FOREWORD I find myself in a very uncomfortable position here —and I don’t mean facing a computer screen with fingers dancing over the keyboard. Fact is, I write a lot— books, articles, columns, you name it. If the topic relates directly or tacitly to birds, chances are I’ve dabbled in it. No, my discomfort has nothing to do with any unfamiliarity. It has to do with direction.
Almost always, when I sit down to write, I know precisely what I’m going to say and pretty much how I’m going to say it. This time I’m at a loss. I know what I’m supposed to do, and that is warm up readers for the great act to follow. But that is also the problem. How can any one writer hope to introduce a birding audience to the greatest compilation of birding know-how of all time?
Okay, let’s start with what this foreword is not going to do. It is not going to beguile you with the hints, tricks, shortcuts, and advice that expert birders bring to bear. That is what the fifty contributors to this book have done: synthesize more than a hundred years of birding tradition and approximately twenty-five hundred cumulative years of birding experience.
Who’s going to try to compete with that?
This foreword is also not going to fall back on the old tried-and- true distraction employed by many writers in my position, which is to expound on my own experiences with birds, birding, and bird study.
Look. I’ve written whole books filled with anecdotal bird stuff like that. You passed them by in order to buy this one (and I can’t gainsay your choice).
But in searching for an angle, I do find that I have an insider’s insight that may pique a reader’s interest. It turns out that I know virtually all of the contributors to these pages, recognizing all as colleagues and knowing many as friends. Many writers have an aversion to speaking about themselves, so with the authority vested in me, I think it might be fun to offer readers a peek behind the writer’s mask and direct a descriptive word or two toward the contributing authors of Good Birders Don’t Wear White.
Jon Dunn is a noted author and tour leader for WINGS and has been for many years the final word when it comes to tricky identifications. All photos of unidentified gulls and Empidonax flycatchers with borderline traits ultimately find their way into Jon’s hands. Jon is affable and serious, intellectually gifted, and boasts an array of interests (we share a passion for American history). Tens of thousands of birders are better birders because of Jon and his teaching skill. If you are not counted among them, you soon will be.
Jessie Barry, at the tender age of thirteen, was a poster child for the American Birding Association. She and I appeared together in their membership brochure. The photo showed me pointing out a bird, Jessie looking on. I’ve always wanted to know what happened to the other hundred photos taken that day—the ones that showed Jessie pointing out birds to me. As memory serves, they were more representative of our day. Now that she is at the University of Washington, working on a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and in her spare time on a field guide to North American waterfowl, Jessie’s signature expression is “Uhmmmm.” When she starts humming this mantra, it means her binoculars are fused to something really good andyoubettergetonitFAST.
The last time I heard it, she was looking at a Summer Tanager from the porch of the person who claims the largest yard list in North America. The bird proved to be number 307 for Paul Lehman, a Cape May resident celebrated for his knowledge of bird distribution. Open almost any field guide. If Paul didn’t actually draft the range maps, he was almost certainly consulted. His hobby is finding new bird species for North America. His happy hunting ground is the Inuit village of Gambel on St. Lawrence Island. I don’t know whether Paul has actually been adopted by the tribe, but he is on the tribal leader’s e-mail birthday greeting list.
Paul’s yard list total now? Just hit 314. Magnificent Frigatebird. As fortune had it, he was away from home last week, when the Gray Kingbird perched on the utility lines just down the street from his porch. Yep, you guessed it, Paul was on Gambel.
When it comes to just plain enjoying birds, few can stand on the same platform with Victor Emanuel, founder and director of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Victor’s signature expression is “Wow.” Search the world over, and you’ll find nothing that beats “Wow.” But what distinguishes Victor is not so much the expression as the lavishness with which it is applied. Victor says “Wow” about almost any bird. A White-eyed Vireo in full view garners a “Wow.” A Northern Cardinal in sunlight earns a “Wow.” A Painted Redstart, dancing through the oaks in Cave Creek Canyon (where Victor and I used to co-lead his youth birding camps) is alwaysssss sanctified with a “Wow.” Often several.
And you know, no matter how many vireos or cardinals you’ve seen (and I’ve seen hundreds), when Victor says “Wow,” by golly, you get that sense of wow, too. Wow is infectious. Victor the vector.
I can’t begin to express how delighted I was to see John Kricher’s name ranked among the authors. I met John, a college professor and ecologist, in the summer of 1977. He was teaching a marsh ecology course; I was struggling to give standing and solvency to an institution called the Cape May Bird Observatory.
Not long ago I was working on a book project that involved reading virtually all of the 716 volumes that constitute The Birds of North America. This comprehensive ornithological work was designed to impart the sum of knowledge relating to North American birds and, as such, was never intended to make for light reading. But the intent didn’t necessarily preclude this possibility, and while reading the account for Black-and-white Warbler, I was surprised by the entertaining and readable quality of the piece. I turned to the cover to see who the author was, and you guessed it—John’s name was there. Scientist and wordsmith—two great but by no means singular qualities.
This book will introduce you to other contributors who are both able scientists and capable communicators— Paul Kerlinger, author and bird migration expert who did his seminal work on migrating raptors by using an old police radar in Cape May, and David Bird, McGill University professor and radio show host.
It’s a slippery slope I’ve placed myself on, realizing now that by singling out just some of the wonderful and talented contributors to this book, I will inevitably fail to do justice to them all.
It would be unthinkable not to draw the reader’s attention to Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and author of Bird Watching for Dummies; Amy Hooper, editor of WildBird; and Chuck Hagner, editor in chief of Birder’s World. The talent they bring to their respective magazines is reflected here, too.
Popular bird magazines are as visually arresting as the birds that are their subject. So in these pages you’ll find contributions from celebrated photographers such as Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson (coauthors of the new shorebird guide), Arthur Morris and Tim Gallagher.
Tim Gallagher . . . Tim Gallagher . . . now where (you are thinking) have I heard that name before?
Well, if you subscribe to Living Bird, you may recognize him as the magazine’s editor in chief. But unless you’ve been living in a cave in ...