While some species are easy to identify, many birds present challenges. Look-alike species such as scaups (below), sandpipers, gulls, and the notoriously difficult Empidonax flycatchers, are enough to keep birders working to improve their skills for years to come.
But as if that wasn’t hard enough, just as we begin to feel confident, fall arrives. Birds are migrating, males become drab and the world is flooded with a new crop of immature birds. It makes me feel like a beginner birder, all over again!
When a birder travels halfway around the world, they expect that the birds they see will be new and exciting. But while that may generally be true, I was surprised to discover that a significant number of birds I saw on the other side of the globe were far too familiar.
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”
Do you love Easter egg hunts? How about Pokemon Go? Or perhaps you’re into geocaching. If any of these sounds like fun, then you might look into birding. It’s all these rolled into one, with time outside in the fresh air and sunshine, the thrill of discovery, and a bit of nerdy science thrown in for good measure. You never know what you’re going to find.
This past weekend, a friend and I revisited our local county park and nature center. We’ve both been there dozens of times, and pretty much know what to expect. I’d enjoy the morning just for the chance to take a walk in the riparian corridor along Fountain Creek, but it’s the added hope of discovery that makes every visit interesting. And now that migration has started, my anticipation is higher than ever.
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 of the bird:
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.
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?
One of my favorite birding sites, especially in winter, is Eleven Mile Canyon, near Lake George, Colorado. It may seem odd to head up the mountain—to over 8,000 feet—in winter, but I’d rather have cold than crowds of people camping, picnicking, and especially fishing. Besides, the stream runs even in the most frigid conditions, at least under the ice. Typical sightings include Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, Mountain Chickadees, Song Sparrows, and always American Dippers.
Some days just seem perfect. The sky was intense blue, without a single cloud in sight. Temperatures? The mid-70s. Crowds? For the first hour or two, we had the entire place to ourselves. A light breeze stirred a few leaves, birds chirped in the willows, and squirrels chattered from the pine branches overhead. I was so glad we’d chosen to spend the morning at Manitou Lake.
Home to birds, mammals, reptiles, and very nice people—Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has it all. Last winter I made my second visit there, five years after the first. It may have been snowing at home in Colorado, but southern Florida was supposed to be warm—wasn’t it? The day before had been lovely, but this morning dawned damp and gray, with tendrils of fog creeping over the wetlands. I arrived at 7, just as the admissions office opened, knowing I had to be done to meet Pete for lunch. Well, a late lunch, at least! I wanted to make the most of my time as I walked the 2.25 mile boardwalk.