The Difference Between Birding and Birdwatching


WC was recently asked what the difference is between birding and birdwatching. Some examples may help clear up the confusion.

Birdwatching is sitting on the verandah at Asa Wright Lodge on Trinidad, drinking their superb coffee – rum punch after 4:00 PM – and from the comfort of your deck chair training your binoculars on the amazing birds that come the feeders. You might have to exert yourself to get up for that third cup of coffee. In extremis, you might even amble down the groomed trail 100 yeards or so to the White-bearded Mannikin lek to watch the antics of the birds. That’s birdwatching.

Birding is when you try to get a rarity, like, say, the Nicaraguan Grackle. Many readers will be thoroughly familiar with the Great-tailed Grackle. It’s an exceedingly common bird in the southern half of the United States, and occurs at least as far south as Panama. The Nicaraguan Grackle is smaller. The male is black and doesn’t have the distinctive purplish sheen of its Great-tailed  cousin. The female’s chest is paler, and like the male she is about two-thirds the size of her Great-tailed cousin.

About the only place in Costa Rica to find the Nicaraugan Grackle is in Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve, along the Rio Frio, a river that actually drains into Lake Nicaragua. Even there, the Great-tails greatly outnumber of Nicaraguans. WC spent over three hours in the scorching sun and steamy heat, cruising the Rio Frio in a boat with a brutally hard seat looking for the rarity.

There were certainly river hazards. In addition to snags, there were 12-15 foot long American Crocodiles, like this fellow:

American Crocodile

American Crocodile

And Spectacled Caiman to 10 feet long, like this specimen:

Spectacled Caiman, Rio Frio, Costa Rica

Spectacled Caiman, Rio Frio, Costa Rica

Just to be clear here, the reptile is not smiling.

There were amazing numbers of terrific birds. WC even got a couple of lifers. But there were not any Nicaraguan Grackles. Sunburned (despite SPF-30 sunscreen) and sweaty, we motored back to the landing and there, on the bank just downstream, were a male and female Nicaraguan Grackle.

Nicaraguan Grackle Male

Nicaraguan Grackle Male

And the female:

Nicaraguan Gackle Female

Nicaraguan Gackle Female

And that’s birding: not always comfortable, chancy and sometimes random, and sometimes even involving hard work. It’s the difference between watching a sport and playing a sport. Earlier in this same trip, our group hiked the Ocelot Trail at Esquinas Lodge, apparently given that name because only big cats can climb up and down some of the stretches. Afterwards, WC could literally wring sweat out of his shirt. And no, we didn’t get the target bird. But that’s birding.

Some of WC’s friends think his idea of a vacation is demented. But that’s birding.

Has WC answered the question?

Advertisements