Dial B For Birder by Lola Oberman. First published 1992. As reviewed and pictured: softcover, 176 pages.
Oh, how I enjoy learning about birds, reading about birding adventures, and keeping up with the latest ornithological discoveries. The Internet age makes any kind of hobby learning so easy, but I remember a time when following a passion could be a bit more isolated and even a somewhat tedious experience. In high school, I became really interested in silent film, with a particular interest in the comedian Buster Keaton. I remember going to the library and checking out all of the silent film books, scouring the bibliographies for other Keaton resources that I’d be lucky to find at a used bookshop, if I knew what to look for. Now I follow (way too many) birding blogs and several ornithological online newsletters, all of which are available to me 24-7. Adding titles to my bird book wish list is just a matter of clicking a mouse. (I could go on — my autograph-collecting phase involved an extremely elaborate index card file system used to keep track of addresses and mailings. Index cards! Wow, I’m old.)
Lola Oberman’s charming Dial B For Birder, published 19 years ago, takes the reader back to a time when curious citizens who had a burning bird-related question could not turn to a quick search of Wikipedia on their smartphone for answers. No, in 1992 the natural thing to do when faced with a feathered dilemma was to call an expert. On a corded, possibly even rotary telephone. In Dial B, Oberman relates her experience as a “telephone bird identifier” for the Audubon Naturalist Society in Washington, D.C.
The book is divided into 40 chapters, 10 for each season. Each short tale relates an interesting or unusual bird-related call Oberman received from a member of the public. An interested birder, Oberman sometimes become acquainted with the caller by visiting the site of a potential rarity. Serious mysteries invited follow-ups, the calling in of experts, or photographic evidence. My favorite chapters were the ones where the phone call would spark a memory in the author. In these instances, Oberman deftly transitions from her concerned caller to an old lesson learned, or from the call of an excited new birder to a personal favorite birding memory. Oberman’s writing is easy to follow and the short chapters make this an enjoyable, quick read. I didn’t really learn anything new in reading this book, but it was kind of interesting to think about the role she was playing and how her type of “bird hotline” is a rather archaic thought today. While learning from others experience is irreplaceable, for many of the inquiries posed in this book, the answer today would be: “just Google it.”
I give Dial B For Birder 3 Goldfinches out of 5.