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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birding by Phone

There are primarily two birding skills that are used by most experienced birders to find and identify birds. They are visual birding ("eye birding") and auditory birding ("ear birding"). Over the past decade, however, I have found that one technological advancement has trickled down to the discipline of birdwatching and led to a third skill - "phone birding".

I first became aware of the art of phone birding on April 24, 2006. It was late afternoon and I had retired to my roof to relax before dinner and look for migrating birds that were heading north. My friend Sean, who lived 3/4 mile to the southwest, was on his roof doing the same. We chatted on the phone as we scanned our respective sections of sky. At one point Sean excitedly announced, "There’s a Northern Harrier flying over 5th Avenue!" The avenues in this part of Brooklyn run, loosely, from north to south. I waited a beat, trained my bins in his general direction, then replied, "It just passed over Methodist Hospital".

Fast forward to April 22, 2014, one week ago.

I had work to do during the early morning and couldn't get out into the park for some spring birding. It was about 11am when I finally ventured into Prospect Park. Sean called me as I was walking through the park's "Ravine", passed the back of the "Upper Pool". He gave me the rundown of his morning's birding while he walked to the subway station near his house. About 5 minutes into the conversation he stopped in mid-sentence and exclaimed, "There are two Bald Eagles flying over me!" I asked him in what direction they were flying, to which he replied that it looked like they were heading towards Prospect Lake. He continued his binocularless description of the huge, soaring raptors as I ran down the steep path towards the open sky of the Nethermead Meadow. Once in the middle of the field I spotted an immature Bald Eagle in the sky to my south, over the neighborhood of Windsor Terrace. It soared into the park between Lookout Hill and the Quaker Cemetery, then followed the park's ridged, forested spine, quickly moving north and out of sight.

I guess it is only a matter of time until we have thousands of remote cameras trained on birding hotspots (with GPS coordinates displayed) that would allow people to check their devices for birds that are present, then run over to said locations to see them. Although there is the minor issue that, well, birds fly.

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