It’s 15 degrees outside, the snow is not so much falling as being hurled against the windowpane, and the highway patrol has just closed the interstate. You are itching to go birding. What’s a snowed-in birder to do? One solution is to grab a fuzzy blanket, a nice cup of hot tea, and hunker down with a copy of Brushed by Feathers, by Frances L. Wood.
Starting in January, Wood chronicles a year of birdwatching from her perspective as a naturalist, artist, speaker and writer. While the material is factual and informative, the true worth of this book is the way in which it is presented. The author comes across as an old friend sharing her birding journal with you.
Once again it’s January, time for making a list of all the things you would like to do differently in the new year. If you’re at all like me, you’ll resolve to finally lose that extra weight, walk at least two miles a day, and empty the accumulation of credit card receipts out of your wallet at least once a week. You promise to, in general, exhibit more self control over all those accumulated habits that stand between you and perfection.
But we’re not just ordinary people. We’re Birders. So it seems appropriate that we make some New Year’s resolutions specific to our particular passions. How about if we resolve to…
Today I’d like to highlight two of my favorite blogs, one about birding and one about gardening. There are lots of other great birding and gardening blogs, so please check out the list of links to the right. I’d also love to hear about your favorites. I look for reliable information, interesting stories, great pictures. What do you recommend?
Bill Schmoker is a Colorado birder who teaches junior high science full time, and still somehow manages to get out and take incredible bird photographs. His pictures have appeared in a number of publications, and the American Birding Association just released Ted Floyd’s Let’s Go Birding, which Bill’s photographs illustrate.
Recently, Bill’s blog, Brdpics, displayed a remarkable series of photographs of a roadrunner and a coyote. Yes, the real thing! One picture even contained both of them at the same time! Since I will probably only get photos like that in my wildest dreams, please go look at his.
When I first encountered the term “Birding Trail,” a mental image flashed into my mind of a migrating flock trudging down the road, heading south with their suitcases tightly grasped in their wings. Turns out that wasn’t quite right.
Birding trails are actually comprised of a series of birding hotspots (places where birds are known to congregate) connected by a driving route. You pick up the map, hop in the car, and set off on your birding adventure.
Texas started the whole idea several years ago with the establishment of the Texas Coastal Birding Trail. A special map marks out the route, and signs along the highway indicate where to pull over, take a break, and look for birds. The concept is so popular that half the states have followed suit, and birding trails abound.
My birding trip this past weekend reads just like a novel… with goals to be achieved, suspense and uncertainty, good times, and a climatic ending.
I woke two minutes before my alarm was set to go off, groped in the dark for my glasses, and crawled from beneath the covers, shivering as my feet hit the floor. It will be worth it, I told myself. It always is.
Forty minutes later I was on the interstate heading south. The car was loaded with my camera and accessories, scope and tripod, binos, ID books, water lunch, and snacks. The sun, still below the horizon, was just turning the tips of the mountains pink, while the dissipating mist hung like golden glitter in the air. What a beautiful morning!
Reaching our rendezvous point, I joined six other birders as we piled into two cars and headed south again. My primary goal for the day was to enjoy God’s creation and have fun. I was also hoping to take at least one photo I would be happy with. And, there was the possibility of seeing a new bird. While my life list isn’t all that long, I don’t get new birds very often, especially near home. The advertised list of possible species had included a couple I’d never seen, and I was really hoping one would show up.
“Birding is really inexpensive! All you need is a pair of binoculars and a field guide!” I was trying to explain to my ever-patient husband why this new fascination of mine was such a great idea.
In a sense I was right. Birding can be very low-budget, especially compared to other ways we entertain ourselves. It doesn’t take up much room—you collect the birds in a list that doesn’t require dusting or storage space. Looking at a wild bird is free. And all you really need to get started is a decent pair of binoculars, a good identification book, and a notebook in which to list your sightings.
Lately, my husband has taken to calling me a “Beak Geek.” I’m not sure whether or not to be insulted at this or take it as a compliment. I thought I’d ask a few other friends if the label fits. They hedged a lot. Hmmm. So I did an internet search and found the following:
You know you are a Birding Fanatic if…
… There is a strange, but distinct correlation between the last time your house was thoroughly cleaned and the development of your birding interest.
… you’re hopeless at remembering people’s names, yet you know the scientific names of all birds ever seen in North America.
… someone is trying to sell you some swamp land in a 3rd world country and you actually are interested! —Bill Kossack
… you have a trip list from your honeymoon.
… for your wedding anniversary he takes you to the Brownsville City Dump to see the Mexican crow! —Keri Dawkins
[At this point I’d like to point out that, while I’ve never been to the Brownsville City Dump (because we’d heard that the Mexican crows aren’t there any more), my loving sweetie did take me to the Ft. Lauderdale dump to look for birds. In addition, we spent our 25th wedding anniversary at a dumpy motel near Alamosa because it was near two wildlife refuges… and he’s not even a birder!]
You’ve got your binoculars in hand, ID book in one pocket, notebook and pen in another, and your resolutions to be a responsible, ethical birder firmly in place—you are ready to go birding. But, where will you go?
While birds may be found virtually anywhere, they are not evenly distributed across the landscape. When birders discover a place with lots of birds (both in numbers and variety of species) that location is called, in birder-speech, a “hotspot.”
Just as people tend to congregate in places with housing and markets or restaurants, birds have their own favorite hangouts, and for the same reasons. Birds need water, food, and shelter. Any site providing all three is bound to have great birding.
Looking for some good advice on how to be a better birder? This book is a lot of fun to read, and provides valuable insights from 50 noted birders such as Kenn Kaufman, David Sibley, and Pete Dunne.
Each contributor has written a short article, about four pages long, imparting one nugget of birding wisdom. Examples include “Bird by Impression,” by Kevin Karlson, “Go Birding in Bad Weather,” by Bill Schmoker, and “Go Birding at Night,” by Ted Floyd.