Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Cost of a Lifebird

Black-headed Grosbeak in Madera Canyon
Today's post was inspired from a thought on my way home from a major birding trek.  Just how much money am I shelling out for this birding addiction of mine?  Then I began to think about how much it costs to find a new bird each time I see one.   This post hits me at a time of burn out.  I have so much going on right now that I am fighting the impulse to bird. Really since January, I've been going, going, going.  It's almost like a target practice.  Locate the place and bird until your eyes can't see anything.
Hooded Oriole at Kubo B & B in Madera Canyon
And then the worst thing happened.  I was so lost in my ID work on sea birds while I was in California that I forgot about a major get together with a friend who had spent a lot of money on us to attend this wine and cheese social.  But because I was so lost in my work, I only realized what had happened after the event!  A personal cost.  That was terrible.  I never forget anything, but I did apparently suffer some brain loss. So I have to make that up to my dear friend.
The Red-wing Blackbird at Sweetwater Wetlands
The safety factor. While spying on a really cool lifebird, a group of homeless people along the Colorado River were fighting. Luckily I was with another person but it made me angry.  No one messes with the lifebird.  Had they approached me, I would have clocked them a good one.  There is an internal drive that I can't explain.  I want to know more.  I want to see more.  I want to know, film, and experience life through the birds.  We purchased a 35 dollar a night hotel room for two days in Yuma. 70 dollars.  Never in my life would I have thought about staying in this city, but add the Colorado River with birds and we're there in a heart beat. In fact, the birds made Yuma look much better:) And the farmer's fields are HOT right now with migration!  Then food, gas, and DRIVING to the destinations!  One weekend cost 250 dollars.  And that was cheap.  I gained about 10 new lifebirds.  Breakdown.  25 dollars a bird.  Don't forget the park passes! Or the entrance fees into parks that don't acknowledge park passes:)
Hammond's Flycatcher on the Mt. Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon
At first, it seems easy.  Birding is free!!!  You can bird anywhere you want.  But isn't that the trap?  You begin to see one bird and then you want to see another.....and another.....and before you know it, you're as some say, "In deep".  While this may be true for this year, it won't be for next.  My primary goal is centered around lifebirds from around the world.  It just so happens that Arizona has quite a chunk of North American birds here with quite a few exotics from Mexico, Central and South America. As one birder doing a Big Year told me about 2 weeks ago, "You live in a great state.  Lucky you."  Everyone doing a Big Year has to, at some point, come to Arizona.  It has been fun meeting the Big Year people while on my treks.
Common Yellowthroat
I reached a point last week during a search for the Lesser Yellowlegs in Tucson. I said to myself, "Enough is enough!"  I stood for an hour staring at the recharge basins in Sweetwater after work. I eventually saw one of the two birds reported there but being the photographer that I am, I was not satisfied with the views.  Did I see the Lesser Yellowlegs?  Yes.  Did I see the Blue-throated Hummingbird the weekend before?  Yes.  But it was quick.  For many of the birders with me, they were satisfied with the observations and checked it off their list. It was only their first time seeing the bird!!!  And it's a glorious bird!  For me, it has to be more than say you saw a bird for 5 seconds isn't really "seeing" a bird.  Luckily I have observed the Blue-throated Hummingbird many times before.  If you're curious, you can check here or here.
But then some birds brought me back to the basics.  The Red-wing Blackbird and the Common Yellowthroat called out during my search for the Lesser Yellowlegs.  They said, "Here I am!!!  Look at me!"  Well they didn't say that necessarily, but it was a wake up call.  While some say I'm in deep, there are several others in deeper.  There is definitely a chase going on.  I don't know if it was like this last year. But it's certainly hot this year.  On a daily basis, people are adding new birds to their lists.  With my school finals coming up, a trip to Guatemala, a nerd fest at Phoenix Comicon, weddings, etc etc........well my plate is full.  Now I'm still in the race, but toning it down a little.  Afterall, it's about enjoying the birds.  No more forgetting personal obligations! I think the worst part is that I've converted my other half into birding.  Pat purchased a great camera and is liking the competition part.  PLUS, those little birding couple trips we take have been a lot of fun as we throw ourselves into an experience full of people, culture and BIRDS! Pat's spark bird?  The Burrowing Owl.  More on that later.  Birding is serious business.  But so is my sanity and my checkbook.  If I'm not careful, we'll be living out of a tent:)  Now that actually might be fun.......:)
White-throated Swift


  1. sorry about you missing the event with your friend! hope they forgive you!

    and glad you are sharing this madness with pat. :)

  2. Just be sure to go somewhere you can blog for sharing!

  3. Tent would be okay if the birds would hang out, too!

  4. Easy to do! I can relate to this and have to make sure I keep my feet firmly on the ground and not let it become an obsession. Great post on a topic not generally covered by most.

