Passion: Birding

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Exactly one year ago, birder E. Vernon Laux spotted the Red Footed Falcon on Martha’s Vineyard. It wasn’t so much the red feet that electrified the birding world– it was the continent on which they landed. This was the first bird of its kind to visit North America. Ten thousand birders from across the world flocked to the tiny island to glimpse the red-footed-fellow. To an outsider it seemed like much ado about nothing, but to the twitchers of the world it was the natural thing to do.

What was once considered a pastime for oddballs and octogenarians has finally gone mainstream, thanks to the Internet and better birding gear. Such unlikely birders as Jim Jarmusch and Jonathan Franzen even find themselves stalking the Black Capped Gnatcatcher. In the 21st century birding has gone extreme; in pursuit of the elusive bird some birders have fallen prey to hungry fur seals and hyenas.

What bird has eluded you all these years? Are you a newcomer or old-timer? Who’s the birder in your neighborhood? Give us a call.

Some bird sites:


Bird Song

Birds in Literature

Bird Name Pronunciations


E. Vernon Laux

Vern has been birding since he was 12 and it’s become a way of life. He’s led birding tours everywhere from Israel to the Arctic .

In his 1999 book Bird News: Vagrants and Visitors on a Peculiar Island, Laux documents a year in the life of the Martha’s Vineyard bird population .

From Chelsea’s pre-interview notes

I started birding when I was 12. My science teacher put a chart on the wall of all the common winter birds of New England. I identified every one as a chicadee. I failed. One day he brought in a dead bird. If we could identify it we’d get an A on our next exam. No one in my family was interested in birds. There was a guy down the street, he was a birder, he gave me a Peterson Bird Guide. I went back to class with 400 names. Not one of them was right! There are only 600 species in North America…anyhow, that was the beginning of my birding life. It was 1967 when I became a birder I didn’t tell anyone. That was what oddballs and old ladies did.

My ambition was to see all the birds in North America by the time I went to college. I passed up a football scholarship. Instead I went to Cape Cod to working for the Audubon Society. Then I got a British girlfriend, I ended up in Alaska, working on a research boat –eventually I ended up at the university of Arizona to study all the birds there—I saw them all.

Sharon “birdchick” Stiteler

Sharon has been blogging on since 2004. She’s been birder a lot longer, since she was 7, when she got her first Peterson Bird Guide.

From Chelsea’s pre-interview notes

• How much do I love birding? I’ll wake up at 3:00 AM to watch birds, I go to islands where birds barf on me, I ‘ll walk around all day in 103 degree heat and sub zero weather to see birds . Because I don’t have the budget my birding has been restricted to North America but I would love to be able to bird around the world.

• What I love about birds is how they behave. One of my favorite birds is the Northern Goshawk–they act without thinking. I love the killdeer. I read about it; they pretend to be injured in order to protect their offspring. The first time I saw one it was like seeing a celebrity. I wanted its autograph. I wanted to say “you’re just like they said you’d be. Everything I read said that this is how you’d behave, and here you are behaving this way!??? It’s just such an amazing thing to see. I get such a rush every time I see a new bird.

Marie Winn

Marie Winn is an author and birder. She wrote Red Tails in Love, which has been re-released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first successful Red Tale nest in NYC. If you remember the story revolves around the superstar hawk Pale Male. Winn will give us some insights into urban birding.

From Chelsea’s pre-interview notes

The hardcore hawk watchers are still active because we had another nest here in Central Park, on the south side. Some of the hawk watchers did become birders but there is a huge difference between bird watchers and hawk watchers. Hawk watchers are very obsessive–unlike birdwatchers they sentimentalize things–they anthropomorphize birds–birwatchers are more clinical. the more I think about it, however, there is a huge spectrum of birdwatchers. Central Park is a great place to bird. After the Red Tail craze there we some people who started birding.

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  • Chelsea

    How could I forget to mention the two bird blockbusters of the year: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: and March of the Penguins:

    It looks like this is show that we’ll have to do soon. Once the fall migration starts birders will be hard to come by.

  • Diamond Dave

    Jonathan Franzen has the but his birding in the context of his life and loves in this

    weeks New Yorker> He does write well.

