Susan Kelly, a retired techie who has taken numerous birding classes over the years, including at City College and Point
Blue, has the same aw-shucks-I’m-just-learning-still attitude.
It’s refreshing in this age of look-at-me.
Birding has not, however, escaped the modern world. In
truth, it’s been transformed by it. Where birders used to once
carry field guides, they now carry their iPhones, and birding
apps are ubiquitous. There’s i Bird, an online field guide; an
Audubon app; and the Birdwatchers’ Diary app, where birders
keep track of what they’ve seen. But mostly, there are Yahoo
Groups, which allow birders to connect in a way they never
have before. Just seen a kingbird out at Las Gallinas? Get on
North Bay Birds and let all your Marin buddies know. Before
long, otherwise respectable citizens will be calling in sick and
lugging their scopes to San Rafael. Prior to the advent of this
technology, it would have taken months for other birders to
learn of a sighting, by reading about it in a magazine.
Not that technology has been a godsend to birding. There
are also apps that play birdsong and can help identify cer-
tain calls, but drive some birders crazy. Why? Because
there’s always the birder who thinks it’s a swell idea to use
the apps to draw birds out into the open, all the better to
watch them. “That’s not really a good thing for the birds,”
says Blumin. Purists contend that the whole idea behind
birding is to observe nature, not tamper with it.
Observing birds has contributed greatly to science. Every
December, birders in Marin County (and around the entire
U.S.) go out and tally for the Audubon Society’s annual
Christmas Bird Count, which helps Audubon monitor bird
populations over time. And “citizen scientists” help Point
Blue conduct its Pacific Fly way Shorebird Survey, the results
of which are used to formulate policy for agencies such as the
National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife. Without volunteer birders, these counts could not happen. It’s a win-win.
Without crucial bird habitat — which these groups are trying
to preserve — there would also be no birding.
Many of the birders who grab their binoculars and head to
Point Reyes or Bolinas or Las Gallinas this month to watch for
the return of migrating birds like the chipping sparrow and
black-throated gray warbler, however, do it simply because they
love it. It’s not just the beauty of the birds that’s the draw; it’s
also their personalities. “The birds’ antics can be just incredible,” says Blumin, citing the hawk fight mentioned above.
Susan Kelly agrees. “Those are the kinds of things that
make birding really interesting,” she says. “You go out and
you see something like that fight and you’re just like, wow.” M
The West Marin resident recorded
a huge number of first sightings and
played a pivotal role in the rise of
birding as a national pastime.
This page: Hale Prather
Pattie and Len Blumin,
Hale Prather and Sonja
Suzuki at the count.