I have been a lifelong herper...well, at least since I was 8 years old.
When I was a sophomore in college, I finally got to take a herpetology course. In that class, I met my future roommate, Tom. Tom was an avid naturalist and while not as herp-oriented as me, he was a birder. Spending the next few months out in the field with Tom I watched his excitement at finding a "new bird". I gradually started keeping track of what we found together and bought a cheap pair of binoculars. Within a few months I was birding and keeping a list. That was in 1983 and I am still doing it today.
- Birding is a great way to get outdoors.
- Unlike herping, you can do it all year even in the dead of winter.
- The local fauna changes during the year due to migration which is less true of herps.
- It is far less consumptive and destructive than many types of herping, you can do it in National Parks, State Parks, Wilderness Areas, etc. and no one cares.
- There are very few laws that limit your ability to bird.
- Birding is encouraged in many areas.
- Diversity. The county I live in has around 95 recorded herp species but over 425 species of bird recorded.
- Birders share good birding localities willingly because birding is relatively low impact on the environment (compared to herping).
Why keep lists? It is fun, competitive, it gives you something to go out and bird for even if you can't travel. Can you get 300 species in your county/state, etc? How many species can you see in your backyard, city, etc.? How many species can you see in a day, month, year? It becomes kind of a game. You can do the same thing with herps, but it is much harder.
You can also "graduate" to different levels of birding. You can decide to learn to identify birds by their calls, immature gulls, shorebirds, etc. There is a wealth of different challenges that are available.
But mostly, you are outside (although you can easily bird from inside as well).
There are some downsides to birding as a herper:
- it is hard to look up and down at the same time
- birders get up early, herpers stay out late. It can wear you down. I just came back from Ecuador where I did very little herping in some awesome areas because I had been out in the field looking for birds from 5am to 6pm every day and was soaked and physically exhausted. It pained me to have to go to bed to get up at 4 the next morning because I new I was missing herps. (I still suffered through a few nights of herping, and I missed some birds because of herps
And once in a while, you come across something that takes your breath away. Here's a photo I got of the Holy Grail of Neotropical birding on Dec 31st. We almost jumped out of the canoe in excitement!!!