The medical experts are telling us to keep our social distance. No hugs. No handshakes. No large gatherings. Events are cancelled. In many places, schools, churches, and other large venues are closed. We’re stuck at home staring at the TV—or are we? We may need to keep our distance from other people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out. We just have to choose places where we’re not in a crowd. Continue reading “Social Distanced Birding”
I was walking along a lake, part of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in New Delhi, India, when I spied a familiar duck. Could that be a Green-winged Teal? But after looking through my field guide, I discovered that Green-winged Teal wasn’t one of the options. There was, however, an illustration of a Common Teal that looked similar, so I jotted down the name and, for insurance, snapped a photo:
I have a tendency to be a fair-weather birder. Give me warm, sunny days, balmy breezes, and sparkling blue ponds and lakes. Trees are full of leaves, bugs, and birds. With all the summer migrants in town, trip lists run long. Singing males are easier to spot, and the rituals of mating and raising young, offering additional opportunities for the wildlife photographer.
It has taken me a long time to appreciate winter birding. Temperatures dip below freezing and it may snow. Roads can be treacherous, providing unwanted excitement just getting to the birding destination. Many birds have heeded to call to migrate, and those left behind tend to be drab, matching the winter landscape. And then there’s the silence. I hear no songs, not even much chirping. Yes, there are birds out there, but where?
I thumbed through the field guide. Let’s see… a Red-tailed Hawk is 19 inches, head to tail, with a wingspan of 49 inches. A Rough-legged Hawk is a couple of inches longer, 21 inches tall with a 53 inch wingspan. And a Ferruginous Hawk is larger still, 23 inches tall and 56 inches across. Or, it could be a Northern Harrier, checking in at 18 inches by 43 inches. So which hawk was it sitting on that pole, silhouetted against the sky? I was glad that there were only a few real options in eastern Colorado at this time of year. I flipped the page to a Golden Eagle, 30 inches in height, wingspan of 79 inches. No, surely I’d be able to tell if the bird was that large! It had to be a hawk.
It was a fruitful trip out to Chico Basin Ranch, east of Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and one of the best birding spots in the country. With fall migration in full swing, we ticked off well over 50 birds, including a Common Nighthawk, which I tend to miss as they match the branch they’re sitting on, and both Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos—good birds for Colorado. There’s nothing like birding with a very experienced guide, and John Drummond definitely qualifies. I learn so much when he leads a trip.
There’s something about a bunch of birders (or do birders come in a flock?) all fixated on the same rare bird. The smiles, the lifer dances, the high fives and slaps on the back. We may be perfect strangers, but the shared excitement overcomes all barriers.
Pete and I have been invited to visit friends in Florida next month. Of course, we accepted the invitation! I’ve arranged time off from work, I’ve made my packing list, and our house sitter is all lined up (with instructions on keeping the feeders filled). Now I’m eagerly counting the days until we leave.
While there are plenty of logistics involved in escaping winter for a couple of weeks, I’m also trying to prepare for birding in a relatively unfamiliar location. Yes, I’ve been to Florida before—twice, in fact—but it’s not my usual birding location, and those aren’t my usual birds.