The Biggest Week of American Birding
If you prepare an event called The Biggest Day in Peru, how could one resist visiting an event in Ohio called The Biggest Week of American Birding. BWAB struck a cord deep inside of me. What a great event it was on so many levels. The birds, the lifers, the meeting of friends from Facebook and Twitter (putting a body to a face), but perhaps the most important was the phrase the first lady of birding – Liz Deluna Gordon (wife of Jeff Gordon , President of American Birding Association) – has coined recently on a Facebook conversation about birders and crowds. Spreading The Magic of Birding. What a great slogan! That is exactly what the Biggest Week of American Birding is about.
Birder or Muggle?
We can make an analogy with the world of magic of Harry Potter, where the wizards (the birders) refers to the non-wizards (non-birders) as Muggles. Birders, like wizards, are part of an initiated sect or an almost secret order to which, in the case of birders, a higher degree of understanding of nature and the magic of birds are evident, while the Muggles simply don’t get it. Harry Potter was a Muggle at first and did not realize that deep inside he was a wizard.
I think this is true for all Muggles. There is a birder in each and everyone. It is up to us birders to show the magic and release the birder inside of the Muggle. The best place (perhaps in the world) where I have seen examples of converting Muggles in action, has been at the Biggest Week of American Birding at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Magee Marsh in Ohio. Kim Kaufman and her staff were the Sorcerers – and there were many apprentices
Is this really birding?
Two of my pictures I posted on Facebook got quite interesting responses. This one is from the boardwalk on the first Saturday. Some birding friends argued that this is not birding. Birding they argued it to become one with nature. Here it is a bit noisy because people converse and ask questions, but it is very social. To me the boardwalk, apart from being a super spot to see North American Wood Warblers, it is a ceremonial site where the Muggles get initiated to the Magic.
Experienced Birding Wizards such as Chris West, Forrest Rowland, Adrian Binns and Ethan Kistler shared their knowledge with Muggles who were out birding for the first time. Many newbie birders learned new tricks in Bird Identification Magic. Even birders relatively new to North American birds such as myself , found that we could both teach and learn at the same time. There is always a birder who knows more, as well as there is always a birder who knows less.
In such a dynamic and magical scenario does it really matter if there are some loud voices at times? The Experienced Birding Wizards are smart. They don’t say – Shut up!
They say – Listen! Can you hear the repetitive spitting song of the Prothonotary Warbler?
And all became silent again as people sharpened their ears.
Dark Birding Wizards
The other picture is from the stampede when the first Kirtland’s Warbler was found on 09 May. The threatened and locally restricted Kirtland’s Warbler is high on many birders wish-list. This looks like madness, but you’d seldom see a more gentle flock of birders. The bird was quite a distance away and the birders helped each other to get on to the little gem. What a great crowd!
Yet, there are people who are nostalgic about the times when there were few birders around, before the Magee Marsh hype, before the crowds, before the Muggles became converted. They don’t see a need of sharing? They want the birds for themselves. They want to keep the Muggles out – especially the Muggles who approach birding with a camera rather than with binoculares. They are the Voldemorts – the dark birding wizards.
In this perspective Liz Gordon’s words on my Facebook profile come in handy:
“One of the things about birders is that it has been a loner activity. If we are truly going to change the way the masses think about birds and conservation we need more birders to speak up and share birds and birding. I do believe there are enough of us out there doing that. But when you see something like this happen It might be good to say to yourself “Wow look at all those people enjoying that bird…I hope they are all going to go home and work to protect birds and their habitat where they live and wow that could make a change in my world!” This is the new way to look at crowds of birders.
Remember when it wasn’t cool to bird watch? That is changing and we will all be better for it. A lone birder is still a great thing to be but spreading the magic of birding will make a bigger dent in conservation of birds and habitat. This is our time to shine. Each and everyone of us in our own way.”
Don’t be a dark birding wizard. Sure, you can still go birding on your own if you like, but it would be great if you could also become one of the good guys, who are spreading the magic. We need you to stand up for the birds and convert as many Muggles as possible. Now let’s get to it, Wizards! Share your magic moments of converting muggles with us in the comment section below.
by Gunnar Engblom