American Birding Podcast



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?