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This sport is for the birds!

The object: Spot as many feathered species as possible, and score one for all of nature.

Summer is just around the corner, and if camp's your bag, you're probably still swapping stories of last year's adventures with your fellow campers. "How about that awesome whitewater canoe ride?" "And the time we all got stuck in that tree?" "Excellent!" "Bogus!"

For some teens, though, summer-camp memories sound more like dialogue from Deep Space Nine. "Remember the eared trogon?" "Yeah, and how about the pyrrhuloxia!" "And when we stayed up for the buff-colored nightjar?"

These people are hard-core birders. For two weeks every summer, they stalk their quarry through America's most feathered-filled habitats--the Cascade Mountains of Washington State or the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona--attending birding camps run by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours of Austin, Texas.

Birding? "It's kind of a hobby, kind of a sport," says veteran camper Cooper Scollan, 16, of Carmel, California.

"I'd refer to it as an obsession," says Ron Melcer, 16, of Delanco, New Jersey.

Like baseball, birding is a game of stats. The object is to build up a list of every species you've spotted and correctly identified.

The sport takes a special kind of patience. You might spend the day trudging through a swamp or climbing a rocky slope, only to find the birds aren't home. "The spruce grouse," recalls Melcer. "We hiked eight miles to see it, and didn't .... Then, when we finally got back in the van, it ran across the road."

To rack up big numbers, it helps to have the right equipment: binoculars; field guide; notebook; baseball cap .... (Want to bet that Baltimore, St. Louis, and Toronto are the most popular?)

Then, you have to stake out as many different habitats as possible. At Camp Chiricahua, for example, desert, scrubland, tropical forest, and mountains are all within a day's hike or drive. That boosts the chances of finding different species, since each habitat comes with a different collection of bird (and other) species specifically adapted to it.

The better you understand how different species are adapted to their habitat--where they feed, what plants or animals they eat, where they nest--the easier it is to find and add them to your list.

You can come home with a real appreciation of just how many species of birds there are--and of how important it is to preserve that biodiversity. "There's no birder who isn't a true environmentalist," says ornithologist and camp director Victor Emanuel. After all, the more habitat there is for birds, the more bird species there will be, and the better the game of birding for everyone.
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Title Annotation:birding
Author:Pope, Greg
Publication:Science World
Date:Apr 16, 1993
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