Birder's Guide

AUG 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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C ruickshank Sanctuary is a little postage stamp of scrub nestled in the middle of the suburban sprawl of Brevard County, Florida. The birders gathered here, hailing from all across North America as far afeld as Alberta, packed themselves into the tiny parking lot with one purpose in mind, to see Florida's one and only endemic bird species—Florida Scrub-Jay—maybe the most special of the many incredible birds one can seek out at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Little did the assembled know that they wouldn't simply be viewing the charismatic and gregarious jays. No, on tap for this day was a full-on scrub jay experience. Long-accustomed to visitors bringing treats, these birds know what it means to have a crowd of binocular-clad humans bearing down on them. They perch on open palms, on top of heads, on cell phone cameras outstretched for that perfect Facebook profle picture. And the birders, for whom this experience is part in parcel of why one comes to a festival like Space Coast, are gloriously lost in the experience. The individuals in charge of this festival, now in its 16th year in Titusville, make sure of it. The argument that one of the best ways to protect unique habitats and the birds within them is by attracting birders to them in the form of an annual event, is largely settled within the ABA Area. The calendar is flled with events, each one offering birders a full slate of exciting feld trips with skilled leaders, trade shows with the newest optics, and talks from leading lights of the birding community. These things are justifcations in and of themselves, but in actuality, behind every bird festival is a group of local birders looking to convince their communities that 64 there are economic incentives to protecting bird habitat. Otherwise, Cruickshank Sanctuary would be just another Florida housing development. Now what about the rest of the world? That question was on my mind when I was delivered directly from the Space Coast to Ahmedebad, in the Indian state of Gujarat—literally on the other side of the Earth. I was a delegate to the third Global Bird Watcher's Conference (GBWC-3), an event sponsored by Gujarat Tourism. GBWC-3 was held from 29–31 January 2013 and attended by nearly 300 delegates from 40 countries. Gujarat, at the western tip of the Indian diamond, is developing quickly; it is unique among many Indian states in that political and civic leaders are increasingly receptive to the value of a robust tourism infrastructure, particularly one that emphasizes Gujarat's unique natural advantages. That potential is readily apparent. The birding is simply phenomenal. Despite a population sardined into every square foot of space and a civic infrastructure best described as "pending", there are birds truly everywhere. Time spent waiting—and there is a lot of waiting in a place like India—is easily turned to time spent birding, and the number of species seen while preparing for something to happen can rival the birds seen when it actually does. This makes for enjoyable birding even within the context of a conference, with its attendant talks and presentations. I was one of only a small handful of North Americans in attendance, and the only North American birder, period. I found myself regularly in a group Birder's Guide to Travel | August 2013 Greensboro, North Carolina nswick@aba.org Nate Swick Going Further with birders from the U.K., South Africa, Belarus, and India. While it was fantastic to be a part of the international contingent, the real surprise was the skill and youth of the Indian birders. India's emergent middle class has seen dramatic growth in the ranks of its empassioned birding community, buoyed by an explosion of inexpensive, quality optics and comprehensive new feld guides. This is a nation with an opportunity to set a course that will result in good things for its wild places. I think what we North American birders miss when we focus our efforts on our own hemisphere is the realization that, on the other side of the world, there is a community of naturalists and conservationists just as passionate, just as enthusiastic, and just as motivated as our own. When presented with an opportunity to vist birders in places like Gujarat, I believe we owe it to them to share our experiences, as well as our expectations. Just like here at home, new birders—and especailly new birding communities—look to us for guidance. Photos by © Uttej Rao

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