On What We Learn from Birds, as "The Bird Saviors" Appears in Paperback Next Month

So in yesterday’s New York Times there’s a good piece about what birds can tell us about climate, here. I’m definitely a birder, though I prefer the term “birdist,” and have my own style in BirdWorld: I don’t join herds of other bird nerds to go to the same places and gawk at the same feathered friends. And I’m not big on lists. Why? To me it seems to turn the watching and admiring of bird life into a competitive sport, or another consumer-culture task to be checked off a list, as was captured in the hokey-but-likable comedy The Big Year (2011), starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin.
Me? I’m a devotee of The Jeff Lebowski School of Birding. We like the Zen moments. Like the time I camped beneath the woven-ball nests of showy Bullock’s Orioles on a riverbank beside the Gunnison River in central Colorado. The time I listened to various Great Horned Owls calling to each other in Two Medicine Lake campground in Glacier National Park last September. Or digging the birdlife in my Custer County, Colorado backyard, where I’ve watched Red-naped Sapsuckers feeding their chicks in nests hollowed in living aspens above Taylor Creek, or chased/followed Great Horned Owls hooting in the same meadows, calling back-and-forth to each other—all that as opposed to rushing around, trying to catch a quick glimpse of another bird and check it off my list. I guess it could be compared to a long-term love vs. those speed-dating services. I do have a rough sense of numbers, though. Realistically, if you can see two hundred or more species in a year, you’re probably spending some time as a birdist. If you can get a good photo of a Western Tanager in a scrub oak near your house, you’re probably humming a Zen koan in your sleep. Perhaps while listening to some Credence.

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