March 2013

-by Linda Orkin

I went on the Cayuga Bird Club field trip this past Saturday led by Ann Mitchell. Reflecting on this day of birding and all others I have been on, I must say, with a gratitude that I have already hinted at previously, our field trips are excellent. Thanks to our field trip leaders. There are many natural, geographic, birdy reasons why any trip in this area is stellar. If you want to understand our luck, read the introduction in our book, Guide to Birding in the Cayuga Lake Basin, for insights into all those particulars. But being in the right place is far from the whole story. Many of us need guidance to appreciate what we are given. This guidance is willingly forthcoming from all of our trip leaders, very committed and dedicated people, who take hours from their own birding passions to share time and energy with any and all who choose to follow.

Here is what I have experienced on any field trip I have been on: a smiling greeting as each person arrives at the rendezvous site, welcoming introductions, reassurances to those who inevitably apologize for their underdeveloped birding skills, a discussion of what the day will bring, what might be expected, what has been sighted on scouting trips, where comfort stops may be anticipated. Then, stop by stop, hour by hour, finding and sighting birds, making sure everyone sees them, describing field marks, scanning for more elusive individuals, all the while communicating pure enjoyment, excitement, and joy as each bird reveals itself. Behaviors are highlighted; songs and sounds are detected and pointed out. All the while, the group, whether large or small, is being drawn into the experience; each person finding a comfort level and their own birding voice as they are encouraged by the leader to enter into this world. People often want to know what they can do to help birds. Lead a field trip and illuminate the lives of birds and your love for birds so that others will care and spread the word. Invite an uninitiated friend to come along on a trip. It is amazing how birds can remain inaudible and invisible to those who have not been formally introduced. You can make those introductions.

Trip leaders are a spark. I was reminded of this term by its use in email to the listserv that Mark Chao wrote about his son Tilden’s suddenly soaring passion for birding. That same day that Mark posted, there was a blog on The American Birding Association site about “spark” people. This is a great way for each of us to reminisce about our own birding histories. What was your spark? Was it a bird, a person, an idea? Mark made the observation that for 11-year-old Tilden it was the sudden gut awareness that birding can be a competitive sport, as he was spurred on by participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Those of us who know Tilden’s parents, Miyoko and Mark, can emphatically understand how, in combination with all the best ingredients, the right people can serve as splendid catalysts to set the reaction in motion. My grandmother was not knowledgeable, but she impressed me by knowing the names of Catbirds and Whip-poor-wills. I did not realize at my young age that she was merely calling the birds by names they already called themselves, which, just by luck, were their correct names. The name of Wild Canary that she attached to American Goldfinch was so apropos, I will never forget it. I am grateful that she noticed at all and nudged me along with her. Each leader serves in this capacity on their trips, the catalyst to noticing, the spark to loving.

I will end with a remembrance of a small personal spark in my childhood, as I often think back on the little inquisitive robin in The Secret Garden that led lonely Mary to discover the key, the garden, and a whole new way of being in the world. Let us all be the spark and that robin.