Friday, October 16, 2020

Global Bird Weekend

I’m going to spend Saturday, October 17, birding. Most mornings I get “grandma duty” for a few hours, and during that time Saturday, Walter and I will be looking at birds in the yard, coming to feeders, feeding in the dogwood and mountain ash, and visiting my birdbaths. Walter, at barely two months old, sometimes notices bird activity if they’re moving enough, but so far, his eyes are usually drawn more to the colorful leaves on the trees than to birds.   

So far, Walter watches Blue Jays more easily on my computer screensaver than out the window.

Once grandma duty is over, I’ll exchange my grandson for his grandpa. Russ and I will head out to the Sax-Zim Bog to see what we can find there. If we get back to Duluth while we still have a bit of time and energy, we’ll check out Park Point to see if any cool birds are hanging out on the ballfield or in the lake.   

I’ll be eBirding every bird we see as we go along, because this weekend is Global Bird Weekend, and Saturday is October Big Day. I may be doing my own birding with Russ and baby Walter, but I’m also representing the BirdWatching magazine team. My fellow contributing editor and columnist Kenn Kaufman, who is a wonderful artist and writer, the author of several field guides and excellent books, including Kingbird Highway and A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration, will be birding from Ohio. Photographer Brian Small, who contributed almost all of the photos in my American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Minnesota as well as the other field guides in that series, will be representing our team from California. And BirdWatching Magazine editor Matt Mendenhall will be representing us in Wisconsin.   

I don’t like being in competitions, but this one is a fundraiser for a very worthy cause, BirdLife International’s campaign to stop the illegal bird trade. BirdLife International has been focused on the illegal bird trade for a long time. People in the U.S. think of parrots and other species taken from the wild as pets, which is a huge international problem; just as bad are the lethal traps used to take migrating songbirds over the Mediterranean and in other places. The illegal bird trade is cruel, pushes birds toward extinction, and is extremely short-sighted for our own species as well, threatening more pandemics because of the transmission of diseases from animals to humans in poorly regulated markets, especially in Asia. So I’m proud to be part of a fundraising effort for this worthy project, and excited that a day of birding can be meaningful beyond the fun I’ll have.  

Sam Robbins and me
Me doing a Big Day with Wisconsin's amazing Sam Robbins back in 1992. Sam Cook took this photo.

When I was younger and especially before my heart attacks, I could easily start a Big Day—one of those efforts wherein we try to tally as many species as humanly possible in 24 hours—at 2 am, or even midnight, and last till 10 pm, or even midnight. Now that I’m not quite so spry, I could probably easily last during daylight hours, even in May or June, and maybe even last an hour or two before or after, but even if my body and brain were younger, I’m not nearly so acquisitive anymore. When I’m on a birding tour, I’m still very alert throughout all our birding hours, but take advantage of afternoon siestas, and sleep in the tour bus between locations, though somehow I’m in enough of a twilight state that I instantly am alert if anyone calls out a bird we might be passing.   

Susan Eaton and me
Susan Eaton and me in Panama last year, hiking through the mud and muck.

Fortunately, although the many teams participating in Global Bird Weekend have a shot to see, as a whole, 6,500 species—over 60 percent of the world’s bird species—we’re working together toward amassing that total, not competing with one another. So a grandmotherly type like me can make a contribution without pushing myself too hard.   

Listeners can take part, too, by simply entering the birds you see into eBird this weekend—another goal of World Bird Weekend is to have more than 25,000 people submit checklists to eBird on October 17.  It’s a little too early to start an eBird account for baby Walter, but Russ and I will be submitting all our species, and sharing our checklists with the BirdWatching team. I’ll let you know how it goes.