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Last year, the fourth year of my retirement, I once again started keeping an annual list of birds spotted, and made excursions to nature centers and to state parks for the sole purpose of bird-watching — a sort of outing I last undertook when Richard Nixon was president.

Coming home to birding reveals both changes and continuities.

The most startling change lies in the depleted avian census. In Minnesota, red-headed woodpecker populations have declined by 95%. I stopped hearing bobolinks decades ago; now meadowlarks, a grassland bird whose burbling song was a summertime fixture, are rare as well.

In addition, some species changed names, the sparrow hawk turning into the kestrel and the myrtle warbler morphing into the yellow-rumped warbler. Even the pursuit itself has undergone a shift in linguistic nuance: I was never anything but a "bird-watcher," when young, but now it seems I belong to a community of "birders." Being called a bird-watcher suggested a trace, or more than a trace, of nerdiness (unquestionably true in my case). It seems more robust to go "birding."

Technology, of course, has brought huge changes. I've signed up for email notices of several monthly birding meetups, and go to them regularly: a formerly solitary pursuit occasionally turns into a social event. Binoculars around the neck make conversations with strangers easy. When I encountered a fellow with a spotting scope near the Ford Bridge, I was treated to a superb introduction to the peregrine falcons on whom he'd trained the scope. Electronic hot lists now alert you to hard-to-find sightings. When a mountain bluebird wandered a thousand miles off course and wintered over in a city park, literally hundreds of birders came out for a chance to spot it, a battalion of binoculars and telephoto lenses. So far, I've resisted signing on to the eBird alerts. I have, however, fallen unabashedly in love with the Merlin Bird ID app, and especially its capacity to identify birdsongs: What can't a smartphone do?

Like all technologies, the new apps also complicate. I'm still learning the protocols of what does and does not count on a list. In June, the Merlin app told me without ambiguity that I was in the presence of a red-eyed vireo. A jubilant vireo, singing its little heart out high in a grove of elms near the Mendota bridge. According to the American Ornithological Union, a confirmed ID by song now meets the "countability standard." But I never actually caught sight of the bird, and by my lights that disqualifies it from going on the annual list. (I am frequently chided for my too-scrupulous approach at the birding meetups.)

Yet, powerful as the apps may be, there's still a sort of folkloric quality to the ways most birding knowledge gets passed on: people recommend likely sites, and in the field the veteran explains what to look for, which twitch to recognize. The pages of the classic field guides — Peterson, the Golden Guide, Audubon — still cast a magic. Optical technology has improved spectacularly, but I find it oddly gratifying to use the same binoculars I used as a teen. My father was a duck hunter who scanned innumerable lakes and swamps through those lenses.

I have those binoculars with me on my morning walks around Lake Como — another routine to which I've returned, a practice sidelined by four decades in the workplace. I've seen nothing particularly unusual in the osiers and the willows that ring the lake (a different debate: the pros and cons of pursuing the exotic to the neglect of the common). As I walk that circuit, noting the song sparrows in the reeds, the nuthatches assaying tree trunks, the grackles making determined flights across the open water, it occurs to me that the birds are lacing together a sort of wreath around the lake — an imaginary wreath that continually changes, but one that has been woven for millennia, waiting for our witness.

James Silas Rogers lives in St. Paul.