Friday, April 6, 2012

Got To Run, No Time To Chat?

I enjoy chasing birds. No secret there; nature's diversity gives me pleasure when I am able to experience it. But chasing per se is not all that I do. I enjoy getting out and birding in any number of fine locations and seeing what serendipity has to offer.

This past weekend, I chose to bird at Hempstead Lake State Park with Jean Loscalzo and Ian Resnick. Driven by the report of a Yellow-breasted Chat the decision was that this was as good a place as any, made better by a bird that can be difficult to find in may years. Early warblers were also sure to be around, and I was also interested in what else I could turn up.

When we made our way over to the location of the sightings, another birder, Joe T{?} showed us the location of previous sightings. We started to do a ‘vigil’ but walking about seemed like a better idea so we instead passed by the ‘area’ several times hoping to be there at the right time. Over by the lake we found a lot more bird activity, picking up several Pine Warblers as was hoped.

Not long after our arrival, more birders arrived with similar intention. Some of the ‘late comers’ were birders I had not seen in some time, and inquired where they had been hiding. It turns out that they had decided to take a birding trip to Costa Rica; something that was not their normal mode. 

How exciting! Costa Rica is on my list of places everyone else has been to; one of these days.... their recounting was of course full of the exotic locations and the beautiful birds, and all those lifers they got. Like most people, they gushed about their trip to Costa Rica.

But they also lamented. This couple did a commercial birding tour, and in the final analysis, I would have to say they were disappointed. A telling remark is when they said: “...we would rather  watch shorebirds than bird the rainforest...” Well that was a bit of a surprise, and I was disappointed for them.

I have done one commercial tour, and one ‘hired guide’ tour, but thanks to the resources of the ABA augmented by information from lists on the internet, most of my birding trips have been planned and executed by myself. Albeit in the states.

Sure it takes a lot more planning, and sure you will miss some birds they may have ‘staked out’. But in the end I have found that beyond the scoring of lifers, planning one’s own trip means that if the birding is good someplace, however one defines that, then one can delay departure and continue with the enjoyment, rather than chasing off somewhere else to get that additional tick.

And here in a nutshell was what I took away from their lament. Too much focus on just getting a tick. Too much running from here to there. Not enough time to enjoy the location and get to know the birds. Thinking back to my commercial tour, which was with the same company, I remember saying to the leader: “ Will we be doing any walking? I’m getting so antsy that if we don’t take a hike someplace my legs might jump off and go for a walk on their own!”

Now don’t get me wrong; It was a great trip and we got a lot of great birds and it was a blast. But I can see where this style of birding can put people off.

So if you are thinking that at this point I am going to rail against ticking, you would be mistaken. Rather, I would say that one must understand the type of tour one is taking, and avoid those that don’t suit you. Perhaps a private guide would be best as he will do what you want him to, not constrained by the expectations or desires of the group!

By the way, conventional tours are the same way. I was told about a tour of Italy by other friends with a tour group that herded people on and off the tour bus; the complaint being that there was no time to experience the sights seen, and while they saw a lot, it was such a blur that it was hard to recall. So I don’t think this is a listing birder vs real birder issue, but an ‘overall experience’ vs ‘most bang for the buck’ issue.

So if you take a tour, be sure to find out what their style is from others who have used their services. Is it first class, or roughing it. A tick-fest, or relaxing enough to feel like a vacation. Is it ~only~ birds, or will other wildlife be entertained? And anywhere in between. Semper aucupium! But Caveat emptor as well.

Oh and by the way, I did manage to spot the Chat. George Form of all people was the one who spotted it first, noting it’s movements and alerting the rest of us. I spied a yellow patch in the briars, and lifting my bins resolved a Chat around the yellow. Though being a Chat it was less than forthcoming for most of the others. That’s birding, it’s like a line from Forrest Gump.

No comments: