Wednesday, March 21, 2007

About that mystery sparrow... is indeed the rare "House Sparrow." Congratulations to all who made the proper identification.

So, why did we post about that photo? Is this just another case of the evil BINAC mocking others for fun and profit?


We had a point to make. Two actually.

The first point is pretty obvious: Even people who consider themselves to be birders, and who regularly post to birding listserves, sometimes make mistakes on insanely easy species. (Insert random woodpecker joke here.)

The second point is a bit more obtuse but explains the first: Nobody learns how to bird anymore!

Before the Internet, this is how you learned how to "bird." You got a pair of binoculars, bought a field guide, and went out into the field. In the field, you struggled (unless you were a prodigy--you know who you are), got frustrated, and got discouraged.

But if you stuck with it, you eventually saw the light. You ran into another local birder, joined a local club, or went on a field trip, and you met other birders. Birders who were *better* than you, and who could show you how to separate Savannah from Song Sparrows -- in the field, not a book, or in your living room in front of a computer. These other birders didn't just *want* to help, they saw it as their obligation, their way of repaying the debt they owed to the birders who taught and mentored them.

That doesn't happen today as much as it should. The Internet has equalized everyone. With the digital cameras we have today, anyone can take a photo of an unknown bird they see, and have other people identify it for them. But that's not learning. You have to be able to make those id calls, in the field, by yourself. And the only way you can do that is to spend the time in the field, work through the tough spots, and get help from people who can actually show you how to make those calls in the field.

You know, the whole "teach a man how to fish" thing.

We know this generalization doesn't apply to everyone, but it applies to a lot of us. It's a two way street; experienced birders have to be willing to give their help, while newbie birders have to be willing to aceept the fact that they don't know everything, and be willing to take the help that is offered.


Anonymous said...

And people are much more polite in person than on the Internet, especially blogs

Anonymous said...

I learned birding in the 1970s, by myself at the beginning, and have been careful from the start. When I see fairly obvious birds stumping beginners on listserv, I often become exasperated. Then I take a deep breath and either move on, or offer advice nicely. A couple of times I have defended the "clueless newbies" against acid-tongued experienced birders who post their wit and wisdom on the beginner's blog.