Saturday, January 5, 2013

Killing Them Softly

I’ve written here before about “patch birding (

Working the patch, patch birding, birding locally, call it what you will … “Patch birding” means finding or defining an area, usually near where you live, where you concentrate your birding efforts. There are many benefits to “patch work,” such as getting to know your own corner of the world and minimizing use of carbon fuels during birding expeditions.

Yesterday I was thinking about another aspect of “green birding” – actually, my thoughts were more on the downside of traveling long distances for birding, and especially about chasing rarities, which is pretty much the opposite of  “green birding.”

Our daughter attends college in central Massachusetts, right near where we used to live years ago. It's a great birding area with tons of great habitat. Every time I drive to the area, I take time to bird. (I never make a special trip just for birding there, even for rarities; my explorations of the area are always in conjunction with back-and-forth trips to K’s school, as I wrote about the other day:

Each time I go to the area, I check the local online bird reports to see what might be in the area. Well, this week, a Gyrfalcon is causing great excitement, right in the fields where I always bird. It's been there for several days. When I drove my daughter back to school a few days ago, I stopped in and was lucky enough to catch the gyr in flight for a 30-second view. WOW. I felt lucky to have seen it!  

Now, as reports of the bird have spread, the place is swarming with birders from all over New England and New York, so much that the little roads in these farm fields are clogged with cars and swarming with eager birders. I fear for the sparrows, buntings, larks, etc., that are struggling to feed in deep snow cover and near-zero temperatures, and I fear for the raptors that will not hunt where the people are. And the people are all over the place.

I had thought about going back to the area to see the gyr again, but I've decided to be satisfied with my 30-second view and not add to the stress on these struggling birds. I think that's an important part of "green" birding: being aware of the stresses placed on rare birds by hordes of over-eager birders and photographers. Many of those birders are returning day after day to get photos and observe the bird more closely. Can’t they be satisfied with one look, then leave the field to those who have not seen it yet, or better yet, leave the field for the birds???

This whole situation seems to be antithetical to the love we profess for the birds. By crowding into this rather small (for the Gyrfalcon) area, the birders are actually endangering the bird.

More here on “ticking” birds:

And more here on my “listless” birding:

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