Source: NYPL Digital Gallery
I only recently became aware of Augurs, thanks to an excellent essay by Brian Kimberling in the New York Times last month. A special class of priests in ancient Rome, Augurs were responsible for studying the flight of birds, which would reveal the will of the gods. Important decisions such as whether or not to go to war required the interpretive skills of an Augur.
Bernhard Rode (1725-1797) - Source: Wikimedia Commons
An Augur performed his duties by choosing a location from which to make his observations, as shown in the image below:
Erdmann Barbara - Source: Wikimedia Commons
This method is not unlike the modern-day Big Sit event, where birders will spend a day in a fixed location, only counting the birds that they can positively identify from within their small circle.
Most birding excursions I take are done at a slow walking pace. In recent weeks I've come to enjoy staking out a particular spot and simply waiting to see what comes along. When standing still, it never ceases to amaze me how much activity (avian or otherwise) I notice that I would otherwise pass by. Sparrows foraging in the underbrush, a hawk soaring overhead, a kingfisher watching the water for its next meal - such things may not reveal the will of the gods. However, perhaps the Augurs were on to something much more meaningful.