Sunday, May 24, 2009

Birders: Myth and Reality

From Port Clinton, Ohio, Kenn writes: As amazing as this might seem, there are still some people out there who are so totally uninformed that they think of birdwatchers as nerdy, dorky, or dull. (Of course, there are some people who think the earth is flat. When the real information is so readily available, at some point the ignorance becomes the fault of those who carry it.) For anyone who is so backward that they still cling to a belief in the "nerdy birder" stereotype, I wish I could have plunked them down in Mango Mama’s last night.

Our band, 6-7-8-OH, was playing a gig at Mango Mama’s in Port Clinton. Unlike some of our gigs, this wasn’t a fund-raiser for anything, just a Saturday night of playing in a bar. And there was a very good crowd there most of the evening. But what was most noticeable to me was the fact that it was the birders who packed, and rocked, the house. Birders made up only one-third of the band, but probably more than three-quarters of the action in the place.

Where was the stereotypical birder that you might see in a magazine cartoon? Certainly not in this crowd. No, we had the real birders. Three of the sharpest young bird experts in the state, Jen and Phil and Ethan, all twenty-something or barely-twenty, were there to rock all night after birding at Magee Marsh all day. Rebecca and Laura and Michelle were there from the National Wildlife Refuge; we’re accustomed to seeing them as professionals in the conservation field, but here they were lively pretty girls, drawing looks from all the non-birding guys in the bar. Several fun couples from the birding scene were here: Bob and Blake (the Killer Bs), he looking studly, she looking glamorous; likewise Tim and Dana, and Hugh and Judy, still amazingly energetic after all the work they’d been doing at the bird observatory. Another bird observatory mainstay, the amazing Karen, was there, a total live wire as always. Tough guy Henry and his cute daughter Olivia had been out birding all day at Magee Marsh but they came to listen to the music for half the night. Iain, Josh, and Sam, professional tour leaders from Tropical Birding, tanned and rugged and lean, probably danced with every lady in the place, and Michael and Matt may have done the same. But the dance floor was filled with birders practically the whole night.

The month of May has been a high-energy time at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, with crazy numbers of birds and birders in the area. Kim and I are both pretty well fried by now, and it felt good to just get up there on stage and rock out. No one has worked harder than Kim, and she should be absolutely exhausted by now, but she was so wound up and so full of life that no one would have guessed. With her beautiful voice and powerful delivery, she knocked everyone out as always. When we launched into a Joe Walsh tune, instead of "Spent the last year the Rocky Mountain way," Kim sang, "Spent the weekend birding at Magee," and everyone went crazy. At least, all the cool people did -- all the birders.

My beautiful Kim rocking out on stage

That's me on bass, adding to the driving foundation of the songs. Photo courtesy of Kevin Loughlin at Wildside Nature Tours.


  1. For those who think birding is uncool, Thomas Paine comes to mind:

    "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right."

  2. ROCK ON!
    Birders rule, everyone else drools!

  3. Kim and Kenn.
    Totally agree. In a way, I think it is a shame to have events called World series of Birding, when most people connect the term "world series" with baseball. It is serving for skits such as that of Dave Stewarts show and other lame copies.
    I think we need to show the non-birders that we are cool. Expose ourselves in as many ways as possible. Try to reach out with stuff about birding that could interest non-birders. RocknRoll is one way. Social Media such as Twitter is another.
    Have a look at Twitter. I have created a specific birding day on Twitter called #birdsaturday, when birders and nonbirders can share birdpicture for ID, articles, events, birdwalks, blogposts, latest sightings, etc. It has great potential to reach large numbers of non-birders to convert!

    Another way is to state and countrywise start to promote lists of birds that sort of transcend to become atractions also to the nonbirders. An example for Peru can be seen on my blog.


    Gunnar Engblom

  4. Man, I used to play that same Ricky...

    Any chance of having a Battle of the Birder Bands at the Midwest Birding Symposium?

    I can think of one NYC birder guitarist who'd love to sit in.

  5. This is what I'm talkin' bout - I love it! I hope I can get up there to see you two play someday soon! Awesome!

  6. So is this post-migration concert going to be an annual event? If so, next year I'm there.

  7. Kenn and Kim,
    Your blog has some great stuff and personality. I blog and my latest post is about 2 killdeer chicks: Will you check out my blog and add it to your bloglist?

  8. One additional comment...
    I think some of the 'serious' birders need to lighten up a bit. Being a very 'non-serious' birder, I've noticed an attitude that tends to push casual birders away at times.
    We need to invite everyone to play this game we call birding!
    'Cause it's fun.
    Thanks for listening, I'll go back to taking south side shots of birdies now...

  9. Hi guys,
    Thanks for all the great comments. I should add that we had birders of all ages and styles and approaches at this gig, beginners and experts, avid and casual, and we just make the assumption that anyone who walks in the door is a cool person. The more the merrier. We agree with Dave that 'serious' birders shouldn't be so serious as to drive others away.

    It would be great to get some big musical-birder gathering pulled together at some point. Not sure when. At the Midwest Birding Symposium the talented and musical Thompsons will be there, for sure, but they're running the event so they may be too busy to play. Kim and I will be there but we're not sure our whole band will be in town. We may have to arrange a concert for next year, as Charles Owens Gallery suggests, for a week or so after IMBD.