I’ve been a bird watcher for most of my days. I became a bird nerd while a teenager and would skip school during the major migrations to watch the birds. The truant officers frowned on this and would come out looking for me. They seldom got as far out in the boonies as I did.
My home state of Utah was 85,000 square miles of good birding territory with almost 500 species of birds due to the variation in climate, altitude, and terrain. There was a good population of waterfowl and shorebirds. It was not difficult to see 100 species in a day.
Birding on the gun clubs and reserves near Great Salt Lake was a major pastime. At times we would hitchhike the 80 miles north of Salt Lake City to the Bear River Bird Refuge 14 miles west of Brigham City. I’m not sure what its status is now but when I was young it was the largest bird refuge in the world.
In recent years, the Great Salt Lake has risen and it covered the bird reserves for some time. The reserves are coming back but birding is not like it was in our day. Still, I like to drive out to Bear River and think about what it was like and hopefully will be again.
The thing about birding is that you can do it in the city or country, on land or sea, at work (sometimes) or on vacation, or even when sick in bed. If you can’t get to the birds you can get them to come to you by designing your yard as a bird habitat.
Bird study is like painting a landscape. There is no clock and there is no hurry. It’s a time of complete relaxation and exclusion of the cares of the world. If you are not an artist, its doing something that requires your total attention and excludes all other activities.
Most birders keep a list of their sightings. Some record in detail what they see, others just check the bird off in the back of their bird guides. Many photograph the birds they see, a hobby in a hobby.
Some years back I vidio taped the history of the Canada Goose for a total year. From the time they are born until the time of their first migration is just over 80 days. I enjoyed watching the geese that wintered in South New Jersey, the mating rituals in the spring, the raising of the young, and the migration flights. I indend to put these tapes on DVD for future enjoyment.
During the period that I studied the geese, I photographed thousands of snow geese at the George Forsythe Bird Refuge near Atlantic City. During the winter there are tens of thousands of these magnificent birds in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. The millions of people who live in this area, if they will take the time to do it, can easily view them.
To view birds start with a pair of good binoculars. I like 8 X 35, but you can get a more powerful pair if you like. If you do, you may want to have a pair that has adjustable magnification. A spotting scope with an adaptor for mounting it on your car window is good when watching birds in a refuge. You can mount a camera to it. Get a tripod.
I have a pair of binoculars with a camera built in. I haven’t used it yet, but I'm sure I will enjoy it.
You will need a field guide for your area.
Carefully read the descriptions. Remember that birds are creatures of habitat and you will find them in the particular habitats described in the guides.
Note their migrations.
Maps in the guide will tell you which times of the year you will be able to see specific birds. I suggest that you buy at least two guides that cover your area.
Visit a local bird club (like Audubon) to meet people who know birds and who will help you identify birds on field trips. Some of these folks may be a bit quirkier than other people you have met, but they are most always friendly, helpful, and intelligent. There will probably be a professor or two at each meeting. You will be in good company.
I was in St. Louis just before Christmas and I went birding with my son. It felt warm when I left the house, so I didn’t dress for the weather that suddenly chilled. When you are old, you are cold. While I was sitting in the car waiting for my son, he saw a Piliated Woodpecker.
The Piliated is a very large bird, the size of a crow, and always exciting to see. Fortunately, my son photographed the bird and I was able to see it, a male. So don’t do as I did. Dress warmly in the winter.
Recently, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, which is even larger than the Piliated Woodpecker, was rediscovered. Over the years sightings have straggled in, but many thought the bird was extinct in the United States. This great creature is every birders dream to see. See it at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4622633.
That’s why folks watch birds.
John T. Jones, Ph. D. (email@example.com, a retired VP of R&D for Lenox China, is author of detective & western novels, nonfiction (business, scientific, engineering, humor), poetry, etc. Former editor of Ceramic Industry Magazine, Jones is Executive Representative of International Wealth Success. He calls himself “Taylor Jones, the hack writer. "
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