This past weekend, I discovered the joy of birding all over again. It all started with an email I received as Answerer-of-Emails for our Audubon chapter. It seemed that a group of retired missionaries was holding a reunion at a local conference center, and some of them wanted to go birding. Could we offer any advice?
I looked at the dates, then checked my calendar. Nothing vital was scheduled for that morning. So I wrote back and explained that sure, we could offer advice, but perhaps they would rather have a few local birders on hand to lead the trip?
My offer was met with great enthusiasm, so I penciled it in and then set about recruiting some birding friends to join me.
It was barely light but refreshingly cool as we pulled into the parking lot on the morning of the walk. I noticed a group of eight or nine people, all with binoculars hanging around their necks. That was a better turnout than we’d anticipated. We introduced ourselves, and the visitors told us where they were from: Illinois, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan… states east of Colorado with very different birds. Most of them had never birded this far west. I also wanted to know who the serious birders were. There were a few among the more casual birdwatchers. who just wanted an enjoyable walk before breakfast.
As we were finishing our introductions a pair of deep blue Steller’s Jays flew overhead and landed in some bushes. Everyone oohed and ahhed over their sapphire plumage and elegant crests. Living as I do on the edge of a ponderosa pine forest, I see Steller’s Jays every day. Watching everyone else’s reaction was a wonderful reminder not to take these impressive birds for granted.
A pair of House Finches didn’t attract as much attention, as the group members could see those birds at home. We stopped to enjoy a tree full of young American Robins—another familiar bird but fun to watch, as the juveniles—still with spots on their breasts—swung upside down to munch on flower buds high in the branches.
Next up was a Spotted Towhee. This species nests in my yard, but it was a new bird for most of the group. It skulked in the underbrush, staying mostly out of sight.
Hearing the shrill whirr of an approaching Broadtailed Hummingbird, we explained the difference between our species and the eastern Ruby-throated Hummingbird they were more used to. A bit later, several hummers put on a terrific show, swooping and diving to defend their territories, fighting over the Monarda nectar in a nearby flowerbed. Everyone loves hummingbirds.
The white-breasted nuthatches were dismissed as “same ones we have at home” until I explained that the species could be split into three, with our interior western birds becoming a different species from their eastern one. Then everyone paid a bit more attention.
The highlight of the morning was definitely the pair of Western Tanagers. We all got spectacular views of both sexes, and of course the male got all the exclamations. Everyone was riveted by his flame-colored head.
I knew that the most serious birder, the delightful lady who had initially contacted us, had some birds on a “Colorado wish list” that she hadn’t yet seen, and that I usually have at my feeders. Learning that her next stop was Denver, I invited her to our house to see if she could see the rest of her target birds.
Sunday after church three members of the group showed up at our door, eager to get a glimpse of a Lesser Goldfinch, a Black-headed Grosbeak, and a Pygmy Nuthatch (right). As we tromped upstairs to look out the dining room window at my feeders, a flock of at least 30 Black-billed Magpies descended upon my newly-filled suet feeders. I was about to shoo them off before they ate every bite, but our guests rushed to the windows for a better view. I’d forgotten that Magpies are western birds, and they were new and exciting to these easterners! I saw anew the long tails with their iridescent blue-green feathers. What gorgeous birds!
As the magpies finally moved on, some Pygmy Nuthatches took their place at the suet. Soon Lesser Goldfinches (top, left) crowded the nyjer feeder; and a female Black-headed Grosbeak (left) landed on the sunflower seed platform. Our visitors were thrilled. I had as much fun watching them as I did the birds!
Seeing a new bird is always a thrill, but sharing familiar birds with others is even better.