I observe a bird and experience simple joy. These past 2 years seeing birds, being present outdoors in natural environments, talking with others about birds, and sketching, painting or photographing birds has helped me maintain some sanity. But I must admit, I have gone down the rabbit-hole! I am deep into birding!
When I think about my first observation of birds, it really was in the 1970’s when I was intrigued with the common loon in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. I was camping on an island in Stillwater Reservoir and heard the loon’s eerie call as I laid in my sleeping bag at night. One would think something awful is happening when you first hear this bird, but then you know it is a loon. I also would hike 4 miles to lakes where I knew there were loons, with no binoculars or camera … simply outdoors looking for the bird. Friends would give me loon wood carvings, books, etc. As I have come to discover, the common loon was my “spark” bird. The bird that got me first interested in birds.
I had been a science teacher and naturalist, so all living things were always of interest to me. In 2017 while traveling in Peru along the Amazon River, seeing 100 birds in 5 days. I thought this is crazy, I do not even know the birds in my backyard! Yet, that did not kick my bird-watching into high gear. Then the pandemic. Now home-bound, I bought bird feeders, spent time watching and learning the birds there and bought a camera to photograph birds. Thanks to various apps, especially Merlin Bird ID, this budding bird-watcher was on my way!
Today I know there is a difference between a bird-watcher and a birder. I also must admit I am officially now a “birder”. A birder is one who over-shadows most things in their life to go out and observe birds. Yes my goal this year is a checklist each day of the birds I observe, and to send via eBird to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. Another goal is trying to photograph as many birds as I can. My eyes are always wandering to check the sky, nearby plants, or places bird may perch or fly by. I have a life list of 386 birds seen since the start I made during the pandemic. A “birder” I am and also enjoy being with people who are bird-watchers. It is fun to share observations with the casual observers outdoors seeing a bird.
When I was an assistant guide for a Roads Scholar trip at the Grand Canyon, I met an 80 year old woman who wanted to be sure to see a California condor on our hiking trip. She had her binoculars and named every bird we were seeing on our hike. She also would send bird lists to the companies she was traveling with next in Central America and Africa. Now I truly understand, she was a “birder” and yes she did see a condor. Interestingly I have not added a California condor to my list yet because I have only listed birds since I started this endeavor. Hopefully I’ll see that bird again and be able to list it.
In another blog, I mentioned it took me days to find a yellow-billed loon. Another bird I searched for was a brant. I went to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in California and looked out on the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully I had sketched this bird so in my mind I had an idea of what it looked like. I saw what I thought were 2 brants flew by. I could not capture them in a photograph, but despite being so far away from me I did get a photo of them in the water! Birder success!!!!
No matter being a birdwatcher or a birder, take time to see the bird, watch what it is doing, marvel at its skills and beautiful look, and enjoy the moment! Relax … don’t worry about knowing its name … simply take a good look and see the bird. Enjoy!