Birder's Guide

MAR 2014

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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84 Birder's Guide to Travel | March 2014 ith scientists Tracy Boal and Mariel Sorlien, I'm treading carefully, very carefully, through the tropical dry forest of Guana Island, off Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We have the bird in sight: a Bridled Quail-Dove ( Geotrygon mystacea ). I'm inclined to tell you what the bird looks like, but that wouldn't get at the three different expe- riences Tracy, Mariel, and I are having. You see, we're not really all that interested in the bird's plumage. W Tracy is a population biologist. She and her col- leagues have color-banded many of Guana Island's quail-doves; the birds are strangely abundant on this small island, and Tracy wants to know why. She wants to know stuff like: Which bird is this one? How old is it? Who are its mates? Mariel is a behavioral ecologist. The quail-dove we're looking at is sitting on a nest, and Mariel is taking notes: What's the nest made of, and where's it placed? How many eggs were laid, and how many young will fedge? As for me, I'm interested in how people learn and communicate about birds and nature. Nearby, another quail-dove is singing; I'm recording its spooky song, and it intrigues me that I'll soon upload the recording to a Dutch website so that birders in South Carolina and Gujarat can discuss the species' vocalizations. Tracy's demographic questions aren't somehow su- perior to Mariel's ethological inquiries. My pedagogi- cal outlook isn't somehow inferior to Mariel's conser- vation objectives. And so forth. We're three different people, with three different ways of looking at the world. We and all the other visitors to Guana have come here for our own good reasons. We've come here of our own volition. T raveling to see and study birds is, by and large, a recreational, volitional activity—not for everyone, but for most people who self-identify as birders. If that's you, if you're the sort of person who travels not because you have to but because you want to, then I ask you: Why? Why do you do it? In particular, why do you travel to see and study birds? I'll start off with a simplistic, practically tautological answer: Because travel is fun. It's recreation. It's voli- tional. Or it ought to be. But if you're like me, you've traveled in situations that weren't all that fun. I've been in two or three that were positively miserable. And not because of volcanic eruptions and civil unrest (I've encountered both while birding), but, rather, because of human situations. In birding travel situations where my companion or companions had different objec- tives, it just didn't work out. I had a bad time. I don't enjoy "target birding"—going after a partic- ular species. I prefer tours that emphasize the whole Photo © Guana.com 12-Why we Travel.indd 84 3/4/14 1:59 PM

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