Writing this column made me a better bird watcher


Time is passing. It seems it was only yesterday that I received a Facebook friend request from outside Bangor Daily News writer John Holyoke which I happily accepted. A few minutes later, I received another request, “How would you like to write a weekly birding column for the Bangor Daily News?” I accepted that also with joy. It was 10 years ago. My first column “Good Birding” was published on November 26, 2011.

I wasted no time making my first mistake. While discussing an unrelated topic, I casually mentioned that Collared Ducks nest in tree cavities. They don’t. This was quickly pointed out in a letter to the editor from an alert reader, who suggested that my column could use more scientific research. Wow! A week later, and I already got my first hate mail! I had arrived.

This first mistake was one of the many ways this column changed my life. I have become scrupulous about finding and checking the facts. In doing so, I learned a ton of things I didn’t know, or worse, knew wrong. If there is anything instructive in this column, no one benefits from it more than me.

This column made me a photographer. I had little interest before posting. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and I only have 750. Adding a picture is like cheating. Today, a camera accompanies me everywhere. I store photos. The photos inspire the columns. I don’t think I risked my life to get the perfect shot, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

This column made me a videographer. Three years ago, I received an email from then-digital sports editor Pete Warner asking if I was interested in providing occasional videos for the BDN website. In a way, it seemed like pure pleasure to me. The first appeared on March 9, 2019.

The moment was fortuitous. COVID hit, and suddenly everyone wanted virtual content, especially videos. Today, video material accompanies me everywhere I go, although I am still learning to use it.

A decade later, I have files filled with stories, photos, videos, and dare I say it, lessons learned. If this sounds like a good opportunity to do another Virtual Zoom program, you are right. Next Friday night, Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter presents: “BEST OF BOB: Ten Years of Working as BDN Bird Guy.” I think it could be entertaining, but not as entertaining as THE WORST BOB could have been.

Chapter members are already familiar with this free program, one of the perks of joining Maine Audubon. However, anyone can register to watch. The connect is on the chapter website at pvc.maineaudubon.org.

If you can’t attend, fear not. Many videos are now posted on a Bob Duchesne YouTube channel, ignored by millions. And most of the lessons learned will be printed here in a few weeks. For example, # 5 is, “The best way to avoid being a threat to birds is to not look like one.”

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you.

Maine has more than its fair share of birding and birding spots. There is adventure in every corner of the state. But my most popular columns focus on what’s going on in your own backyard.

During the height of the pandemic, I produced several backyard videos. One was how far away I could get to the bird feeder without alarming the birds. He got 620 views. Another revealed how to spot the woodpeckers in the yard. 757 views. A third revealed the secrets of how birds used my garden in winter. It has been viewed 2,183 times.

However, a video on how to identify top Cadillac falcons in Acadia National Park? 48 views. Um, OK, note to myself: spend more time in the backyard. I’m sure a hummingbird video would kill.

Speaking of the murder, there was a video that drew 2,724 views. It showed a goshawk that wanted to kill me when I got too close to its nest. Apparently, there are two popular types of videos: those in the backyard and those where the perpetrator risks death.

Your comments have been delightful. I have been asked to identify birds in blurry photos and songs on blurry recordings. I replied “Yes!” to dozens of people who asked, “Did I really see this bird in my garden? This column has been a pleasure to write for a decade. I can go on as long as you can.


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