Saturday, March 13, 2010
To Twitch...Or Not?
If you call yourself a birder, sooner or later you will be driven to twitch a rare bird.
twitching-n.-The act of chasing rare birds found by others, mostly for listing purposes.
Nowadays it is easy (too easy?) for birders to twitch birds. Most serious birders are connected to rare bird alerts and birding listservs. Word of a rarity often gets out within minutes of discovery via phone calls, texts, and Facebook. All the birder has to do is to grab his binoculars (even this step isn't completely necessary, since plenty of other birders will be there to mooch off of), jump in the car, and drive to the place. More often than not, the birder finds the bird, loses interest after a minute or two, and then begins chatting with other birders until someone's phone buzzes with a text about another rare bird fifty miles away. The process is repeated.
I don't know about you, but I don't see the point of twitching. Sure, you get to add a species to your life list, but who cares? I've drifted away from listing. I know my life list is somewhere above six hundred, but beyond that I have no idea. I've allowed nearly all of my lists to fall into disrepair.
Hard-core listing barely counts as birding. The birds become mere objects, worthless once they've been ticked off. For this reason, many die-hard listers aren't even decent birders. I know plenty of birders with impressive life lists but very little knowledge of the birds to go along with the names.
Now that I've spent sufficient time bashing those filthy twitchers, I have something to confess. I sometimes fall prey to the evil temptation. My latest lapse came on Wednesday.
It actually started on Tuesday. As I made one of my routine checks of LACounty Birds, I noticed a few posts with "Yellow-billed Loon" in the headlines. I continued on, seeing a post about a Baltimore Oriole, and nothing much else...
Wait. WHAT?! Yellow-billed Loon?!
I've never seen a Yellow-billed Loon. I've always wanted to. To make matters worse, several friends of mine saw one in Michigan a couple months ago. Of course, they rubbed it in my face...
That's why I dragged myself out of bed at five on Wednesday morning. That's why I battled through beastly traffic jams on the 1-210 near Pasadena. That's why I shelled out eleven bucks into the waiting hand of the grumpy, sleep-deprived attendant at the entrance booth at Castaic Lagoon. That's why I tumbled out of the driver's seat, stretched, extricated my scope from the trunk, and walked to the lake's edge...
I huddled in my jacket from the dawn chill. Sweeping the lake with my scope, I quickly spotted the loon out in the distance. It was darker than I expected. Then the bird turned--and I could see it was a Common Loon.
Five minutes passed. Ten. Then, a huge, tan loon with a pale horn-yellow bill popped out of the water a short distance off. No mistake this time--this was the Yellow-billed Loon!
I made a point of enjoying the bird. When I do break down and chase rare birds, I like to hang around for awhile and photograph, sketch, and simply watch them. I ended up spending nearly three hours with the loon. By the end of my visit, I felt like I had gotten to know the bird. Not only that, I had seen some other nifty birds--Swainson's Hawk, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Rock Wren, and Common Merganser. Around midday, I loaded my trappings back into the car and headed home. As I pulled onto the freeway, driving with a knee while munching on a sandwich, I happily reflected on the loon.
I felt only slightly guilty.