TWiB Notes: Birding slumps, Larophile problems, an albatross, and shrikes
Plus: The Birdy Bunch
Last week a member of the Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts (IBET) message board wrote:
“Lately, I’ve been in a birding slump—am I the only one? Is it just me or does it sometimes feel like birding isn’t fun any more and I’m only doing it because I have to? Also does anyone have any advice on how to overcome this?”
Birding slumps do happen. This is a time of year when this sort of ennui can be particularly pronounced. All but the heartiest winter birds remain, the year-round species and a few other birds that have come south from the Arctic. The lack of species diversity is only topped by day after day of dismally gray weather.
A couple of people chimed in on IBET with prescriptions for this type of malady. The suggestions ranged from understanding (“diversity of approach are what make us human”) to taking a more social approach (“the joy is in the company of others”). I don’t disagree at all with these comments. Everybody indeed approaches birding differently. Some people can visit the same patch over and over, every day of the year, and never get bored. Some need the adrenaline rush of chasing rare birds. I remember when the virus hit in early 2020 and I started “micro-patch” birding, creating lists for the smallest pocket parks and green spaces in my neighborhood.
My advice would be to take a few days off from birding, maybe even weeks. Get into some other interests and hobbies. Not to mention all the holiday bustle can serve as a nice distraction. The new year is a great time to get started again, starting anew with a fresh year list. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a few more northern visitors like Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins.
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The return of Wisdom
If it’s December, it must be time for Wisdom the Laysan Albatross to return to Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The large seabird (6-foot wingspan) nests on the island that’s on the edge of the Hawaiian chain, 1,100 miles west of Kauai. Wisdom’s raised many, many chicks through her 70-plus years. That’s a good thing for a species that faces serious threats and showed up on the the North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s 2022 watch list. Wisdom’s longtime mate, Akeakamai, hasn’t returned to the atoll yet.
It’s unfortunate when a beautiful Great Black-backed Gull, or really any bird, or any living thing, gets called ‘nasty,’ but that’s what has happened with some strange Larids that have turned up around Lake Michigan. For that we have to thank Larophiles, a subset of birders—some might describe as obsessive—who are really into identifying gulls.
A bird resembling a Great Black-backed Gull with dull gray-green legs and feet—rather than pink legs and feet—turns out to be a ‘nasty’ identification challenge to the gullers out there. That was the case last week when one of the big gulls was seen at Chicago’s Montrose Point. There’s the possibility that this bird was a “Chandeleur” Gull, in reference to the Chandeleur Islands off the coast of Louisiana. That’s where Herring Gulls and Kelp Gulls have hybridized, resulting in this bird’s unusual form. However, it’s also possible that this was just a Great Black-backed Gull with unusually hued legs and feet. The ‘nasty’ mystery continues and hardcore Larophiles might agree.
Here’s the story…
I had a chance to join The Birdy Bunch—Brittany, CJ, and Matt—for a discussion of conservation and the media last week. It was a lot of fun, and you can check out the episode here. One thing we discussed was what was new or cool in conservation, the media, and marketing, and I brought up Indiana Audubon Society’s Adopt-A-Shrike program. (You might recall I’ve written about this previously.) Each adoption of an endangered Loggerhead Shrike provides funding for an initiative that’s working toward bringing the declining songbird predator back. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources then uses the funding to purchase shrubs that are preferred shrike habitat. They band young shrikes, too, and then provide personalized updates to donors (the adopters) as well as a t-shirt. Check it out and give someone an adoption for the holidays!
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