Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

ABA Bird of the Year!!

Evening Grosbeak
(Transcript of today's For the Birds)

When my first book came out, my publishers called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to the ABA convention in Los Angeles for a book signing. I was thrilled until I realized that they weren’t talking about the American Birding Association—they were inviting me to attend a convention for the American Booksellers Association.

It was a fun meeting despite my initial disappointment. The American Birding Association is the only national group focused entirely on the fun elements of birding. The ABA has sponsored production of all kinds of valuable resources for birders, from checklists to what I consider their greatest contribution--their birder’s guides to various locations. Of all the books I’ve owned over my lifetime, the ones that were the most indispensable in guiding me through important experiences were my first cookbook, my first bird field guide, and some of the ABA guides.

James Lane was the man who wrote the first birder’s guides--they were simple books, stapled rather than bound, with a simple cardboard cover. Russ and I went to Texas in 1978 armed with my birder’s guide to the Rio Grande Valley, which gave directions to every birding hotspot to visit with simple graphs showing which birds were most likely to be at which places during which times of year. When we went to places like Falcon Dam and Bentson Rio Grande State Park, or on the Whooping Crane boat ride out of Fulton, we could tell exactly who the serious birders were when we saw a birder’s guide on their dashboard. It was like belonging to a wonderful little brotherhood. I added 46 birds to my lifelist in just 9 days thanks to my birder’s guide. And the guide told us how to find other animals too.

Russ and I went to southeastern Arizona in 1982, again armed with that area’s trusty birder’s guide, which even gave us a good idea of which places would be fun together as a family without the birding being too overwhelming with our six-month-old baby along, Because the guide led us to such great places, I still managed to see 56 lifers.

When the American Birding Association started publishing those birder’s guides, they made a lot of improvements in the revised versions. Before I take a trip anywhere, even when I’m not going to have a chance to do any serious birding, I pore through the birder’s guide so I know what birds are likely to be around. If I do find a few free hours, I know which places are closest for a quick getaway.

Evening Grosbeak

Unfortunately, as with many organizations, ABA membership has been falling as people realized they could buy their valuable resources without having to pay dues. But I’m still a committed member. This week the ABA announced their Bird of the Year: the Evening Grosbeak. They put together a cool webpage about the species, and I contributed a lengthy blog post about Evening Grosbeak conservation--what has happened to their numbers, possible explanations, and what we can do about it. I love that a group focused on the fun of birding is committed to conservation and education.

Additional information: Article about Evening Grosbeak decline by Paul Hess in Birding for March 2009.