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Moonchild
01-14-2015, 05:40 AM
Hi all,

My MC is supposed to be heavy into birdwatching, to the point that he wants to specialize in ornithology 'when he grows up' (he's a high school senior right now). I made this super important for my plot before I finally listened to that little voice in the back of my head that kept reminding me that I know next to nothing about birdwatching--much less about ornithology. I've done some research on the Internet and in books, but if at all possible, I wouldn't mind chatting/corresponding with someone who's actually into the stuff, to help me flesh out my character.

I'm not talking about just backyard birdwatching, either. There's a nature reserve close to where my MC lives and he loves to hike there and observe and photograph the local feathered residents.

Any tips would be greatly appreciated! :)

Thanks in advance!

Keyan
01-14-2015, 02:30 PM
I'm not a hardcore birder, but I do follow a birding Yahoo Group. If birding is important to him, he would be familiar with all the bird species in his local area. (This is important, because the birds you expect to see at a particular season and time, and in a particular habitat, are all different.)

The big excitement is when he sees a bird that isn't usually there - at that place, or in that season. (This happens a few times each year - a bird migrates wrong, or gets blown off course, and ends up in an unusual spot.) If it's an actual endangered species, it's all the more exciting.

While birding can be a solitary hobby, he is likely to encounter other local enthusiasts and get to know them. If they see a rare or locally rare bird, they tell each other so they can all see it. It's usual to credit the person who first spotted it in all the reporting on it.

If it's a contemporary story, he may enter each day's lists into Ebird, a site where people can report what birds they see and where.

He will probably join Audubon's Christmas Bird Count.

He would be an early riser; most birders go out at dawn or soon thereafter. He'll probably wear drab colors if he's doing serious birding. He'll have an excellent pair of binoculars and maybe even a spotting scope. (These aren't cheap.)

Serious birding is quite time-consuming; if he's going birding, it's not the same as hiking. He'll move slowly and quietly, pause a lot to look at birds through his bins.

If he's photographing them, he'll evaluate his pictures not just for their beauty but for whether it shows something of interest. For instance, he might notice something in the photos he didn't see at the time - maybe something that suggests the bird is not the species he took it for, but a related species or maybe a hybrid. (Some birds regularly hybridize with closely-related species.)

Depending on how much research you want to do:
1. Get a bird guide for the area where this Nature Reserve is set.
2. Join the Audubon society, and correspond with a birder in the area of interest.
3. See if there's an active online birding community where you want to set your story.
4. If you're on Facebook, there may be a page for birders from that area.

Hope this helps!

alleycat
01-14-2015, 02:41 PM
Cornell University is well-known for their ornithology department. You might be able to use that detail somewhere. Perhaps his future goal is to go to Cornell.

Keyan
01-14-2015, 02:51 PM
Cornell University is well-known for their ornithology department. You might be able to use that detail somewhere. Perhaps his future goal is to go to Cornell.

Yes. I think they run Ebird.

ajaye
01-14-2015, 02:58 PM
My auntie was a birdwatcher all her life and wrote a couple of books about them. When I moved to the bush she visited and we ambled around while she identified all my birdlife - most just from listening to their song or twitter.

Your character would probably talk birds whenever he has the chance, and then some :) He could well be anti-cat, certainly anti-feral cat, and against the feeding of wild birds as it can make them dependant on humans. He'll be very environmentally aware too. No trees no birds.

ETA ooh sorry about that cat remark, alleycat ;)

Keyan
01-14-2015, 04:01 PM
My auntie was a birdwatcher all her life and wrote a couple of books about them. When I moved to the bush she visited and we ambled around while she identified all my birdlife - most just from listening to their song or twitter.

Your character would probably talk birds whenever he has the chance, and then some :) He could well be anti-cat, certainly anti-feral cat, and against the feeding of wild birds as it can make them dependant on humans. He'll be very environmentally aware too. No trees no birds.

ETA ooh sorry about that cat remark, alleycat ;)

You make a good point about birding by ear. That's often the best way to find small birds high up in trees - you might not see them but you can hear them.

Not all birders are anti-cat, though some are. Some are anti-dog as well, others actually have dogs and take them on birding trips. The OP can choose!

Bolero
01-14-2015, 04:10 PM
There is a subtle difference (maybe not so subtle) between a biologist/ecologists interest and a hardcore bird watcher's interest (also known as "twitchers" in the UK).
"Twitchers" are often seriously into the rare visitors, get text messages, drive for hours to see something special.
Scientists are tracking populations and behaviour and numbers. So would be keeping tabs on the number of birds in an area, looking for growth and decline. That being for residents and regular migrants (whether summer or winter). The really rare visitors may interest the scientist a little - but it is the regular behaviour of the usual population that is of scientific importance.

Really hardcore bird watchers can be quite tart about each other as well. "So and so can't tell an x from a y." (x and y being two closely related species...)

