Looking Back and More Stuff I Forgot to Mention
Looking back could mean a number of things such as reviewing what has been pontificated by yours truly, checking your rear view mirror before putting it into reverse or maybe determining if you are the prey of something following you. You might also check the review mirror for someone, namely a police officer. Perhaps some vile act was perpetuated back in the bushes while pretending to put to heart the salient field marks of a Bushtit. Maybe the field marks could not compete with what really happened such as using the bushes as an outdoor powder room while not practicing methods of avoiding arrest. Maybe looking back does refer to backing up your easy birding vehicle. That does require care and stopping before you hear glass breaking or smell blood. Driving is not always easy, but avoiding accidents will provide more time for practicing easy birding.
Looking back while walking down a trail may save you life since someone who does not think of avoiding arrest is up to no good or some four-legged animal large enough to knock you to the ground and eat soft body parts is following your foot steps. Maybe more important than saving your life is the bird you are searching for is not in front of you but behind you. What could be more important: life or a new bird?
Birds frequently hide from us birders or they are just too busy to notice us as we traipse past their immediate domain. If it is a case of the bird not seeing us and us not seeing the bird, otherwise known as mutual riddance. The birder could care less about the hapless birder and would just as soon have the biped keep walking and not look back. At the same time, the birder might as well be saying good riddance to an easy bird. After we pass a bird’s hiding spot, the said bird may believe it is safe and return to its normal activities, mainly eating. Turn around and there is the bird, visible for an easy identification. The scenario works best in areas not traveled by too many bipeds. Of course, too many is a nebulous figure and may depend on the kind of bird one is searching for. Some species will not tolerate more than a couple of people entering their domain. Of course, that also depends on what the bird is doing. If the species is singing up a storm, chances are it is married, so to speak, to that bit of territory for a while and will accept a respectfully distant audience. Many species of birds cannot stand lots of human traffic or will not tolerate human intrusion at all. Keep this in mind by knowing what your bird prefers. Think of them as our hosts and that, as their guest, behave in such a manner as to not infringe on their well-being.
And another thing: birds are not good mathematicians. In fact, birds cannot count either their primaries or their toes, whether they are nine-primaried songbirds, grouse with even more flight feathers to count or the handicapped three-toed vs. four-toed woodpeckers. Birds cannot count or if they do, they are not good at it. Birders can count on birds not counting, which may mean that looking back, retracing your steps, covering explored territory may allow a birder to surprise a bird. This works especially well with two or more birders. They pass a bird that dove out of sight and too deep in the bier patch for even the most insane birder to penetrate. All of the group crouch to the ground for minute or more, and then have all but one birder stand up and noisily go around the bend of the trail. The remaining birder may then quietly wait. The hiding bird will believe everyone has left and may pop up for yet another easy bird identification.
So, the easy birder travels up a trail. The surface is smooth, with few tree roots sticking up or loose rocks ready to stub a toe. The incline is negligible. No one, as far is known, is sharing the trail and its dusty surface appears free of recent boot marks. It is just you and the bird, which might be lurking around the next bend, ready to pounce into full and glorious view to prove just how easy birding is. By now, if no chapters were skipped, the easy birder should know that easy birding is not always easy. However, it can be easy and that prospect of the easy trip to a promising habitat that will provide an easy experience in easily finding an easy bird is what we all hope. That is likely why when one birder asks another birder if a target species has been found, the first birder often retorts, “Not yet.” We continually hope for the best. We hope that in the interim, we can avoid being cold, wet, hungry, tired, sleepy, grumpy or dopey. We should bear in mind that being cold, wet, hungry or tired will often make one grumpy and if starving for food and sleep, it is easy to become dopey. Birders should be alert. That is why earlier wordage carried messages about attire, snacks and other preparedness necessities that might hone useful habits of birders ready for anything from a Northern Cardinal to a wayward Xantus’s Hummingbird in Alaska.
