I could make a bunch of New Year’s resolutions, but without your help, they won’t last a week. Self-discipline fails me. Maybe fear of public embarrassment will inspire me. For the forthcoming year, every time we meet, you should say, “How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Broken any yet?” So here goes:
I resolve to treat my binoculars better. They’re great binoculars, but you’d never know it by the way I treat them. They live on the backseat of my car. I have a protective case for them, which I think is in the basement somewhere. There are so many ways to hurt binoculars. I’ve tried them all. Throwing luggage on them works. Leaving them in a hot car can expand internal gases and rupture seals. Most quality optics are filled with nitrogen, which prevents internal fogging. You don’t want them leaking. Just leaving them on the windowsill is bad, since sun exposure damages rubber.
I resolve to sit more. Too often, I regard birding as an active pursuit. I go places and chase birds. But when I think about it, some of my best experiences have come when I’m just sitting on the porch. Maine has so many good places to sit. I resolve to pick a bunch of birdy places, and just curl up with a good book and wait.
I resolve to clean my bird feeders more. I know that dirty feeders can spread disease. Old seed molds and rots. I clean my feeders several times a year, but that’s not enough. It’s not a difficult chore, either: I just soak them in a mild solution of bleach for a little while, then hose them off well.
I resolve to chase rare owls. Maybe this is the winter another great gray owl pops up in the state. Or a northern hawk-owl. Owls are cool.
I resolve to chase a boreal owl. I will have to go north for this. These tiny owls occasionally venture south of the Canadian border in a tough winter, but I’m never going to get that lucky. I’ve got to travel north and find one. It’s my No. 1 grudge bird — a bird that I have chased so unsuccessfully that I now hold a grudge against it. Hey, it’s good to have goals, right?
I resolve to thoroughly explore the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. I’ve been there four times so far, and the birding was awesome. I want to learn where every single bird is hiding. Because they sing, that’s actually possible.
I resolve to cross the lake at dawn. I live at the north end of Pushaw Lake. Rumor has it that least bitterns breed on the opposite side of my lake. This Maine endangered species possibly nests in the reeds around the inlet. But the best time to find them is in the spring, when I’m always off guiding somewhere. In 17 years, I’ve never carved out the time to paddle over and look. That’s inexcusable.
I resolve to leave the book in the car. And my gadgets. When encountering a strange bird, the best thing to do is to watch it closely and remember the field marks, at least long enough to get back to the car. That improves your chances of recognizing it next time. The worst thing to do is to look at the reference book instead of the bird. And it’s worse now that there are smartphone apps. They’re helpful, unless you spend more time looking at the app than the actual bird.
I resolve to renew my memberships without being nagged. Many people let their annual memberships lapse without realizing it. They miss reminders, or put them off and later forget. It’s probably Maine Audubon’s biggest headache. I belong to several organizations that all have to nag me to renew, because I chronically forget.
I resolve to thank a landowner. Pursuing my passionate pastime often takes me onto somebody else’s private property. Maine ranks 41st in the percentage of area that is public land. Maine’s long tradition of allowing public use of private land is extraordinary, and deserves every expression of gratitude I can muster.
I resolve to vote. When I was in first grade, I lived next to the Androscoggin River when it was at its most polluted. The stench was horrific. We’ve come a long way since then. Decades later, I refuse to accept that we must roll back environmental protections in order to make America great again.
Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.