Featured Blog: Search and Serendipity

photo courtesy Charlie Moores

photo courtesy Charlie Moores

This week’s featured blog comes to us courtesy of David Ringer, also known as Bolt by some of his friends. David blogs at Search and Serendipity. He’s also the co-creator, with Curtis Hawthorne, of Birdstack, a world bird-listing and community site which launched in 2008.



Like many of us, David’s interest in birds began with feeding them in the backyard. He transitioned to serious field birding  with the Greater Ozarks Audubon during high school and continued that interest through his college years. In the four years since college, he’s visited more than 20 countries on six continents and several Pacific islands — and is planning to visit Antarctica someday. Formerly a communications consultant for an international NGO focused on minority language communities, he’s moving to Vicksburg, Mississippi and starting a new job with Audubon this month (August 2009)

David, why do you blog?

I started Search and Serendipity because I wanted a platform through which I could explore my passion for birds and nature. I was a senior in college at the time (March 2005) and had done some nature writing that was well received by family members, fellow birders, and peers – even by those who could barely tell a duck from a beaver. I’d done some writing for the Greater Ozarks Audubon Scissortail and was managing editor of my university’s student newspaper, so I was rather print-focused. But when a professor encouraged us to explore the possibilities of rapidly proliferating web-based communications tools, something clicked: “A blog about birds!”

I had no idea what I was getting into, and I didn’t know of any other birding or nature blogs at the time (there were some of course, but not too many). Now, more than four years later, I can honestly say that nature blogging is an incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve made new friends and grown closer to people I knew already; I’ve been enriched in so many ways by so many people – and, I hope, have been able to give back in some small measure too.

What’s the best thing about blogging?

Well, I am incapable of keeping a private diary of any kind – and believe me, I’ve tried. I like to think that this is because I’m too busy living life, but it’s probably because I’m a slacker. Then … enter blogging! Blogging gives me an extra dose of motivation to record my thoughts and experiences because I know that all of your eager little eyeballs are peering through the intertubes, waiting to devour my next missive. (And please, don’t disillusion me with reality.) What I’m trying to say is that blogging encourages me to write and reflect much more often than I otherwise would, which is a tremendous gift.

Also, I find it very gratifying (OK, too gratifying) to provide information and inspiration to other people. When I look over my search engine keyword logs or see traffic spikes centered around informational posts and know that I’ve helped answer somebody’s question, when people are moved or amazed by something that had moved or amazed me, when one of my posts stimulates discussion and thought – well, that’s a mighty fine feeling.

Sure, there are downsides too. A big one that I’m sure everybody feels is lack of time. Too many good ideas never get pursued, too many photos never get published, too many comments never get answered, too many posts just have to be “good enough for now.” Also, it’s hard when I publish a post that I think is particularly interesting or stimulating but never get any feedback on it. That leaves me wondering if I missed the mark or just didn’t connect with the right people or …? Who knows.

How has blogging changed how you write about nature?

For me, understanding and appreciation have to go hand in hand. I can be awed by a sunset or captivated by a bird on the wing, but in the same moment, a thousand questions flood my mind, questions for which I feel compelled to seek out answers. Increased understanding heightens my appreciation, and so on.

Writing a blog forces me to engage in this cycle even more deeply. To seek out more answers, to think through complex issues more carefully, to see with more acuity, to walk more slowly, to write more precisely and more passionately. I hope that this makes me a better observer, a better communicator, and a better defender of life.

How do you promote your blog and attract readers?

Rule #1a: Good content. Rule #1b: Good relationships. As far as I can tell, people will read my blog if I deliver content that they care about, or if they care about me as a person, or both. (That’s certainly how I decide which blogs to read regularly.)

Assuming that I’m producing good content, I still need ways to let people know that it’s available. Good titles and careful use of key terms will help ensure that people using search engines can find the post. I participate in carnivals (especially I and the Bird) and the occasional meme to highlight particular posts. I make sure that my blog address is included in my signature when I post to birding email lists and forums. And very occasionally, I promote my own posts on email lists or forums, but only when I feel that it’s relevant and justified (I’m pretty terrified of doing this too often, lest I come across as totally obnoxious and self-serving).

Building and maintaining relationships can be accomplished by visiting and commenting on other people’s blogs, promoting their content, engaging in private email discussions, giving back to other nature bloggers in various ways (for example, hosting carnivals), answering questions in forums, participating in local events and activities, etc. I’m afraid I’m a bit sporadic with all of these things.

Facebook is the only social networking tool I use regularly, and I like it because it lets me connect with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of ways. Using the NetworkedBlogs application, I publish my posts to my Facebook profile, which gives them exposure to a lot of people who probably wouldn’t otherwise bother to read a birding blog.

Is there a story behind the name of your blog?

I had come up with the phrase “search and serendipity” well before I started blogging. I thought, and still think, that it captures so much of the birding experience: “search” – the thrill of the hunt, the knowledge of haunts and habits, the mad dash, the agonizing wait; “serendipity” – the wonderful jolt of the unexpected, the adrenaline rush, even the disappointment of defeat. Birders know all these things, and more.

Do you feel you’re part of a community with other nature bloggers?

You know, I feel really privileged to sit at the feet (so to speak) of so many talented and passionate nature bloggers, learning from them, sharing their discoveries, and receiving their gifts over and over again. Some of them will probably never know I’m alive, but others I now count among my friends and allies. And I think that’s pretty cool.

Thank you, David!

Contact info for David Ringer:

Blog (Search and Serendipity) http://djringer.com/birding/

Birdstack http://birdstack.com/people/djringer

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/djringer

Email djringer atsign gmail period com


Upcoming in featured blogs: Southern Fried Science, Bill of the Birds, and more.

4 Comments

  1. August 10, 2009 at 5:03 AM | Permalink

    Thanks Jane – one of the greats.

  2. August 10, 2009 at 9:14 AM | Permalink

    I do too know the difference between a duck and a beaver–the beaver has a longer tail.

    One of your photos reminded me that when I got up one morning to see if there were any visitors to the bread crumbs I left out the night before, at first glance I really thought it was a mouse, not a mousebird!

    Hope the new job goes well!

  3. Lisa Berger
    August 10, 2009 at 10:08 PM | Permalink

    Hey, I was present when 2 (assassin bug is possibly 3) of those stunning images were taken. Reading your blog is as close as I’ll get to blogging until I retire. Who has the time to write anything cogent, much less insightful? Thankfully you do!

    Cheers.

  4. August 14, 2009 at 1:10 AM | Permalink

    Great interview David! You have such insight into birding and nature and I really enjoy your writing style.

    I am curious, what will you be doing with the Audubon Society? Is it a secret? :-)

    Whatever it is, I’m sure you will do a great job for them and for us. I wish you the best of luck with your new position and keep up the excellent blogging!