Brown Booby in Ontario
Recently, a vagrant Brown Booby Sula leucogaster, seen mainly in the Fort Erie area has caused a good deal of excitement among birders in Ontario. Countless numbers of them have flocked to the Niagara Peninsula to see this rarity.
I was asked today why I have not been part of this throng.
There are several reasons. I have never been a great chaser of rarities, and less so in recent years than in times past. I always feel a deep sense of sadness when I see a bird that has strayed so far from where it should be, knowing that most frequently the individual is destined to an early demise, especially if faced with an Ontario winter, and furthermore it represents a lone individual of its kind with no chance of reproductive success. No doubt these strays to our area represent the vagaries of nature, yet I still cannot submerge my feelings of sadness at its tragic fate in straying so far from its customary haunts.
Many birders keep myriad lists – yard lists, city lists, country lists, provincial lists and so on. This seems to provide some deep imperative to add a species to whatever list is involved, and often a single sighting tops up several lists. The only list I maintain is a life list of all the birds I have ever seen, anywhere in the world. I have seen many Brown Boobies; I feel no need to see this bird simply because it is here in Ontario. Perhaps if it were a species I had never seen before I might be more motivated to travel to see it, but I have my doubts. I also care not one iota how many species I see or hear in a given year. I feel not even the slightest notion of my list being a competition either with myself year over year, or with others. The concept of a big year is as alien to me as mixing water with my wine!
As I get older I get more and more uneasy about the environmental footprint we have as birders. And I say this as a person who travels the world to see new birds in new environments. I have been consistently planting trees (http://travelswithbirds.blogspot.ca/2011/10/mapletrees-from-heritage-stock-wehave.html ) to try to offset my negative contribution to carbon emissions, but whether this is adequate I am really not sure. I make sure that if I go birding, other than stopping at favourite local spots while engaged in other activities (shopping, banking etc.), I do not go unless at least one other person shares the car with me. There are other things I do in an effort to be more environmentally responsible but the purpose of this piece is not to provide a litany of my virtues!
It seems to me that birders would generally be considered among those citizens with an environmental conscience. Yet the sheer numbers of people who flocked to the Niagara Peninsula for the sole purpose of checking off a Brown Booby on their list defies this premise. I shudder to think what the environmental footprint is of the hordes of people who drove their cars there. I wonder how birders feel about their own actions, if they even pause to give it thought. Does the desire to add a species to a life list or a year list trump every other consideration? Based on the actions of many, one cannot conclude but that it does.
I can guarantee you one thing. If another rarity is seen tomorrow, the highways will be clogged with birders in greenhouse gas emitting vehicles driving to see it.