Pledge to Fledge: The Best Thing You Can Do This Weekend
by Jeff Gordon
It's August 24, the first day of the first Pledge to Fledge event. If you've somehow missed the buzz surrounding this event, take a look at Richard Crossley's post here from last week. Also check the P2F website and Facebook page, where there is already quite a bit of material up from last night's kickoff event in Cape May, as well as some cool shots of Keith Barnes' efforts to fledge some new birders in South Africa. No doubt there will be much more to come.
I'm especially encoraged to see Pledge to Fledge emerge now, as I think it represents an important evolution in birding culture. Though I've often heard birders decry the lack of "new blood" coming into our community, I've rarely seen much in the way of focussed efforts to do something about it. Don't get me wrong—I know we've all stood at tables, gone to various events, and so on in hopes of minting some new birders. These are laudable efforts and they haven't been wholly unsuccessful.
But I think what is needed is an almost complete overhaul in how we recruit and I see Pledge to Fledge as an important step in that direction. Putting it in birding terms, we have to get as good at finding, identifying and sparking new birders as we have gotten at finding, identifying and spreading the word of vagrant birds.
Think how much time, effort, and ingneuity has been put into learing the habits, habitats, hotspots, weather patterns, and search techniques involved in ferreting out rare birds. Where these efforts have been most successful, they've involved shifting our frame of reference, dropping our old behavior patterns and learning to think like like the wayward birds we seek.
When I started birding the Mid-Atlantic in the mid-1970's, early November was considered a sort of lull between the peak of hawk migration and the peak of waterfowl migration. Not too much to see then, the thinking went. Now, thanks to the efforts of Paul Lehman and dozens of others like him, early November is recognized as perhaps the most exciting, productive time of the year, if finding Mid-Atlantic vagrants is your thing. And our expectations of what's possible then, in terms of numbers and diversity have been exceeded time and again.
What I'm really excited about in the coming years is helping the ABA get just that good at reaching and sparking new birders. There's much to be learned about where we can find them, how they behave, and what conditions set the stage for that magical conversion experience. I think we're not that far from a day when how good a day we've had in the field will be measured not only by how many species we found but also by the number of new birders we recruited.
As a community, we have so, so much to learn about how best to do this. And there's no substitue for getting out there and just giving it a whirl, refining what works and sidelining what doesn't. And the fact that so many others will be doing the same thing this weekend, gives us all a great opportunity to share our triumphs and our tribulations.
Liz and I have already got at least one spot picked out where we'll go birding for new birders this weekend: Garden of the Gods. It's a big tourist attraction, so there are plenty of people around, almost none of them there for birding. But there are nifty birds to look at, usually including Prairie Falcons. And a spotting scope set up in a place like that always draws a crowd, and the inevitable, "Whatcha lookin' at?," conversation openers. I think it's an ideal place to practice our recruitment skills.
How about you? Where might you spend an hour or two this weekend and snag a new birder or two? A local park with a duck pond? Maybe a zoo that has wild but relatively tame birds wandering the grounds? Remember, you don't need rare birds to do this. You want close birds, preferably lots of them. Don't worry if it's starlings or magpies. They'll work.
ABA board member Kenn Kaufman and Kim Kaufman, director of the Ohio's Black Swamp Bird Observatory, have a nice post on their blog with tips on taking new birders birding. It's worth a look as you're making your plans.
Mainly, remember to be friendly and enjoy yourself. Birding is a wonderful thing. Let's all get as good as we can at securing its future by growing our ranks.
So take the Pledge. Then get out there! Make sure your Bird of the Year stickers are in place and wear your ABA logo wear, if you have it. And be sure to tell us what you discover!