American Birding Podcast



The Greatest Thing about the ABA

Last week I was honored to visit Portugal as a guest of the Portuguese National Tourist Office and the Sagres-based Festival Observação de Aves. I had a marvelous time. I mean, what’s not to like about Great Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Great Skuas and European Storm-Petrels, Thekla Larks and Eurasian Stone-Curlews, and all those wonderful “warblers”? (It’s a sickness, perhaps, but I like their warblers better than ours.)

As much as I liked the birds, I enjoyed my human companions even more so. Our young guides were excellent. The tour operators, bus drivers, and hoteliers were patient and gracious. Most of all, my traveling companions—keen birders from all over Europe, plus one other American—were constantly delightful.

Birders in Portugal
Gathered here at Portugal’s Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim are some great birders from Portugal, Holland, Germany, and Britain. They would appear to lack a common focus. But looks can be deceiving. Keep reading… Photo by © Peggy Watson–Field Guides.

On one of our bus rides, the inevitable happened: The conversation turned to the matter of the American Birding Association (ABA). We talked about the good (the ABA Code of Birding Ethics), the bad (recent membership declines), and the ugly (the lunacy of not counting “heard-only” birds). And we talked about the greatest thing of all about the ABA.

“There’s nothing like it in the U.K.,” one of my British companions effused.

“There’s nothing like it in all of Europe,” added the brilliant young Dutch birder on the tour.

The ABA is unique. It is the only prominent continental organization with the foundational and singular agenda of promoting birders’ interests. Now don’t get me wrong: Organizations like the National Audubon Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are marvelous, incontestably worthy of broad support from the birding community. And let me add to the mix Portugal’s impressive Liga para a Protecção da Natureza.

But the ABA is different from all those organizations. With apologies to Abraham Lincoln, the ABA is an organization of birders, by birders, and for birders. In the first and final analysis, the ABA is a grassroots, member-based organization. The agenda of the ABA is set by its membership.

The voice of each and every ABA member counts for something. (So does the vote of each and every ABA member.) If you have an opinion, the staff and board of the ABA want to hear about it. If you have a suggestion for a way forward, bring it on. If you have a criticism, lay it on us.

Which brings me around to this new blog for the ABA. A variety of correspondents—including yours truly—will be writing from this venue. Guest contributions are eagerly sought. All persons are welcome to respond to anything posted here; in other words, the blog is not moderated. That’s the ABA spirit. That’s the ABA way.

Speaking for myself, I intend to be opinionated. But I also pledge to be civil and respectful. A forcefully articulated opinion is not the same thing as a declaration of the truth—a point lost on a lot of folks, or so I opine.

And something else. I pledge—and I hope all of us will do likewise—to keep it fun and festive, joyous even, forever full of wonder. That’s what attracted all of us to birding in the first place. That’s the agenda for the ABA. That’s the very essence of what it means to be a member of the ABA.

Pelagic Trip
Ted Floyd (with Peggy Watson) recently went on his first Northeast Atlantic pelagic trip. Oh, sure, he pondered shearwater molt and storm-petrel taxonomy while he was out there. But he didn’t let that get in the way of having a good time. Photo by © Peggy Watson–Field Guides.