Opening rain forests and other remote areas poses serious environmental threats, but it lets the birders in. Thirty years ago there was no way to get to many sites and no way to identify the birds if one did. Now the world has shrunk, and many hot spots are becoming dangerous or otherwise off-limits. With habitats dwindling and species in peril or on the verge of extinction, amateur birders have redoubled their efforts to document the birds of the world, often well ahead of the scientists, sometimes only a step or two ahead of the birds' extinction.
Some of this frenzied activity does have scientific value. Christmas bird counts, started in 1900 as an alternative to Christmas bird pot shoots, have produced a lot of census data, and it is possible to deduce some important trends from this mass of information. More recently, birders have been enlisted to help produce a series of breeding bird atlases for various states, provinces and regions.
You don't have to go to the Brazilian rain forest or wildest Alaska to be a birdwatcher. You don't even have to leave the city. A Siberian Spotted Redshank has wintered in Brooklyn for the past three years, and Peregrine Falcons now breed on virtually every major bridge in New York City. At certain times of the year, some of the best bird-watching in the world can be done in urban parks. Just don't forget to take along your Cities list.