  5. yep
    put down the camera
    and step away from the life list

  6. Birding can be so addicting! Luckily my son keeps my in check by protesting if we go birding to often:)

  7. Take the time to remember how short life is Chris!

  8. Almost all passions can cut into the pocketbook. But what the heck.

  9. It is weird how birding can be addicting. I guess it depends on how much you are willing to spend to get that lifer. I miss out on a lot of birds because I work full time. By the time I am able to get out there to see one, they are long gone. Sometimes I try to plan a vacation to include some great birds. Sorry you missed out on the get together with your friend, I hope they understand. Have a happy week!

  10. Addiction, obsession, pastime. Call it what you will Chris but you've definitely got it. I've had it for years and it's done me no serious harm apart from the outlay on bins, cameras, lenses books, clothing, boots, trips. Hey on second thoughts....

    Enjoyed your narrative and pictures. Keep taking the pills.

  11. You don't have to get all your life birds in one season. Step back and enjoy the ride. Take in your surroundings. There are bug wings awaiting.

  12. Yes, we can let these special 'addictions' take over our lives.. That is when we need to back up a little --and get some balance in our lives. I'm that way with Genealogy... I get lost for hours and hours in my Family History... BUT--it will eat me up if I let it.... Blogging too!!!! ha

    You got a wake-up call.. Sorry you missed that special outing... Now---do yourself a favor and slow down a bit and put some balance into your busy life.


  13. Another great thought provoking post with some beautiful photos Chris :)

    When I was younger I used to hare off to "twitches" to see rare birds although these days I only occasionally go locally. But as you say it leaves you feeling unsatisfied even though you get the "tick". I'm a lot more relaxed about birding these days.

    Trying to find time for family, work, commitments and interests is very difficult. At the minute I am frustrated because I want to go off to a reserve to see newly arrived migrants but I can't find the half day I need because of commitments/obligations. So somehow have to tell myself I'll get there eventually!

    Sorry you missed that special outing. Just try and slow down a little and keep on enjoying the birds which is the important part :)

  14. There is a cost... and pay we do. It is a passion that burns within us and can't be quenched. Won't be put out.

    But through this passion not only do we get to see and photograph the winged wonders.. we meet the most fascinating people along the way.

    And life gets richer.

  15. A very interesting post about how competitive and addictive birding can be. I think my competitive 'genes' wore out a good few years ago! However, I still don't think I have really "seen" a bit unless I have a good photo of it.

  16. Your post reminds me of a movie out a couple of years ago with Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. It was called 'The Big Year' and about birding. They had some lessons to learn.
    I don't think we should let anything control our lives but it is a fine line when you enjoy something so much. The question I think is balance as Betsy mentioned.
    I'm sorry you missed the event with your friend, hope you were forgiven and I hope you find a way to balance it all.
    The red-wing is a pretty striking little guy to capture. :)

  17. I sometimes wonder about the cost in another way - I do all the energy saving stuff and am active in conservation work - and then I buy lenses and go on holidays. I wonder what the cost of that is??

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW

    Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS: nice pictures.

  18. Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  19. It is a thrill to find a lifer but it is best to keep life in balance. Great that you both love birding and trips with a purpose are always the best, so try to keep it to birding rather than competitiveness.

  20. Beautiful!!! And so is the canyon you speak AZ!!

  21. I understand how hard it must be for you to juggle everything. I briefly considered becoming a REAL birder, and then realized not only can I not afford it (new camera, all the trips) but I am not physically fit for a lot of the exertion (have CFS). I am winded halfway around Sweetwater, and that's walking really slow and making stops to look! So, I think I will enjoy my birder friends' accomplishments, instead, like you...and hopefully occasionally see a bird that rings my chimes whether I get a picture or not. I have been amazed at all the great places you are going, and all the wonderful photos, and I love it! But, you do have to do a balancing act, and that's hard with whatever passion you give yourself to.

  22. A very nice collection of bird photos.


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