Meanwhile, trekking along the trail, keep out an eye or, at very least, two, for birds, which means looking everywhere. Also keep looking for things that might cause discomfort. These include, should a reminder be necessary, other people including little kids below your line of sight and their pets. Pets usually will come in the canine variety, which may bite, slobber, jump up on you and possibly desire your foot or leg for reproduction. Practicing safe pet avoidance maneuvers most often work. Keep your hands close to your body, look mean and if required, gruffly tell the critter a big “no.” Most owners will then rein in their dogs.
Another reason for keeping your hands close to your body is to avoid touching poison oak growing along the trail. It also is a good idea when exploring regions frequented by arboreal vipers, thorny plants and dogs. Yes, this is a looking back, a recapitulation of previous phrases such as avoid dogs and their droppings. If there is someone with a dog ahead on the trail, wait at least 15 minutes before continuing on the same path. If you are unlucky, there will no reason to yell out “oh scat.” Should you be lucky, the time waited will give any birds a chance to get over seeing the mutated wolf that entered their domain.
Keep looking back for, yes, more dogs and any other critters that might happen to travel in your direction. Look back for grizzlies, cougars, the trail just traveled melting into quicksand, worried mothers and spouses and … Always look back for birds. If you are returning on the same trail, make a mental note of anything noticed but not identified as you earlier traveled. While returning, stop at those sites. Perhaps what ever was earlier noticed will be identifiable this time. Also, budget enough time to return at a pace slow enough to recheck the trail. Besides birds seem less weary of sauntering than full-tilt boogie walking. Birds move around and what was not there on the way could be there upon returning to the trail head.
Once back at your vehicle, be it by two or four wheels, first check your notes. Write down what has not yet been duly recorded and double-check any questionable identifications using the field guide you forgot. It is sometimes helpful to have available two different field guides. One may be great, but a different perspective, with different illustrations or photographs might just clinch the otherwise dubious identification. Look back on the day. Was good birder etiquette practiced? Was the time birding fun? Did you check the bottom of your foot ware before entering a vehicle or building? Was the day birding easy? Was getting to the best location easy. Did you avoid getting arrested? Were you comfortably warm and dry and nothing poked out your eye? Hopefully, you did not witness or commit anything unspeakable. If you did, reread all the preceding chapters and pass on this skinny collection of essays to your fellow birders. Finally, was the birding day too easy? If answer is no, that is just fine. The day was enjoyable and you do not break out into a full body rash the next day. It was a learning experience and one you want to repeat. That next time will be even easier since repeat, repeat, repeat is a huge part learning. The more a person learns the easier anything becomes, including avoiding arrest, dog scat and bodily injury, but most importantly, identifying birds also becomes easier. The more a person learns also reveals just how little we know, but that is another story. Anyway, in the event birding becomes to easy, take the challenge.
While improving ourselves, do so slowly and let the experience soak inward. Avoid challenges that might make birding feeling too difficult, but do not make it too easy. Also, avoid quicksand, thorns and being 100% sure of identifications of all species of nonbreeding Empidonax flycatchers. Some of those unpleasant state of affairs will eventually be liken to water flowing of the back of a duck. More and more situations will be easy from being accustomed to thorns (they won’t hurt so much, rain (you will be prepared) and ice (all that walking and dodging thorns will have improved your balance on that slick stuff) and pesky groups of flycatchers may even become at least easier to identify.
Beside checking your notes and any scats involuntarily picked up on the bottom of your fashionable foot ware, there are other things that might come in handy. It is always helpful to improve safety and enhance the ease of birding.
If you are a seasoned birder, good at what you do, manage to get there and back without loosing appendages and avoid having to call your insurance company or attorney, you may have something to impart to the less seasoned birder. Why not be a teacher to promote easy birding. The teaching method does not have to be formal. In fact, it could be as a parent, not the real ones, but cool parents to a young birder. Never be bossy and try to make whatever helpful information being taught as a suggestion, a good idea and be subtle. Some people resent being told what to do. Some would rather the python take their breath away. If you detect that any teaching methods are causing the student to avoid or ridicule you, stop. No one likes a know-it-all.
