Bird-finding improves

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Strycker’s book is due out Oct. 10, 2017.

Published August 20, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird-finding improves from generation to generation.”

By Barb Gorges 

When your interest in birds takes you beyond your backyard, you need a guide beyond your bird identification book. That help can come in many forms—from apps and websites to a trail guide book or local expert.

Noah Strycker needed a bird-finding guide for the whole world for his record-breaking Big Year in 2015. His book, “Birding without Borders,” due out Oct. 10, documents his travels to the seven continents to find 6,042 species, more than half the world total.

In it, he thoughtfully considers many bird-related topics, including how technology made his record possible, specifically www.eBird.org. In addition to being a place where you can share your birding records, it’s “Explore Data” function helps you find birding hotspots, certain birds and even find out who found them. Strycker credits its enormous global data base with his Big Year success.

Another piece of technology equally important was http://birdingpal.org/, a way to connect with fellow enthusiasts who could show him around their own “backyards.” Every species he saw during his Big Year was verified by his various travelling companions.

Back in 1968, there was no global data base to help Peter Alden set the world Big Year record. But he only needed to break just over 2,000 species. He helped pioneer international birding tourism through the trips he ran for Massachusetts Audubon. By 1981, he and British birder John Gooders could write “Finding Birds Around the World.” Four pages of the nearly 700 are devoted to our own Yellowstone National Park.

When I bumped into Alden at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, (a birding hotspot) in 2011, he offered to send me an autographed copy for $5. I accepted, however, until I read Strycker’s book, I had no idea how famous a birder he was.

As Strycker explains it, interest in international birding, especially since World War II, has kept growing, right along with improved transportation to and within developing countries, which usually have the highest bird diversity. However, some of his cliff-hanging road descriptions would indicate that perhaps sometimes the birders have exceeded the bounds of safe travel.

For the U.S., the Buteo Books website will show you a multitude of American Birding Association “Birdfinding” titles for many states. Oliver Scott authored “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming” for the association in 1992. Robert and Jane Dorn included bird finding notes in the 1999 edition of their book, “Wyoming Birds.” Both books are the result of decades of experience.

A variation on the birdfinding book is “the birding trail.” The first was in Texas. The book, “Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail,” enumerates a collection of routes connecting birding sites, and includes information like park entrance fees, what amenities are nearby, and what interesting birds you are likely to see. Now you can find bird and wildlife viewing “trails” on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. Many states are following their example.

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The Wyoming Bird Trail app is available for Apple and Android smartphones.

People in Wyoming have talked about putting together a birding trail for some years, but it took a birding enthusiast like Zach Hutchinson, a Casper-based community naturalist for Audubon Rockies, to finally get it off the ground.

The good news is that by waiting this long, there are now software companies that have designed birding trail apps. No one needs to print books that soon need updates.

The other good news is that to make it a free app, Hutchinson found sponsors including the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society, Murie Audubon Society (Casper), Wyoming State Parks, and WY Outside – a group of nonprofits and government agencies working to encourage youth and families in Wyoming to spend more time outdoors.

Look for “Wyoming Bird Trail” app on either iTunes or Google Play to install it on your smart phone.

Hutchinson has made a good start. The wonderful thing about the app technology is that not only does it borrow Google Maps so directions don’t need to be written, the app information can be easily updated. Users are invited to help.

There is one other way enterprising U.S. birders research birding trips. They contact the local Audubon chapter, perhaps finding a member, like me, who loves an excuse to get out for another birding trip and who will show them around – and make a recommendation for where to have lunch.

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How to raise a birdwatching child

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“How to Raise a Wild Child” by Scott D. Sampson.

Published May 25, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birds are always around to fascinate the young.”

By Barb Gorges

I’ve been invited to visit with a group of mothers to share with them a few tips on birdwatching with young children.

It’s been more than 20 years since our kids were preschoolers and I’m trying to remember just what my husband, Mark, and I did. We must have done something right: One son recently bought his own binoculars, and the other reports interesting birds from his travels.

I doubt we were very different from other parents who have a serious interest in a field or outdoor pursuit: You just take the kids with you. We took ours birdwatching, fishing, hunting, camping and hiking.

Of course, it isn’t necessary to be the child’s parent in order to mentor them—just more convenient.

Babies are as mobile as the distance you are willing to carry them–as long as diapers and milk hold out.

When kids start walking, you are suddenly limited to how far they are willing to go. They are a lot more willing if they are comfortable: warm and dry—or cool in the summer, protected from sunburn and bites, not averse to outhouses or bushes, with plenty of food and water, and naptime far in the distance.

How do you make a child interested in birds? Like so many other traits, you model it. No guarantee it will take.

The great thing about fostering an interest in birds is there are always birds around. And they have color, movement and sound. All you have to do is point. You don’t have to know much at first.

As kids get older, it isn’t hard to introduce them to a field guide full of colorful illustrations, then working together to figure out the names of bird species, or going online some place like www.allaboutbirds.org.

Toy binoculars are perfect for imitating adult birdwatchers. By grade school, kids might be able to appreciate what they are seeing through higher quality binoculars.

Don’t make up stuff when you don’t know the answer. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.” Look it up—or call me.

It’s OK if your child doesn’t become an ornithological know-it-all by age 7. Perhaps you observe your child is often distracted by rocks, weeds, sticks or worms instead. There’s a lot of nature to enjoy out there besides birds.

It doesn’t hurt to point out a pretty flower (try not to pick it) or insect or an animal track. Birders often learn something about a bird by observing its whole environment—food sources, nesting materials, perches, predators.

It’s OK if your kids find other ways to entertain (or distract) themselves while you bird. Maybe they would like to take along a sketchbook, a camera, or a butterfly net. But sometimes kids just have to dig in the dirt or chase around and be silly.

Every child is different so it is up to you to figure out what will keep yours interested in coming outdoors with you again.

If you want philosophical guidance, look for a new book called “How to Raise a Wild Child, The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature,” by Scott D. Sampson, known for his appearances on the PBS Kids show “Dinosaur Train.”

His worry is if more kids don’t get outside and learn to love it, nature will lose her constituency and the Earth will be ravaged until it can no longer support human life.

He wants to see more “hummingbird” parents rather than helicopter parenting, allowing kids to make discoveries. He wants to see school playgrounds filled with natural landscapes and objects, not asphalt and gravel. He wants kids to get dirty. He has a bibliography listing studies proving why spending time in nature is good for kids—and the rest of us.

Sampson’s book is a direct descendent of Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” (www.ChildrenandNature.org), but it has “Nature Mentoring Basics” and lists of things you can do at different age levels.

If you need more local ideas, check out WY Outside, http://www.wyoutside.com. This year they are holding the WY Outside Challenge.

My family camped a lot when my sister and I were kids, but I don’t remember either of our parents doing anything in particular, beyond sending us to Girl Scouts, to guide both of us into our love of the outdoors, except supporting us as we began to seek the outdoors on our own.

Not every child delighting in a wild bird is going to become an ornithologist. That’s OK. It is their appreciation for birds and the rest of nature we are after, hoping that it will foster good stewardship and a healthy life.