I have Words with Friends installed on both my iPad and iPhone. I used to play it relatively frequently with friends and family. I don’t any more, but I do play Scrabble, single-player (against the computer). That pretty much sums up my level of social activity in most walks of life. Words with Friends is fun, but with no control on when your opponent plays, you’re stretching a game over a long period of time. You have no control on when you play, or when you’re done.
My birding life is very similar! I started birding in the winter of 2000. In the 15 years since, I can (sadly? pathetically?) say that not once have I set up a birding trip with someone, or spent an entire day or trip birding with another person. In the word-game vernacular from above…I am a “Single-player Scrabble” birder rather than a “Words with Friends” birder. My birding time is limited, and it’s “me” time, my time to wander with my thoughts and enjoy birds and the environments in which they are found. I love being able to control my birding, where I go, when I go, and how much time I spend in a specific location. Given my focus on bird photography, that’s a necessity! My photography style isn’t very conducive for group birding, given that patience, and sitting in one place (sometimes for hours at a time) is my preferred method for getting close to birds.
Yesterday, however, was a rare occasion! After finding four Northern Saw-whet Owls at Newton Hills State Park on Tuesday, I was itching all week for some free time to get back down to the area and look some more! I arrived right at dawn, and immediately ran into Bridget, a wonderfully nice birder from Sioux Falls who I hadn’t met before. Right from the start yesterday my plans changed…no “Scrabble” birding, the rest of the day was truly “Birds with Friends”. And it was a wonderful morning! Bridget and I walked around the Horse Camp area at Newton Hills, finding the two Saw-whets back on the perches they were at four days before, and trying (unsuccessfully) to find more owls. It was a nice change-of-pace for me to talk birds and other topics while leisurely looking through the cedars for signs of owls.
It wasn’t just Bridget yesterday morning though, as I ran into at least a dozen birders who had come down to try and see the owls. My day of looking for owls turned into a day of showing birders where the owls were roosting. And it was wonderful! They’re not easy owls to find, and it was nice to be able to bring folks to what was a life bird for several of the birders.
I greatly enjoyed my time with Bridget and the other birders. A highlight though may have been at the very end. I was tired from going up and down the hills and bushwacking all morning, and was getting close to going home when I ran into Jared and Jessica, two young, new birders who had come down to try and find the owls. One more trip up the hill! I brought them to the one owl that was very visible and photogenic, showing them what was only their second owl of any kind since they recently started birding. Birding in general seems to be an older person’s hobby, as you run into a lot more mature birders than you do young birders. It was great to end the day by getting some young birders excited a true rarity for this area.
I have no doubt I’ll still primarily be a “Single-player Scrabble” type of birder, given my personality. But after yesterday morning, I can definitely see the fun of “Birds with Friends”, and will try to make myself a little more of a social birder in the future.