Most North American birders may not know or care but one of our national organizations, the American Birding Association, is in the midst of serious turmoil and perhaps profound change. Three of bird blogdom’s biggest thinkers — Nathan Swick, Kenn Kaufmann, and Rick Wright — have weighed in on the ABA’s past, present, and possible futures. An excellent use of your time would be to read each of these posts (including their comments threads), comment there, and then return here to share your thoughts.
You’ve hit the nail on the head: most North American birders don’t care about the ABA. I’m convinced, causa pietatis at least, that the organization has a great deal to offer the continents’ (the apostrophe carefully placed) birders and conservationists, and I dearly want to see it live up to its potential. The board has stood resolutely in the way over the past many years, and if the membership decides that the organization is worth saving, then the membership needs to replace this board as the direction-setter. Thanks for raising this issue with your readers, guys!
I’m amused by two of the bloggers referring to Birding magazine as a ripping good read when they were young birders. I read it when I first started working with birds and found it overly technical and rather joyless. It also gave me one of the most jaw-dropping statements I’ve ever seen in a natural history periodical, when discussing birding in some Mexican province; “Some people are put off visiting and birding Mexico because they think it doesn’t count”. Or something to that effect.
If you asked me what the ABA stood for, it’s that. It’s telling members whether their bird “counts”. Did you see it in Attu, 1200 miles from mainland Anchorage? It counts. But Bimini, in the Bahamas? Only 50 miles from Florida? Nope, it doesn’t. Was your record accepted? Hurrah, it counts. Was that species split? Great, an armchair tick. But that other subspecies wasn’t split, so it doesn’t count. Did you cathc it in a mist net? It doesn’t count. It’s this kind of insanity which made people fly to the end of the Aleutian chain, at great expense, to get Asian ticks that count, rather than just flying to Korea and getting a whole lot more, where the actual things bloody belong. The ABA had to state that hearing a bird counted so people wouldn’t
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing these games, One Day Bird Races, county lists, seeing the occasional vagrant (particularly on your own turf), life lists*. These kinds of birding activities certainly have their place. But the ABA seems to be all about this, about making rules. I can’t help but think this kind of stamp-collecting trainspotting emphasis on “does it count” is part of what hurts the organisation. This impression may be unfair, but it is the one I got, but it is something the organisation needs to work on.
*My own life list is rather vaguely (I’ve never made on list and I need to find some of my notebooks) at around 1700, but my lifelist starts on the 3rd of March 2000, includes mammals, and was somewhat reset back in 2008 (if I feel like it). Like I said, I still play games with it, but my game is rather esoteric.
Epp, missed a bit in the middle (where is my brain?). Meant to say “The ABA had to state that hearing a bird counted so people wouldn’t drag chains through swamps to flush birds.”
Duncan, I think your points are well-taken, and, this is just coming from me with no particular weight attached as such, it does seem that the listing thing has turned as many people off as it attracts. That doesn’t mean that the ABA shouldn’t manage the list of North American birds, and whether or not that should include Mexico and the Caribbean continues to be a hot topic, but that it should absolutely endeavor to be more than just that, and I think they’ve done fairly well to that end to dispel the notion that it’s just an organization for elite birders of big listers. Perhaps they need to be more active as you suggest.
That said, I think laying down the rules for these games is an entirely appropriate role for the organization and the ABA shouldn’t be held responsible when people go what we might consider overboard. The friendly competition is useful in building community anyway, which is absolutely what the ABA should endeavor to be. It’s all in good fun anyway, even if we could all use a little reminder from time to time.
I never joined the ABA. I started birding in 2005 with access to the internet for the all the information I could want about bird identification. When I wanted to meet other birders for information I could use the local listservs or bird clubs. I am a member of Audubon, the Queens County Bird Club, and the New York State Ornithological Association so it is not that I am not a joiner.
Now reading about the undemocratic and, frankly, corrupt-sounding ABA, I still see no reason to join. And I’m a middle class white birder who likes listing and traveling to see birds – I should be right in the ABA’s wheelhouse.
If the ABA reforms and once again becomes an effective organization promoting birders, birding, and birds, then maybe I’ll join. Until then, I have my blogs, my websites, and my listservs and they seem to work pretty great…
Rick has another post up that I think has a rather reasonable request: