Monday, September 15, 2014

Birding with Non-birders

At one time or another, all birders have had to face the problem of trying to bird in the company of non-birders.  Others will ask: "Can't we just go for a hike...without birding?" The answer, quite simply, is no.  Birders will always bird when given the opportunity, from hiking in pristine wilderness to driving down the highway.
When I am birding on a trail I take my time.  The rest of my family will be half a mile up the trail from me because I've just located a mixed flock and am pishing my brains out.  I lose track of how long I've been staring into the trees, especially when there is a Townsend's Solitaire staring back at me. 

I tried to get a picture of a MacGillivray's Warbler (lifer for me),
but this is the result when being hurried along by my family.
It's difficult to bird in secret when in the company of non-birders, so we have developed a list of tips for birding with non-birders.

1. Use your keen observation skills to find a cute, non-bird, creature to distract the group while you find more interesting animals (e.g. birds).

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel- the perfect distraction while I go find an American Dipper.

2. Make the group want to go to a birding destination by enticing them with mind-blowing scenery.

Little do they know, a Townsend's Solitaire is lurking in those shrubs.

3. Just Keep Truckin' 

When everyone else stops to look at a tree or at a mountain that the whole group has seen a hundred times already, just keep hiking. This gives you a good buffer zone so if you locate a mixed flock or find a good bird, you have time to get a good look in before the group catches up. 

4. Use Guilt.

This one is sort of mean, but if you're looking at a bird and a non-birder comes over to tell you to keep moving, act all exasperated and pretend that they just scared off some cool bird. 
Example: "Hey! Let's keep it moving!" "Ahh! No! You just scared off a ________! Ugh!"
This usually makes the non-birder feel bad and let you keep birdin'.

5. Whatever you do, don't go to a sod farm.

Take a minute.  Look at this image.  If you think this looks like fun, then you are definitely a birder, no doubt about it.  Driving two hours to stare at grass is not a family-friendly activity.


  1. Sound advice. I usually keep a few chipmunks in the pocket to spice up hikes where they are not abundant. Most birder assume I'm simply trying to bait raptors...that is only a positive externality of the real intention.

    Birding at a sod farm, or some other erie, or barren place? Weed helps.

    1. Hmm, I've not gotten to the level of trapping chipmunks for the sole purpose of distraction, but soon. I'll have to work on my small-animal trapping abilities.

  2. That is not a chipmunk, it is a Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel.

    Chipmunks all have prominent dark eye-stripes staring in the lores and extending nearly to the back of the head, which are offset by light-colored supercilium and subcilium, which extend just as far.

    On the photographed sciurid, notice the eye-ring, broken in front and back which merely suggest an eye-line. Notice that the lores are the same color as the rest of the head, which gives it a blank-faced expression.

    Sortof like calling a female House Finch a Lark Sparrow

    1. Thanks for the ground squirrel tips! We are so busy identifying the birds we forget about the mammals. I'll get on Sam to retract his stringy rare mammal report he submitted to the Wyoming Mammal Record Committee.

    2. Oh no! I neglected to bring my mammals guide to Glacier with me! I even remember telling myself to keep an eye out for Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels. I will change that as soon as I get the chance and sorry for the confusion.
      I like the analogy, I know how pissed I would get if someone misidentified a HOFI for a Lark Sparrow.