American Birding Podcast



“The Club,” Take 2

Long, long ago, Pete Dunne wrote in American Birds about bird club meetings. His core message, as I recall, was that all bird club meetings are basically the same. He meant it in the best possible way: Bird club meetings are all the same in all the best ways. Call it the Anna Karenina Theorem of Bird Club Meetings: All happy bird clubs are the same.

In his essay, Dunne described the proceedings of a meeting of a certain unnamed bird club. His description freaked me out. Everything he wrote about “the club” matched perfectly my own experiences with my bird club—at the time, the State College Bird Club, based in central Pennsylvania. Dunne had never attended a meeting of the State College Bird Club, I’m sure; but he might as well have. It was all the same: his club, my club, and every other bird club. We all do it the same way, from the chitchat before the meeting, to the various committee reports, right through to adjournment and beyond.

Logo-CFO I’ve come to realize that the Anna Karenina Theorem applies not only to monthly bird club meetings but also to annual state ornithological society (SOC) conventions. Of late, I’ve been averaging about three per year: always my SOC convention in Colorado, plus a couple elsewhere. They’re all the same. They’re all blessedly identical.

Logo A few weeks ago, I attended the Ohio Ornithological Society’s convention, based out of Shawnee State Park, in the extreme southern part of the state. I’d never been there; I’d never done much birding in Ohio at all. I’d heard of almost none of the convention attendees; I’d previously met even fewer of them.

And yet the whole event had the feeling of a homecoming. Everything was so familiar.

First, there was the long ride from the airport. SOC conventions are always far from the state’s major population centers, it seems. My companion and I birded our way there, of course. Our only non-birding stop was for junk food at a filling station, of course. And we finally rolled into town two hours late, of course.

The event itself was typical of practically every other SOC convention I’ve attended: “bird talk” around the registration table; shirts, mugs, and other objects sporting the SOC’s logo; a huge poster with a checklist of birds observed during the convention; afternoon workshops on building birding skills; scientific presentations by energetic twentysomethings; booths staffed by brochure-laden representatives of bird and nature organizations; a couple of evening programs; a sit-down banquet; and of course field trips.

A comment, if I may, about the field trip I attended on the morning of the first full day of the convention. As is the case with most other SOC convention field trips, folks got around by carpooling. The occupants of my car were: me, a guy I’d been birding with for a quarter century, and two perfect strangers. And here’s the most felicitous thing of all: It’s as if all four of us had known each other for the entirety of our combined lifetimes. That’s how it is, in a rather general way, with birding. That’s how it is, especially, with SOC conventions, which are, I find, a microcosm for all that is wonderful about birding.

Those two perfect strangers were, I soon enough found out, pretty new to birding. I didn’t ask, but I suspect that their values, lifestyles, and life stories were substantially different from my own. Yet we bonded instantly. There was, I have to say, a certain intimacy about our newfound friendship. It was as if we’d known each other for a quarter century or longer. We might as well have been family members.

So it is at practically every SOC convention I’ve attended.

IOU logo I’m off to the Iowa Ornithologists' Union convention next month. On the one hand, I have no idea what to expect. The convention will be in the northeastern part of the Hawkeye State; I have zero experience in that part of Iowa. I’ve never met the convention organizers; chances are, I’ll have had prior contact with no more than three or four folks in attendance.

On the other hand, I’m confident that the whole experience will be delectably familiar and familial. Some dude will pick me up at the airport in Des Moines, and we’ll be on our way. Instantly, we’ll forge a lasting friendship. And everything else will fall into place.

SOC conventions bring out the best in us. And I haven’t even touched on all the other things SOCs do. Most SOCs put out superb quarterly journals; most are significantly involved in bird monitoring and conservation efforts; and most provide scholarships or other resources and opportunities to young birders.

Are you a member of your SOC? Go on! Just do it! Join today! If you can’t get info on your SOC (hint: Google), send me an e-mail. I’ll be delighted to get you in touch with the membership person with your SOC.

Are you already a member of your SOC? Good for you. And if that’s the case, could I ask you a small favor? Could you tell us about your SOC? Tell us about all the wonderful things your SOC does. Use the “comments” field below. Don’t be bashful. Tell us how to join, tell us the dates of your next annual convention, tell us anything else you’d like for us to know.

Looking forward to hearing from you!