The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
You’ve never been on a bird walk because (check one or all):
A. It’s geeky.
B. Bird walks start at an obscene hour.
C. You don’t want to look dumb in front of the geeks.
Let’s examine these obstacles to what is destined to be one of the greatest experiences of your life (and one of your fondest memories of your trip to Cape May).
I’m talking about the bird walk you are about to take. The one during which you will see 40, 50, maybe 60 species of birds ALL on a leisurely, two-hour walk, led by board certified non-geeky bird experts.
But let’s say your misgivings have foundation. Let’s say birding is a little geeky.
Let’s say that only intellectually-gifted, spiritually-conscious, musically-attuned, emotionally-balanced, well-read, noble, trustworthy, honest, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, brave, clean and elbow-lifting people go in for birding.
You know – geeks! The kind of people you didn’t want to date in high school (because they didn’t smell like the inside of a gym locker or wouldn’t let you past first base on a first date) BUT you wanted to marry after you got out of college because they were top prospects for a long and happy union.
Fact. Birding is overrun with people drawn from the ranks of professionals. Heck, they might as well just hand out binoculars and a field guide when they give med students their diplomas. You can’t swing a stethoscope and not hit a anesthesiologist or cardiologist on a bird walk.
You might also run into a few Navy Seals, some Army brass, the odd career diplomat or Broadway performer and at least one retired US president (not to mention grammar school teachers, air traffic controllers, artists, long-haul truckers, firemen, police officers, fur trappers, nurses, Fortune 500 CEOs, engineers, farmers, missionaries, strippers….) You know, people enjoying careers that sometimes geeky people seem drawn to.
So, yes. You may have to swallow your pride. You may have to rub elbows with a geek or two on your bird walk.
But, so long as you put on a fresh t-shirt (one without yellow pit stains) and don’t start conversations with lines like: “Hey babe, you and me; how ‘bout it?” birders will overlook the fact that you are not a geek. They might give you tips like:
How to adjust the loaner binoculars for your eyes.
Or the difference between a Snowy Egret and a Great Egret.
The kind of wisdom only geeks and people who really love the shore are ken to.
As for getting up early – yes. You will have to get up early (if 7am is early for you). On the bright side, you’ll have a head start on all the non-Geeks for the rest of the day.
And you’ll need that extra time because getting up-close and personal with 40-60 different bird species takes a bit of emotional and cognitive stacking. Birding is great for the brain, great exercise and a great excuse to travel the world.
40 to 60 species is just the down payment. There are 10,000 bird species on our planet and nobody has seen them all. You could be first, but you’ll have to start with a bird walk. If you’ve never gone on a bird walk because you don’t want to look dumb, relax.
What do you care what a bunch of geeks think, anyway?
Geeky or not, if you are interested in a bird walk, there is an opportunity almost any day of the week while you are in Cape May. The Cape May Bird Observatory offers expertly led bird walks (every day but Sunday and Tuesday throughout July), and a couple of birding by boat trips on Sundays and Mondays. Just stop over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for anything to do with nature, and pick up a copy of The Kestrel Express for our schedule of walks and boat trips. The CMBO (609-884-2736) is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point and is open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day. Ask any of our staff or volunteers – they are always glad to help. Check out the latest in books (including the newest Bayshore Summer by Pete Dunne – if you bring it on the Monday morning walk, you can get your copy signed), bird feeders, and some great new and fun merchandise – including our exclusive CMBO logo jewelry, clothing, and totes. Take a look at the sightings log or our website to check what’s being seen, pick up a bargain from the vintage books section, look at some of the wonderful Charley Harper merchandise, or just browse. If you aren’t fortunate enough to be in the area, visit us online www.BirdCapeMay.org.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Vice President of Natural History for New Jersey Audubon Society. Author of several books about nature (available at the CMBO), he has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.