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If Only I Could Go Birding…

It’s spring (almost). Birds are beginning to pour into distant hotspots, possibly even into some nearby areas. This morning before you went to work, when you opened your emails (or read Texbirds or Carolinabirds or some other bird-related  posts, or looked at the posts from your Facebook friends), did you find out that being seen right now there is a _______ (fill in the blank) being seen (a bird you’ve never seen, or haven’t seen for a very long time, or a bird that you have a need to see each year)? If you haven’t had time to spend more than an hour or so birding in weeks, and it doesn’t look good for the next couple of months, you may be in the stage that I am writing about today. This is even more likely if last year you spent all your money, and then some, on a big year (or worse yet, on some non-birding essential expenses), and you just cannot afford to go on any bird trip.

If I described you above, you are very likely in the “yearning stage”. How greatly the yearning stage impacts your happiness depends on the extremeness of your birding mania. It may not even be particularly noticeable if your life does not revolve around birding; however, this is a very noticeable stage that I seem to be in most of the time when I am not birding, and is sometimes nearly debilitating. Looking at my old photographs can sometimes help by getting me away into memory lane, but usually it just increases the problem and reminds me what a joy birding can be, and that I’m not doing it! Hearing about the birding plans and adventures of others can be nearly fatal.

I was no stranger to the yearning stage before my big year. I actually once had a 9-5 job that required my daily attendance, when especially desirable birds rarely cooperated by arriving at times and places where I could go after them. I repressed my desires so that weekends became my only outlets. After I started working for myself, I gradually became spoiled when I realized that my boss was going to approve nearly all of my requests to go birding. That was one major reason why I was able to do my big years and pull myself completely out of the yearning stage. My every wish was my command.

These halcyon days ended with the end of my ABA big year. I was in deep credit card debt. When I finished that year I vowed that I would not chase (many) birds until I paid it all off. Unfortunately, that time has still not arrived, so I am a poster child for the yearning stage. Every now and then of course, I have become desperate, or something too wonderful to ignore has been found by someone, and I have ignored my vow. The Tiger-Heron was the cause of one such back-sliding, and in fact I went to the Lower Rio Grande Valley twice before I finally saw it. After that I definitely needed to do penance, and have strictly controlled most of my birding impulses.

It occurred to me as I wrote the above, that the fact that others may be in a serious yearning stage may actually be detrimental to me personally! Would somebody who desperately wants to see birds, but is deprived of that happiness, come to hear me blather on and on about the wonderful time I had on my big year? Could they stand to see my photos of birds that are hard to find and wonderful to behold? And even more critical –would they buy my book? OMG!

So I hasten to add to this blog post – there are ways to cure, or at least ameliorate the effects of, the yearning stage. Like clinical depression, it may be hard to roust yourself to try to help yourself, but I have a few suggestions, even though I do not know of targeted medications for the yearning stage. Start gradually. Find an hour, or better yet, a day or a weekend, and get to a birding spot near you, and let (or make) yourself go birding. Go on a local bird club field trip. Feed the birds and take pictures of them in your back yard. Just do it. It’s not likely going to get you that desired bird, but it will soothe your soul, the part of you that got you into watching birds in the first place. And do it again, and again. Eventually you may be able to bird for a longer time, in a place you really desire to bird, but for now, just do what you can. 

If that works, maybe I’ll see you at one of my bird-talks on my big year (of which I hope there are many, so I can go somewhere away from home, give a talk, and go birding!), or even better yet I’ll see you out birding somewhere, if you and I can both find the time to do it at the same time.

Although the yearning stage can be difficult, depressing, and just plain bad, there is another stage, which I have seen in others but have only in my worst days felt that I might possibly ever be in, and I hope I’m never there. Until my next post, I’ll let you wonder what that stage might be. In the meantime, if you can stand to post about birding (and not be out watching them), please post your comments here.

03.16 Fork-tailed Flycatcher, TX 

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, seen in March of my big year, almost exactly 3 year ago!

Lynn Barber, ABA Board member

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Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber started birding at the age of 7. In 2005, she broke the Texas big year record with 522 species, and in 2008, she tallied 723 bird species in the ABA Area. An account of her ABA Big Year, entitled Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year, was published in the spring of 2011. Her second book, Birds in Trouble was published in 2016. While living in North Carolina, Lynn was active in Wake County Audubon and on the board of the Carolina Bird Club. Moving to Texas in 2000, she was active in the Fort Worth Audubon Society, serving as its president for 3 years. She is a life member of the Texas Ornithological Society, and became its president in April 2009. She now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Lynn Barber

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  • Morgan Churchill

    This pretty much exactly describes my current state now, although my yearning is due to lack of money, limited local bird diversity/numbers during the winter, and other time commitments.

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