December 31, 2009
Red-naped Sapsucker at Pyracantha
Red-naped Sapsucker at Pyracantha
Funny, but when you saw the headline for this column you probably figured it was about some bird.  Perhaps the Beatles White Bird freed from her golden cage.  Typically this column, around this date, is about New Year's Resolutions.  Alright, this column is about New Year's Resolutions, but it's not about a bird.  It's about me.

Pete Dunne is the Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and a bird writer with several books to his credit.  I have long been a fan of Pete Dunne's writing and once wrote him for advice about publishing a book.  He never answered.  I've forgiven him, now, because his column in the latest issue of Birder's World has riven the last of the chains which have held me in bondage to listing for half a lifetime.  Let me explain.

My March 17, 2006 column ( gives readers five important reasons to keep lists of the birds they have seen.  I still believe in those reasons and I still believe you will become a better birder if you list.  Me?  I've sworn off listing.  It's my New Year's Resolution.  Thanks to Pete.

In his recent Birder's World column Pete recounts that he became a birder at an early age (7) because his parents were "demanding when it came to grades and chores" and he "went into the woods to get away from adults and the mind-binding regimentation of school."  How well I know.  I grew up the only child of a single parent, a WWII widow who was a perfectionist.  Her love was conditional upon my rank in my every endeavor.  Maybe it was the military background.  I escaped, but not into the woods like Pete.  I should have been so lucky but, no, my escape was youth sports where I quickly became addicted to the competition that provided me the opportunity to win my mother's approval.

I didn't discover birds, or the woods themselves, until introduced by my future wife while backpacking during summer vacations from college.  I began listing for all the right reasons, but crossed over to the dark side ( when I discovered the American Birding Association ranked listers and published their list totals.  To say my upbringing and athletic background kicked in would be an understatement.  I never missed work or neglected my family "chasing" birds for my lists, but I know many "hard core" birders who do, and I've felt a lot of angst when I've missed good birds because I don't.  And I've burned a lot of fossil fuel on those chases I have made.

The first step in my recovery from listing addiction came the day I took my first bird photograph.  Always a visual person, I was immediately awestruck by the opportunity the camera gave me to freeze frame forever a singular moment of beauty or action in the frenetic life of a notoriously fleeting subject, something neither binoculars nor checkmarks on a list could capture.  Bird listers move fast and they keep moving.  Bird photographers must move slowly, if at all, blending into the background, waiting and watching, sitting and savoring.  Time stands still, the senses come alive, and the so called real world fades away.  The moment behind the lens becomes the real world.  This is who I am now.

The final step in my slow, decade long recovery came when I read Pete Dunne's recent column corroborating these very thoughts.  He speaks of the "proximal intimacy with a wild, living thing whose beauty is a feast for the eyes and whose elusiveness puts an ache in the heart . . . ."  Yeah, thanks again Pete.  I couldn't have said it any better, so I just quoted your words.  They take me back to a time before my listing frenzy.  Back to where and why I began birding.

The next time a bird I've never seen is discovered in southern Arizona I may go down for it with the camera.  Just for photographic purposes you understand.  Tomorrow I'm burning my lists.