Teach by example by being quiet, avoiding sudden moves (unless there is a python snuggling up your leg), keep with, not ahead, of the group and at least to appear to have fun. Do not call out the name of each bird you see. Everyone has witnessed or practiced name calling, even in conversations about something other than birds, if that is possible.
“Tony said you were at church and spoke to a (Northern Cardinal) member of our club (ducks).”
“Yes, the new member (pintail and mallard) was a (chickadee) elated by the chapter (Carolina, I think).”
“Maybe we should (hawk, hawk), excuse me, not going (cuckoo) to the meeting.”
“Why (knot or peep) not? By the way, was the new member a (Redhead) new birder?”
So, while you are birding or talking on the steps of a building, try to refrain from calling out what you identify. Give the less seasoned birder a chance. More than likely they will be proud to announce their identifications they are sure of and shy about the ones they are not. If the bird they do not announce is a warbler and you are sure it is a Yellow-rumped Warbler, gently ask if they noticed a yellow rump. If they say yes, ask them if they have any ideas. Talk it out and make them feel accomplishment.
Now for a few more hints to help make birding easy. After that, I will keep quiet.
Different birds present different problems in identifying them, but first we must detect them. The novice might believe woodpeckers are easy birds. After all, they spend their days hanging on the side of trees and loudly drumming on a resonant piece of wood. First, woodpeckers do not always perch in plain sight. They resemble other birds in their annoying habit of hiding from us birders. Not only is this unfair, their behavior often causes neck pain. Some woodpeckers prefer limbs over trunks and some, especially flickers, may get down to their business by perching on the ground. Those that don’t, the non-flickers, are difficult to detect as they sidle around a tree trunk or limb and remaining very quiet. That’s correct, non-pecking woodpeckers may remain silent for long stretches of time as they attempt to decide whether the easy birder is going to eat them or not.
The more or less short version of looking for woodpeckers most often requires lots of patients. If the woodpecker is not hiding around the tree, it may continue to peck or it may stop and watch you. Pecking woodpeckers might be very quiet or they might be fairly audible, which depends mostly on the species of woodpecker and what being pecked. Old hollow wood can produce sounds that carry for a greater distance than greener parts of the tree wood. If a woodpecker stops pecking, wait. Don’t move. Usually the bird will restart pecking when it feels safe. If a visual fix on the woodpecker continues a problem, move your position and look some more. Stop moving anytime the pecking stops. Watch for bits of tree raining down from where the sound of pecking is emanating. Follow the detritus upwards. Chances are, the woodpecker and you will meet, eye to eye.
Scanning with binoculars or a scope might get you in trouble. The aim of the optics may appear closer than they are or a person may think they are under observation when in fact the birder is aiming the optics several degree beyond the upset person. Watch out while watching and listen for sirens while preparing your best speech to avoid being arrested.
Do not to forget to scan open areas such as fields and bodies of water. Wind could be a hindrance in open habitat. If the water is not flat, keep looking as movement of water could obscure some birds. Look between the white caps. Scan the fields, the dunes, the open forest meadow. What cannot be spotted with the naked eye is surprising. With the aid of magnification, a field thought lifeless is crawling with pipits. A forest meadow that looks empty has a grouse standing at its edge. Remember that although birds are most likely be flying and jumping from perch to perch during foraging, some might be taking a breather and setting still, perhaps surveying its domain or maybe looking at you. Scanning habitat that seems lifeless may get some easy birds.
Re-scan, especially water surfaces. That grebe, diving duck or loon will have to resurface eventually.
Try to stay tuned. Keep in touch with other birders who are good resources for becoming easy birders. Check the internet for local bird reports that might report daily sightings of birds you might want to see. Keep informed. Libraries and the internet will help in the adventure of becoming an easy birder. Also stay in tune with the environment. For example, eastern birders in spring and summer should lookout for dark funnel clouds. That could mean cutting into birding time.
Do not stop looking, whether it is from a window or slogging up a trail. Each day is different. No matter what happens, do not be disappointed for the lack of birds at a location or day. The next look will be better. In time, with practice and patience, easy birding will be a way of life.