  • Chelsea

    Diamond Dave,

    I agree. Franzen’s article was beautiful. I hope that on the show we’ll talk about the psychological component of birding and all the metaphors that the world of birding offers.

  • BJ

    Franzen did a beautiful job conveying the progression of interest to passion. Is one’s passion the lens through which life’s other experiences are viewed?

    Will be interested to see what other birders have to say. They’re a passionate lot.

  • paulavdw

    I am hoping to do a little birding…here, within a few months time. Parrots, specifically macaws and lories (alas, they are from Austrailia and Pacific) I’ve known about these people for many years. I want to see the birds in the wild before they are all gone. Man is doing his best to either trap them or to destroy their habitat through logging, mining, gas/oil pipelines etc. No worry about overloading this facility with thousands of tourists…they don’t take many at a time, and this is an example of sustainable eco-tourism.

    The Tambopata Research Center is a spartan yet comfortable 13 bedroom lodge built by Rainforest Expeditions with the object of lodging tourists and researchers alike and of protecting the adjacent macaw clay lick. Because of its remote location in a Connecticut-sized tract of uninhabited wilderness housing stable populations of endangered wildlife, the small scale of its infrastructure and operations and the presence of researchers and naturalist guides, Tambopata Research Center is an excellent headquarters for in depth explorations of Amazonian nature and wildlife.


    Designed using traditional, low impact native architecture to provide the creature comforts necessary for enhancing the wilderness experience without compromising its authenticity.


    Unobstacled view of forest ten meters from lodge perimeter maximizes wildlife encounter possibilities.


    Daily departures with no minimum number of passengers assure utmost flexibility at great value.


    Meals combine international, Peruvian and local cuisine. Vegetarians are welcome.Guides are young, English-speaking Peruvian biologists. Additionally, the presence of professional researchers at different times of the year may present ample opportunity to interact with them.


    An experienced, well-trained staff hired at a 2.5:1 tourist to staff ratio assures excellent service throughout your stay.


    Walks on trails are kept at a 6:1 tourist to guide ratio, increasing wildlife encounter opportunities. Natural history attractions include world’s largest known macaw clay lick , over twenty five identified macaw nesting sites , primates and other larger mammals , and a high bird concentrated in seven distinct habitats that are easily accesible from TRC.


    Tambopata Research Center is located in a half hectare clearing (one acre) located in the Tambopata National Reserve directly adjacent to the Bahuaja National Park, in southeastern Amazonian Peru, 500 meters from the world’s largest macaw clay lick.(snip)

  • keepmoving

    My mother is responsible for my bird observations. She was definetly an ametuer bird watcher. I’m fairly new at really seeing them. I guess I relied on her. When she died, I had to find them for myself.

    I can pick out some and have my favorites. We have set up grapefruit in trees to call Baltimore Orioles (birds, not baseball team) and suet to call Rosebreasted Gross beaks. Unfortunately, one of the birds I’d love to see is an Indigo bunting. I have heard they are beautiful. Is there anyway to call them or is it all luck?

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  • utahbirder

    In 1983 I thought I had discovered a rare bird. I saw an orange and black something wading in a pond by the freeway with a d curved bill. I raced to my Fathter’s house and got him to go with me to check it out. An American Avocet is what got me started into birding and I have been hooked ever since. My goal is to “get” every bird that makes it way to/through Utah. Then on the the the rest of North America!

  • Greetings from Gloucester, Massachusetts!

    A Great Blue Heron startled me by flying about ten feet over my head as I was laying on my back just spacing out on the sky. I thought it was some sort of dinosaur! It was my ephiphany bird.

    Shortly thereafter I started going on local organized bird walks, buying bird books, optics and so on. I spent a lot of time watching birds and gaining experience. I bird the east coast from PEI to Sanibel as much as I can.

    I just did the local Christmas Bird Count (CBC). If you have never done this, you must try it. It is facinating watching the changes in bird populations fron year to year.

    I find birding to be a spiritual experience. I learn a lot about life by watching birds as they live out their lives free of human constructs.

    Today I digiscope birds and run a birding message board at