Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes

Would you want to be a “bad” birdwatcher? If you define “bad” as disregarding the rules drawn up by competitive birders and just watching and enjoying birds, the answer is “yes.” You do not have to rush about checking off as many species as you can on a lifelist. You do not have to seek out the rare birds at the expense of enjoying the common birds, which sometimes do extraordinary things. You do not have to have fancy equipment or join any groups or take expensive trips to exotic places. All that you have to do is take time to observe the birds around you everyday. You do not “go” bird watching. You “are” bird watching wherever you are.

How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes is a bit of a memoir as well as a bit of a guidebook. Readers learn about Barnes’ relationship with his father, his career as a sportswriter, and his learning to love the simple pleasure of observing birds. Every chapter is a well-formed essay on a birding topic.

Barnes is a good story teller and relates several adventures that make the point that it is still okay to go all out to see birds, so long as you are really having fun. He tells about going on numerous assignments to cover sporting events and seeking out local Audubon experts who take him to good birding sites. Birders like to share. He always finds someone to guide him to the birds.

Don’t just read with envy. Get out and see some birds.

Barnes, Simon. How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004. ISBN 0375423559

Birding note: Bonnie and I saw a bunch of first summer American redstarts from the observation deck of Mount Baldhead (called Mount Baldy) in Saugatuck, Michigan last Friday. They were cute little birds that flitted around the shrubs. Their yellow patches will be orange next year. We needed The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley to verify their identity.

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