Helix
01-14-2015, 04:11 PM
Have a look at 10,000 Bird (http://10000birds.com/)s, a big birding blog with lots of contributors and a heap of info about birding.

Bufty
01-14-2015, 04:22 PM
Just a thought. You say it's super important to your plot.

Is the book about birdwatching or is it simply this character is keen on birdwatching and therefore, for example, perhaps spots a clue or something that others miss?

If that is so, I assume reference to his birdwatching would be restricted to insofar as it directly relates to his involvement in the story and things are balanced so non-birdwatchers are not turned off by an excessive focus on the birdwatching element.

Good luck.

Moonchild
01-14-2015, 08:40 PM
Wow, this is all awesome advice and pointers! :D Thank you so much for taking the time to share! You guys rock! :e2cheer:

And, Bufty, you're right: the book is not about birdwatching per se, but the birding thing is a huge part of who the MC is, his number one driving force. And the plot is tied to something he discovers because of his birding enthusiasm/obsession. The plan is not to overwhelm the narrative with birding details, but to create a believable character for whom the whole birdwatching thing is super important.

Yes, I do have a couple of bird book guides for the region where this story is set and I did have a quick look on Ebird, but didn't know about Audobon's Christmas Bird Count or 10,000 Birds, so I'll check those out too. Good pointers also about Cornell and the personality quirks of most hardcore birders! That's totally what I was after.

Thank you so much! :)

NDoyle
01-15-2015, 05:04 AM
Moonchild, you've gotten great advice! I'll add a couple of things that come quickly to mind because some would consider me a fairly hardcore birder, at least when opportunity arises, although you would never guess it from my puny "binos" (binoculars)! So as evidence I offer my life list, which is here (http://www.noreen-doyle.com/photography/BirdingLifeList/BirdingLifeList.html).

All kinds of people become birders, but I think it's safe to say that most are very attentive to details of their environment, especially if they bird a spot regularly. If something changes, they are likely to notice. A birder will pay attention to not just the birds but to the plants, insects, and other living things, as well as other conditions (weather; bodies of water; human intrusion etc.) that somehow have an impact on the birds.

Your MC is likely to have strong opinions regarding the practices of: pishing (making a particular noise, a bit like the one used to call a cat, which can cause some birds to come out of hiding) and playback (use of a recording of a bird song/call to draw in birds); allowing cats--and dogs, but especially cats--to roam outdoors; and bird banding (among others). How willing is he to trespass to get a bird? Is this set in the present day? If so, he might use eBird (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/), or else he might think that eBird has made things too easy or he might question the ethics of (some) eBird reports (e.g., do you reveal the nesting location of an endangered bird?). Especially if he keeps a formal life list, which not all birders do, he will also have an opinion about the American Birding Association rules (http://listing.aba.org/aba-recording-rules/) as to what can and cannot count on one's list.

Some birders are interested only in accumulating species for their life lists: once they've seen a bird well enough for it to count on their life list, they're after the next. Others are more interested in observing (and perhaps photographing) behavior in greater detail. Your MC surely falls into this second group.

Because your MC is a photographer, and because birds are small and fast subjects, he will be fussy about his lenses ("glass"). If he doesn't have the sharpest and longest lens available, he'll likely be wishing he does. How deep are his pockets for buying camera gear? Think about whether he's more often the, say, 600mm-and-tripod kind of guy or if he prefers to stalk handheld with a 400mm (or, if his means are modest, a 300mm; shorter than 300mm and he either needs to resort using a teleconverter on a 200mm lens or resign himself to birds usually being tiny subjects in his photographs). He's going to need some muscles--or a monopod--to get sharp shots with a handheld setup. Does he use flash or does he prefer the look of only natural light despite the challenges it can pose?

Besides what others have already suggested, take a look at some (auto)biographies of/by birders, such as Kenn Kauffman's Kingbird Highway or Mark Obmascik's The Big Year, on which the Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson movie was based. The book tells the true stories of three birders who find themselves indirectly in competition with each other as they try to see as many different species in the USA as possible in the span of one year. It's quite different from the movie and gives portraits of three very different men. Those might help you flesh out your character and his motivations.

Good luck with your story!

(For an enjoyable movie about a group of teen birders, check out A Birder's Guide to Everything (http://www.abirdersguidetoeverything.com).)

Moonchild
01-15-2015, 05:54 AM
Wow Noreen! Hardcore is right! :) I am in awe. Thanks so much for sharing your life list and for the book and movie recommendations. Seems like I've got some serious homework ahead of me if I want this character to be believable!

The cool thing is that, between jotting down my own initial ideas and reading what everyone has kindly contributed on this thread, the guy (my MC) is already taking a clearer shape in my head! :D Seems like I was on the right track (albeit a layperson's track), but still needed/need the minutia. This makes me soooo, sooo happy! It even makes me keen to DO all the research! :eek:

Thanks again, y'all! You rock! :Clap::e2cheer:

NDoyle
01-16-2015, 04:21 AM
Glad to help, Moonchild! I hope you have fun with your research.