time to learn not just the distinguishing marks, but the habits, ecology, preferred food (in different seasons), and nesting behavior; to get to know the living animal once you've filed the appropriate notch on your field guide. In a similar vein, Stephen Shunk (owner and operator of Paradise Birding shows how sighting birds, often in less "natural" locales, can lift our spirits.

And one more I can't help mentioning, Jon L. Dunn (a tour leader for WINGS and a prolific writer) encourages us all to think like a birder, for the welfare of the birds and of ourselves. That's just a hint at one tenth of the gems. Read up and dig out the rest!

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