I never really understood birdwatching. There are plenty of birds out there, and it never really struck me that there was anything special to seeing one in particular. It’s there, you see it, it’s gone, and that’s apparently a successful outing.
However, birds have cropped up as a point of interest recently for a few reasons.
First, we received a hummingbird feeder as a gift last year, and we positioned it for easy viewing from our window. I thought it would require long stretches of watching, but hummingbirds come quite frequently. In the evening, we usually don’t have to wait for more than a few minutes.
Second, I’m trying to do my little bit for nature to support native wildlife and plants. David Attenborough says that biodiversity is important, and in the face of California droughts and the climate crisis in general, I hope that we can contribute to the ecosystem. That includes plants, insects, birds, and more.
Third and probably most importantly, my daughter loves birds. She gets excited to point them out, so I’m always looking for birds to point them out. And it’s embarrassing that I don’t know enough bird species to actually name many birds as more than just “bird.”
I solved that problem like most problems these days: I used my phone.
I found a few apps to help with identifying birds, so whenever I see a bird, I pull out my phone and use a variety fo methods to identify it.
The most obvious way is to take pictures. iNaturalist can take a picture of plants and animals and try to identify it. Honestly, it sounds like magic to me, but it does a surprisingly good job, especially given the quality of many of my pictures.
However, sometimes even that is too difficult. Often, I’m too slow to snap a photo. When I do, the photo is often blurry, or the bird is too small in the picture to clearly make out.
Instead, I have also tried Merlin Bird ID. It also does photos, but it can also identify birds using a short questionnaire or recordings of their songs.
However, I have found myself mostly using Seek by iNaturalist. It presumably is the same identification technology behind iNaturalist, but it puts a spin on the experience. I’m not just identifying and amassing sightings: I’m collecting bird sightings with quests and badges. It’s encouraging to see that I can go to different parks and hikes to find different birds.
And then it struck me: I’m wandering around the world to find semi-random sightings and capture (photos of) birds.
Birdwatching is the original Pokemon Go.
I actually never played Pokemon Go, but I certainly had friends who did. I went on walks just to as a way of playing. It was extra exercise and time outside for a shot to add something to my collection.
I did play Harry Potter Wizards Unite, though I think that one is less like birdwatching.
There’s also a nice community around both. I could pick out when there was a Pokemon Go event when a group of people were standing together in a park swiping on their phones. I can pick out birdwatchers by the binoculars.
With my photography skills, I really only get decent photos of stationary birds. However, pelicans and geese don’t move very quickly.
My style of birdwatching and collecting is quite slow, but it actually works quite well for me. If I saw or learned about birds any faster, I probably would get confused in trying to learn all of them. However, because each bird sighting is its entire own event, I have a story to associate with each bird.