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Open Mic: Birds of a Feather – Birding and Pokemon

At the Mic: Steve Schultz

It’s hard to be a birder. Or rather, it’s hard to explain to someone why I’m a birder. Whether it’s at a cocktail party, describing hobbies and interests during the dreaded workplace “get to know you” exercise, or when responding to a roadside inquiry as to “what are you looking at”, describing to a non-birder the allure of birdwatching can be challenging. Say to someone, “my hobbies are fishing and cigars” and little else needs to be said. Get a knowing nod and then maybe move into a discussion as to whether Cohibas will still retain their mystique once Cuba opens to commerce, or lament on how “there just aren’t as many fish out there as there were in the good old days.” But the response to “I’m a birder” is often puzzled silence. After all, do people really just roam around and look for little animals to add to their virtual creel?

The line between birding and Pokemon GO can get a little hazy. Photo: Jennie Duberstein

The line between birding and Pokemon GO can get a little hazy. Photo: Jennie Duberstein

But now I have an easy comparison to which most folks can immediately relate. I simply say that birding is like Pokemon Go, but replaces virtual pocket monsters with real feathered animals. (For folks not connected to the internet, or who have not ventured outside recently, Pokemon Go is a smartphone game app that became the summer of ‘16s hottest fad. Users travel to physical locations to “capture” virtual cartoon monsters that are displayed overlapped on the user’s live video display through use of augmented reality.)

When Pokemon’s latest craze swept across the world in mid-July, millions of folks discovered the excitement and sense of accomplishment of navigating to seemingly random locations to “capture” creature’s to add to ones menagerie. That, in a nutshell, is birding; or at least my version of it. Drive to a place I’ve never been before, follow the directions on my smartphone, look across the field, and bang, I add a Say’s Phoebe to my list. Or I might strike out on my own to discover what unknown birds may be lurking in forest or fen… a field trip in birding parlance. Eerily similar to roaming the local park for cute pink and yellow monsters, except that my feathered friends actually exist, and I don’t have to buy any power balls to secure my sighting. Although that pair of expensive German binoculars might seem rather lavish to the Pokemon user able to “power up” for a dollar or so.

So birders enjoy getting outside, visiting new places, adding sightings to our lists, and meeting people with similar interests. Pokemon users enjoy getting outside, visiting new places, adding creatures to their lists, and meeting people with similar interests. Finally! I can succinctly explain my free-time pursuits in a way that generates continued conversation and reduces the changes of obtaining a blank stare when trying to explain “birding”. I just simply say that I’m playing Pokemon Go, but substituting birds for pocket monsters.

And will some of the millions of folks enjoying the great outdoors while playing the app discover that a real-world Pokemon Go exists? I hope so! For birding offers many of the same benefits of exercise, visits to new places, exploration of the natural world, the excitement of “capturing” a shiny new “sighting”, and satisfying the itch to collect “the full set”.

The next time you spot a pocket monster collector roaming your neighborhood, consider sharing the allure of birding… you might win a convert and make a new friend!

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Steve Schultz of Raleigh, North Carolina, is an active birder in the North Carolina Triangle and beyond, and a member of the NC Bird Records Committee.

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]
  • Sharon McInnes

    Brilliant!

  • Jody Enck

    Hi All. I appreciate the ha-ha humor of relating birding to Pokemon Go. But I feat that most people who are not aware of birding and all its values will miss the point completely. First of all (sorry to all my Pokemon friends), Pokemon Go is a made up virtual game. Its potentially addictive in any Pavlovian sense, but it is about as close to birding as Pluto is to the Sun. For me personally, birding is not about finding stuff. Its about feeling connected and learning how to be in awe of things you never imagined could be real. No matter how much fun Pokemon Go is, it can never be those things.

  • Ted Floyd

    Here’s a serious editorial about this matter, in the journal Nature:

    http://www.nature.com/news/gotta-name-them-all-how-pok%C3%A9mon-can-transform-taxonomy-1.20275

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