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Flight lines: Staying connected with birds and those who watch them

Like it or not, the digital media cloth has been inextricably woven into our cultural fabric. These days, anyone who is anyone has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram and Snapchat, and communicates nearly exclusively via text or the "old" way: Email. Oh, how things have changed.

The birding world has adapted well. It used to be that in order to find relevant birding information, a person would dial—yes, dial—a phone number and listen to a recorded message. These rare bird alerts were most often updated weekly. It served its purpose by disseminating information to the masses but missed widely in one category: timeliness. That bird seen five days ago was likely long gone by the time you heard about it.

Listservs solved this problem. Defined as "an application that distributes messages to subscribers on an electronic mailing list," no longer did we have to wait and wonder what was out there. Once someone posted a message to the "bulletin board," everyone knew about it instantly through email.

Even more immediate are the group texting apps. Once, to spread the word about, say, a gyrfalcon found near Hector International Airport, a person would have to stop everything and begin calling phone numbers to disseminate information. Now it's a single text and, boom, everyone sees it instantly.

Here's a quick-and-dirty on staying up with birding digitally ...

On a grand scale there is and that's almost all you need to know. Started by Cornell University and National Audubon almost 15 years ago already, this website is the place for staying abreast of it all. The site states it has "revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds." Absolutely true.

Within the state, there is no better way to hear about the boreal chickadee in Leeds or the Eurasian tree sparrow hanging out in Stanley than the North Dakota listserv (ND-birds). A person can almost "watch" spring migration by simply reading emails every day from contributors. To subscribe (free), I advise going to and clicking on the "discussion groups" tab.

A digital vehicle with a local focus is FMbirders. This one is also free and can be found by going to and searching for "FMbirders." It's a closed group so you must request permission to join (full disclosure: I'm the manager). Here you will find shared photos and reports of what's out there along with individuals simply asking questions such as, "Why don't I get cardinals at my feeder?" You will need a Yahoo account but after that it's a simple step to have the messages forwarded to your primary email.

If it's the immediate news about a rare sighting you seek, the days of calling everyone are behind us as mentioned above. The locals use a group texting app called Groupme to quickly broadcast a report. It's also free but a tad more complicated. We try to limit this one to rarer birds and save the more common ones like a blue jay at your feeder, for instance, for the Yahoo group. I'm the moderator for this one also so email me if interested or search for "fmbirders" within the app.

Yes, the local Audubon chapter finally has a Facebook page. Simply ask to join at "F-M Audubon Chapter" to begin seeing more local bird banter and maybe the occasional uploaded bird photo.

Given my age (I'll only say I remember my family getting our first black-and-white television and having to get up and turn a huge knob in order to change channels—all three of them), I guess I had an excuse for not wanting to dip my toe into the digital waters at first. I shunned cellphones until they became a necessary part of my employment. Today, the darned thing is nearly an appendage.

For readers with an interest in birds, I encourage you to check out a few of the avenues I've mentioned. Trust me, they don't bite. As initially reluctant as I was to embrace digital technology, when it comes to birding, I'm thankful I did. Its efficiency is inimitable. With it, you feel the pulse of the bird world. Yes, there is a sense of community, too. One whose reach would not have extended nearly as far in the past. You don't have to embrace the times, but at least give it a look.