Have you ever gone through a phase where you just aren’t getting the birds you want to? Or maybe you’re seeing amazing birds, but your photographs aren’t turning out. Whatever the reason, a birding slump can happen to anyone and can be a real downer. I would know because I’m currently in one and desperately trying to claw myself out of it!
My Birding Slump
I can’t even pinpoint exactly when the slump started, but today I was really feeling it! The worst part about a birding slump is that you start to go down a negative spiral where one minor setback turns into the general feeling that NOTHING is working out in your favour. For me it’s been a combination of setbacks that lead me to decide today that the slump is here and it’s real!
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the birding slump probably began when I tried to photograph my first Fox Sparrow a few weeks ago. I just can’t get it! I know the exact place where it skulks in the underbrush at a local conservation area, but every time I try to photograph it, I flush it and it disappears. One after another, other people I know have been able to get awesome photographs and videos of the Fox Sparrow. Why can’t I do it?
The birding slump definitely deepened with my Purple Sandpiper shenanigans. Purple Sandpipers migrate through Ottawa for a small window of about 2 weeks every year in the late fall. I’ve never seen one and I thought this year it would be fun to try for one. Fun? What was I thinking?
I got word last week that Friday would be a great day to check for Purple Sandpipers at a rocky pier about a 10 minute walk from my house. I arrived back from Chicago late Thursday night so I was exhausted, but the next morning I dragged myself out of bed and lugged my camera down to the pier. It was a beautiful sunny morning, but after scanning what felt like every rock on the pier I gave up and came home. Later that day I tortured myself and went onto eBird to check if any had been seen. Of course one had been reported with an awesome closeup photograph in that exact spot about 30 minutes before I arrived. 30 minutes!
Rather than let that deter me, the next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and decided to go for it again. I spent about an hour scanning the pier, but alas no Purple Sandpiper. I did meet other birders looking for the same thing (so I felt a bit better that I wasn’t the only one!). The following morning as light began to fill my bedroom, my first thought upon waking was “purple sandpiper”. Ugh, I guess I have to go to the pier to look for it again! Alas, 3rd time was not a charm and I am still Purple Sandpiper-less.
The slump reached its crescendo yesterday afternoon when I went to go visit a flock of Snow Geese that have arrived east of the city. Last year when I visited this same flock it was an absolutely incredible experience. There were literally thousands of birds flying in overhead and the field was full to the brim with Snow Geese. This year when we arrived the flock, although still impressive, was much smaller and the Snow Geese had chosen the absolute furthest field from the road. Seriously! I can’t even get a decent shot of thousands of Snow Geese 😉
My Tips for Getting out of a Birding Slump
Recognize the Addiction
Hi, my name is Laura and I’m a birding addict!
Jokes aside, it’s basically true. Birding can be addictive because when things are going well each new bird you see gives you that “boost” and you come away feeling awesome about the things you saw that day. The flip side of this is when you don’t get that perfect shot, or when you don’t see that bird you wanted to, you come away feeling negative. The best thing to do is recognize these types of emotions in yourself. You have to accept that if birding was easy and if everyday you came home with amazing Purple Sandpiper shots that you’d soon get bored. And when I finally do get to see my first Purple Sandpiper, the moment will be that much sweeter from having worked for it!
Get Back to Basics
Sometimes when you’re out chasing these more challenging species you can lose sight of the bigger picture. The joy of birding isn’t just from ticking boxes, but it’s in the smaller details, those little moments you get watching birds (even common birds). To get out of my birding slump, I plan to spend this afternoon just heading out and enjoying the outdoors. Since I’ve spent so much time recently focusing on these more difficult species, I’ve been neglecting to just walk around my local conservation area and just see what I see. Who knows, something unexpected may turn up when I’m not actually out looking for it.
Mix Things Up
When a certain routine isn’t working for me, or if I start to feel like a slump is creeping in I immediately start to look for ways to change things up. Whether this means going out with a local bird guide to an area you haven’t been to before, or just taking a break from birding, either can break the cycle.
Or, if you want to get really extreme, you can do what I tend to do. If I’m feeling bored and uninspired with the birding scene at home I book a trip! I love travelling and there is nothing better for breaking up a stale routine than going away for a few days. Yesterday I spontaneously decided to book myself a spot at a birding festival in North Carolina happening mid-December: Wings Over Water Encore Edition. I promise this had nothing to do with Purple Sandpiper being listed as an expected species for the festival 😉
Let’s hope this birding slump doesn’t last! Surely my luck has to change soon and perhaps tomorrow morning that Purple Sandpiper will be waiting for me on the pier…