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Birder’s Bookshelf: Good Birders Don’t Wear White

Compiled by Michele T. Logarta

While field guides are essential to birding, there are many other tomes of interest to the bird watching bookworm. This section features those “other” books, fiction and nonfiction, about birds, birders, nature, and the environment. Books can be old and new, from a personal collection, borrowed from the library or from friends, encountered and browsed at a bookstore and anywhere for that matter. This is not intended to be a book review, but rather a space for the birder to tell others about a book he thinks is noteworthy, life-changing or simply, just a good read.

For this edition of eBon, Birder’s Bookshelf asked birder Gwen So to share with us a book from her bookshelf. She picked a book from her e-book library featuring light-hearted and funny essays offering sage advice from top US birders. Gwen chose eight tips out of the 50 in the book.

Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tips From North America’s Top Birders
Edited by Lisa A. White
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2007)

When I started birdwatching, I thought you just go to a place, walk around with binoculars and look at birds. Then I was told to behave a certain way, to dress a certain way, to check the weather and the tides, to look at habitats and identify trees…okay, I need help here.

This book caught my eye because when I was advised not to wear bright colors during my first birding trip, I wore white (with some blue and black). It didn’t enter my mind that white is bright!

Good Birders Don’t Wear White contains 50 tips from top North American birders covering a gamut of topics from which I will share some favorites. I will also include additional information from top birders of the Philippines to give things a local flavor.

#4 Clean Your Optics
Bill Thompson III lists down what a good optics cleaning kit should contain and which he carries around when he goes birding. He even offers to clean his co-birders’ lenses. The kit contains a soft hair-bristle brush, a soft cleaning cloth and lens cleaning fluid. He also outlines step by step how he does the cleaning.

Local long-time birder and bird guide Adrian Constantino suggests using a blower—that rubber thingy we use to clean keypads—to remove dust particles first before wiping with a cloth or else they might scratch the glass. Adrian says he cannot stress enough how important it is we regularly clean our binoculars/scopes. Oh, and don’t forget to wash the sweat-stained straps!

#8 Avoid False Starts
Jeffrey Gordon issues a stern warning that the earlier birders accept the truth—that the common name of a bird will not tell you what it looks like or where it is from— the less stressful life will be!

Five out of seven chickadee species have black caps, but only one is called Black-capped Chickadee; a Connecticut Warbler is not from Connecticut.

The explanation given is museum scientists studying specimens gave the names, but the features they saw may not be as distinct in the wild to field observers.

As for the warbler, Connecticut was where the specimens were first collected.

For something closer to home, several people, including myself, have complained about the Black-naped Oriole’s name.

A beginning birder would not really know that it is inherent in the term “oriole” to mean a bird with black and orange or yellow plumage.

From power birding couple Amado and Lu-Ann Bajarias, I learned that the Philippine Pitta also breeds in Indonesia and the Samar Hornbill is found in Bohol.

Mr. Gordon’s advice is to stop rationalizing and just enjoy the idiosyncrasy of it all.

#20 Linger Even after You’ve Listed a Bird; #21 Shift Your Focus from Birding to Birds
After ticking birds on your list, you get to a certain point where lifers become harder to get and the gap finding them wider.

I have heard quite a few Philippine birders comment that after reaching 400 species things tend to wind down.

John Sill and Kevin Cook suggest start learning more about the birds—their behavior (mating, nesting, and feeding), how they live, how they die, what they eat, their habitat, etc.

SEE the birds, not just spot them.

Lu-Ann Bajarias says there is no such thing as a trash bird—a species you encounter so often you dismiss it or reach a point where it becomes irritating. There is always something new to discover even in a bird often seen.

Have you ever observed Yellow-vented Bulbuls build a nest and feed their young? Have you ever seen two or three of them snuggling together like White-breasted Woodswallows? Watch them enjoy themselves in a garden bird bath? You should!

#30 Go Birding in Bad Weather; # 32 Use a Storm to Your Advantage
Yes, bad weather can be birdy.   Birds still need to go out and find food, take a bath, and migrants ride out the storm and show up in unusual places. Birding expert and guide Rob Hutchinson encourages people to bird before and after a storm because you never know what rare birds might get blown in. After a downpour and the sun comes out, birds perch on branches to dry themselves and you need to be there at that moment! I lifered the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove and Rufous Hornbill in a raincoat, umbrella and boots—partially drenched, but completely elated.

There are precautionary measures outlined in these chapters about caring for your optics and not taking things to the extreme. The overall point the two authors, Bill Schmoker and Jeffrey Bouton, want to convey is bad-weather birding has its rewards!

#6 Choose Your Wardrobe Wisely: Good Birders Don’t Wear White; #7 Question Authority: Good Birders Sometimes Wear White
Sheri Williamson narrates how a rare male Eared Quetzal with food in its mouth would not enter the nest where the female was and kept making alarm calls at the nest entrance. Through her spotting scope, Sheri followed the bird’s gaze and saw a man in a white shirt and cap.  She asked him to remove and hide them and, a few minutes later, the Quetzal entered the cavity to feed its young.

Her advice is to wear apparel in neutral, muted colors to blend with the surroundings and avoid alarming birds and other wildlife for that matter.

Ken Kaufman, though, says in some cases, birds don’t care. There are places like parks or animal refuges where birds are so used to humans. If you’re on a high ridge looking for raptors, shorebirding in wide mudflats, or looking for birds on a boat, your outfit isn’t going to make any difference at all.

This book is light reading and it’s entertaining. Some of the tips are funny, some serious, some may contain new information, but some not—if you have been birding for quite a bit. I read this book when I was less than a year into serious birding, but re-reading it now several years later, I still picked up a lot of food for thought. Although the setting and examples are foreign, there are universal truths that can be applied to our local setting.

—Gwen So

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