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Change and Continuity, Take 2

Twenty-three years ago—half a lifetime ago—I embarked on the greatest birding adventure of my life: two months traveling around Costa Rica with the Organization for Tropical Studies. I arrived in San José with just the essentials: a passport and Spanish phrase book; a water bottle, sunscreen and a hat; an extra pair of underpants; and a waterproof pen, a notebook, binoculars, and “Stiles and Skutch” (as their Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica was known).

I figured out in the cab from the airport that the phrase book was useless. It was the rainy season, so the sunscreen and hat were likewise unnecessary. I lost my water bottle, and my companions stole my underpants. So I was down to just pen and notebook, binocs, and Stiles and Skutch. And my passport, I suppose. For eight glorious weeks, I watched birds, consulted the book constantly, and wrote down everything.

Without even returning home to Pennsylvania, I flew straight to New Mexico and started a new birding adventure.


It’s different today. I got back earlier in the week from a wonderful birding adventure in remote southwestern Colorado. The whole time I was there, I sent texts and emails. I consulted Google Maps, the BirdsEye app, and an online library of crossbill sound spectrograms. I entered several dozen eBird checklists. I uploaded recordings to Xeno-Canto and posted a trip report to COBirds. I put photos and video on Facebook. I tweeted. And I suppose I’m blogging about it right now.

Click on the link in the text to read the full text of this commentary.

Click on the link in the text to read the full text of this commentary.

Late tomorrow, I’m headed off for another birding adventure. I’m not yet even out the door, and I’m already exhausted thinking about all my e-responsibilities in connection with the trip.


I’m not here to say that birding is worse—or, for that matter, better—now than it was half a lifetime ago. I mean, keeping a good field notebook is at least as much hard work as keeping up with eBird. But birding is inarguably different today. In a commentary in the July/August 2014 Birding, I explore some of those differences.

Okay, I said I’m not here to say that birding has gotten worse or better. But I’m wondering what you think. Let’s talk about it.

Your turn:

Has birding gotten better or worse? And why?




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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • Ricky

    Better and Worst, it’s better because of things like social media and bird apps, birding is more accessible than ever. Worst, because of some of the great birds like Blue Birds, and Kestrels are much harder to find. Some birds we took for granted are now hard or impossible to find.


  • Rick Wright

    Worse and better. It’s worse because of things like social media and bird apps. Better because some of the great birds like plain-capped starthroats and lesser black-backed gulls are much easier to find.
    Yes, I’m partly pulling the leg of the commentator directly above (or below, however the screen orders these things), but Ted is right about “e-responsibilities” and their deadening effect: When I see something neat, I often find myself thinking about how to cast my account of the experience on line when I get home, which does not improve the quality of my birding at all.
    As to the changing distributions of birds, it seems to me that we have to take declines in the same spirit as increases and range expansions. We need to remember that the arrival of Sinaloa wrens is probably part of the same phenomenon that is driving American goldfinches ever farther north, for example.
    Ricky, where do you live that your bluebirds –and which species? — are harder to find? Quite the opposite over almost the entire range of the eastern bluebird.

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