Vail Daily column: Birding, listing and embracing your inner nature nerd
As years go by, birding, or bird watching as a hobby, is becoming more familiar and popular among the non-birding world. In fact, what some might formerly have considered to be a nerdy hobby, birding is starting to break that stereotype as a more diverse group of people explore the ornithological world. Once a pastime of retirees and grandparents, birding is now practiced by teenagers and young adults alike.
Birders in Action
Perhaps you have heard about birding, or maybe even had the pleasure of witnessing a birder in action! Although difficult to spot at first, to the trained eye, birders are easy to distinguish with their slow gait, trusty pair of binoculars and constant and somewhat desperate gaze into the surrounding vegetation. Many birders bird for the pure enjoyment of being outside and observing wildlife, while other birders take the hobby very seriously. These birders are also referred to as listers because of the lists they maintain of species they have seen or heard. As depicted in the 2011 film, “The Big Year,” birding for listers can be an intense competition which requires dedication, unlimited travel funds and great knowledge of our mostly flying friends. With more than 10,000 species in the world and over 900 species in North America, birding provides a hobby which constantly challenges and entertains even the most experienced within the field.
As a casual birder for the last 10 years, I was pretty against the idea of making lists of the species I observed. I felt that worrying about my list total would take some of the romance and intrinsic value from the hobby of birding. This changed however, when I was casually challenged to keep a list of all the birds I had seen in 2014. Keeping track of all species observed during one calendar year is frequently referred to as a “big year.” Despite a lack of intense competition and a definite lack of funds, I found myself more motivated to get out and identify species whenever possible during my big year. I noticed that I spent more time outside birding and I felt more in tune with the natural world because I was more aware of its inhabitants. My experience is just that, but the power of listing wildlife sightings cannot be underestimated. If only for the heightened awareness and increased motivation, then it is a worthy and fun challenge with which to experiment.
Maybe birds are not your wildlife of choice, but there are many options for what to track in your own big year or big week or big day. In fact, there are apps which help you to track butterflies, mammals and any other living thing you might see on your nature adventures. Of course, an old fashioned piece of paper and pencil also work well. Listing wildlife sightings can be a great introduction to data collection for kids and it can be fun to keep lists for camping trips or National Park visits.
Listing also provides a great way to become a citizen scientist. Citizen science capitalizes on the data collection by ordinary people (not professional scientists) and due to the great volume of sightings, produces important and powerful data sets. By becoming a lister who contributes data to an online database, you have the opportunity to challenge yourself and contribute data which can help to form policies around habitat and wildlife management.
So, my challenge to you is to give listing a try. You might be surprised at how motivating and fun it can be. And as you embrace your inner nature nerd, you will also have the opportunity to contribute data which can help keep the Eagle Valley beautiful and teeming with wildlife.
Molly Schreiner, a self-declared bird nerd, is the school programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center.