Once Birdwatching, Now Birding

I still have my original Peterson’s “A Field Guide to Western Birds”, which was given to me by my first wife Karen, on my 27th birthday, in 1967. In those days, birdwatchers referred to it simply as “Peterson’s”.


My “Peterson’s”, with thumb tabs added by myself

The guide contained a checklist, with the recommendation: “Keep a Life List”. I did use the checklist, and added notes of bird sightings in margins and elsewhere in the book. But I did this on a haphazard basis. It was not that important to me that I keep a complete record.

More recently, I became enamoured of bird photography, and started to look and post to websites like Facebook Birders. Birdwatching had become “birding” – no doubt to make it sound like a more serious undertaking, and not simply the preoccupation of old ladies in sneakers. It was on these websites that I began to see references to “lifers”. What is a “lifer”? It is one’s first sighting of a bird, and represents, therefore, a new entry on one’s life list. And it became evident that adding lifers to one’s life list is, for dedicated birders, of the highest priority. One’s lifelong passion is to checkoff the greatest number of birds possible – both in one’s country of residence and world-wide, if you have the means. This passion can extend to birders doing a “Big Year”, in which they race around the country from one birding hotspot to another, amassing a species count. The American Birding Association has promulgated these rules for a Big Year:

“ABA Area Big Year Rules

An ABA Area Big Year shall start at 12:00 AM on 1 January of that year and end at 11:59 PM, 31 December of that year, based on the local time of the location of the birder at each time threshold. Each species counted by the participant must have been encountered in accordance with the ABA Recording Rules current at the time the species was encountered. Each species counted must have been on the ABA Checklist during the Big Year …”

How many species have winners recorded? In 2016, John Weigel counted 784 bird species. And, in case you missed it, Owen Wilson starred in a riotous spoof of this competition, entitled, of course, “The Big Year”. So, like practically every other activity in the modern world, birdwatching became competitive.

As an amateur photographer of birds (amongst other wildlife and nature subjects), running around from place to place to maximize sightings is the farthest thing from my mind. I want to spend time with birds, because they are both beautiful and interesting. Nowadays, I find that being around birds is the most relaxing and fulfilling thing I can do, whether it be watching birds at the feeders at home, or traveling to see and photograph birds in new places. It is said of trout fishing that trout live in beautiful places, and the same thing can of course be said of birds. And, birding in new locales takes me to beautiful places I may not have otherwise discovered.


Evening grosbeak, Embudo, New Mexico


Rufous-tailed hummingbird, Mindo, Ecuador

About Evensteven

I am a photographer and author, and live in Embudo, New Mexico, alongside the Rio Grande. I have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: The Grand: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447 I have also published six additional iBooks: 1. The Salt River: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-salt-river/id12449222822. 2. Coyote Buttes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/coyote-buttes/id1271773201 3. Four Cornered, the Land: https://books.apple.com/us/book/four-cornered/id1384038899 4. Four Cornered, The Rivers: https://books.apple.com/us/book/four-cornered-book-two-the-rivers/id1402287568 5. Rio Marañon: https://books.apple.com/us/book/four-cornered-book-two-the-rivers/id1402287568 6. Rio Grande: https://books.apple.com/us/book/rio-grande-new-mexico/id1469126321
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4 Responses to Once Birdwatching, Now Birding

  1. Chad MacLeod says:

    Based on your well-loved field guide, you’ve amassed quite some ‘birding’ experiences in your time! Relatively new to the scene myself, I appreciate your approach on birding – spending time with birds, getting to know them as creatures and not just numbers. I like to capture when and where I see certain birds to monitor their migration activities (I saw this bird at this time last year, will I see them at the same time next year?) but I don’t do it for the checklist or Big Year kind of ways. I’ve found that those also new to birding are keen to make it a challenge. But like you, “running around from place to place to maximize sightings is the farthest thing from my mind.” Someday, I hope to have as many tabs in my 2018 edition of Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa Coleman says:

    I’ve always loved birds & started photographing them about 20 years ago. When I saw The Big Year, I took this bird watching thing to the next level. My hubby prefers Peterson’s and I prefer Sibley’s. We are active birders but nothing crazy like the movie. Love going out west to find new birds that we don’t see in Florida. It’s always great to get life birds. We picked up 14 new life birds in September when we went to Montana, Wyoming & Idaho. The birds were a surprise & was not our main objective on that trip.


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