One of my goals for this year is to spend more time outside, birding and taking pictures of birds. So with that in mind, I headed to the county park and nature center south of town. I’ve been birding there many times. When I was just starting out, I frequently encountered species new to me. Now, after more than 15 years, I’m just happy to see birds—any birds—and hopefully get a decent photo or two. I figure I can always improve on what I’ve already taken.
Fountain Creek is a popular destination, and this particular Saturday (a week or so ago) promised gorgeous weather—highs in the low 50s, sunny, light breeze—so of course the trails were busy. There’s a trade-off when it comes to choosing a birding destination. Birds that hang out in places with a lot of foot traffic typically are far less skittish than those in the middle of nowhere. On the other hand, too many people feel a need to comment on my camera gear just when I’m lined up on a terrific shot. Of course the bird flees, and I’m left trying to smile at the nice, friendly person who just ruined my photo.
I have to remind myself that the presence of lots of people interested in nature is a good thing. They will be more likely to concern themselves with preserving habitat, and they’ll teach their children to do the same.
As I made my way along the trails, my first impression was that the birds must be busy elsewhere. Winter birding provides far fewer species, even including those that migrate to here from farther north. I spotted a few House Finches, a pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves, and a Black-capped Chickadee, nice enough but hardly cause for celebration.
As the morning progressed I added more species, to a final total of 22. Not that impressive, but you can only see what’s there to be seen.
As I decided I’d walked far enough and turned around to head back to the car, I heard a lot of squawking—very familiar squawking—and turned to see a huge flock of Canada Geese (I estimated over 400 birds) heading in for a landing on one of the ponds. It was pretty impressive. But what made it even better was watching the reaction of those around me. Jaws were hanging open. People were pointing. I realized that, while I’ve seen thousands of geese over the years, for them, a flock this large was something new.
I took the opportunity to scan the water, and realized that mixed in with the geese were several duck species, a pair of American Coots, and three Pied-billed Grebes. I pointed them out to the couple next to me, and they were astonished to realize that not every bird in front of them was a goose.
Then I took my own advice and started looking more closely at the individual birds. Sure enough, there were several Cackling Geese mixed in with the larger Canada Geese.
No, I didn’t see any new birds, or even any particularly unusual ones. But I spent the morning outside, walked about three miles, and hopefully encouraged some people towards a greater interest in nature—not a bad way to start the year!