Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Advice on Birding (and Life) Skills

Deb at Sand Creek Almanac (who is a biologist who works for the DNR up towards Duluth) had a post I really liked the other day. She described first hearing and then spotting some birds she wanted to identify but couldn't see very well. She went through a sequence of steps, or birding skills, to narrow down what she was hearing and seeing, starting with these three:

  • Birding skill #1: Use your ears. 
  • Birding skill #2: Think habitat. 
  • Birding skill #3: Watch for behavioral cues.
I encourage you to read her post to learn how she applied these skills, and others, to the challenge at hand. She concluded:

Perhaps the best way to develop identification skills is not by being told what species is in front of you and then watching it, but by being presented with an unfamiliar species and figuring out what cues might distinguish it from other species.
In birding as in life, isn't this true? Figure something out for yourself and you've really "got" that bird, or that math problem, or the way to set up your computer or stereo system.

Deb identified the birds she saw that day, by the way, as white-winged crossbills, which I've never seen. We could see them here in the winter. Their crossed bills are nicely adapted for prying seeds out of the cones of pines and other coniferous trees.


Deb said...

Thank you Penny, this is quite an honor! I am so happy to have had that birding moment this week.

Dan Tallman said...

I suspect, just like in all other aspects of education, different folks learn through different paths. Erika and I took an education test that showed we learned material completely differently--and thus, presumably taught our students with different methods. This long ramble is just to say that I learn new birds best when I am told up-front what they are. :-)

Penelope said...

Great point, Dan -- You're right that in extending Deb's process to life in general I did seem to be saying this was the best way to learn a bird, or anything, for the first time. As you point out, there certainly are be a variety of ways by which people best learn a bird, or something else, in the first place. But when you don't have a clear look at something in the field, or can't immediately identify it from its call, you use these other skills, right? Deb felt her identification *skills* sharpening through the process of using a variety of other cues to hone in on what she was seeing. In going through that process I do think she probably "got" that bird more deeply and would be quicker to identify it in the future.