Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Beginner Birding

I think I'm a beginner bird nerd!

Of course, I come by it naturally.  I heard my dad's duck calls for all of my childhood, both his and the ones on the records and tapes he listened to.  Decoys hung from the rafters of the garage and there was a lot of camo (he spent weeks designing and painting his own camo on an aluminum boat in our driveway); and yes, there were guns and even his own shell-loading machine.  We didn't eat duck much that I recall (and never goose); I think he often gave it away.  But there was that time I found the frozen duck, fully feathered, in the freezer . . . but I won't dwell on his hunting days.

Now, of course, he is an avid naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, and bird watcher, mostly waterfowl.  He has built a wildlife refuge in central Texas, protecting the wood ducks, for which he maintains a lovely pond (without the help of the local beavers.)  He keeps a log of his birds, and takes photos and videos of ducks.  When he visits up here, he checks out the local ponds--he found the special birder spot long before I did.  He belongs to all sorts of organizations--Audubon, Sierra Club, etc.--and worries about the future of the planet, as he watches bird migration patterns change.

And when I was young, I was definitely not interested in bird calls or camo and especially not in hunting. More recently, we've shared environmental concerns.  And then Mama and the kids and I became really interested in birds of prey.  I'd always liked the birds of prey show at the Renaissance Fairs; that was our gateway.  Then, as you know, we took a falconry lesson in England--wow!  And we saw  the Snowy Owl (one of them) that played Hedwig in Harry Potter.  And Mama and I went on a Saw Whet Owl banding excursion on Block Island.  And now, finally, a Snowy Owl has come to town.  And I've been looking for it.   I guess all those childhood influences will out.

As you know, we actually saw it last week, the kids and I, a tiny white speck on a log on the horizon. It was exciting, but I've wanted to see it again.  Sunday we took Goo to the special birding spot and saw a group of birders huddling, always a good sign.  And there, out on the breakwater, far far away, we thought we saw the owl.  We looked with scope and binoculars and all agreed.  Until a man with a bigger scope came and proved it was just a rock.  Such a disappointment.   But he was nice about it, didn't mean to burst bubbles, just wanted to make sure the reporting of the owl was accurate (all the birders seem to record their findings for scientists.)

Yesterday, I went out looking.  I saw a swan and some gulls and some ducks; I'm not great at identifying ducks yet--though, after a lifetime of hearing about ducks, I can at least recognize Mr. and Mrs. Mallard!   I had a nice talk with a birder (always identifiable by scope or at least binoculars, usually both)--a firefighter who drives home by way of local birding spots--and he had some great suggestions (eBird to report sightings and Merlin from Cornell Labs for bird identifications--it asks 5 questions and narrows down what you could be looking at and shows pictures!) and helped me identify some Snow Buntings and American Tree Sparrows, both apparently uncommon. All the birders I've met so far have been nice--from the first one we talked to who said she's a birder who looks for other birders because they know where the birds are (and that's how we saw the owl!), to those who have shared their scopes with higher resolution than my binoculars so we can see to the firefighter with the apps and help.  After we talked, it started to rain and I left.   And apparently, quite literally minutes later, the owl was chased around the breakwater by some gulls and some birders got great photos.  I hope the birder saw it.   I think the owl is teasing me.  But I'll go looking again today.  There's not much time left; as it gets warmer the bird will head back to the Arctic.

I tend to like these big, impressive birds of prey.  Hawks, eagles, owls.   I'm not sure I can usually get excited about sparrows and warblers and such.  I guess people specialize, like Pop likes ducks.    Who knows, maybe I'll expand.  We'll see if I go out in summer.  It's a good walk and a non-impact sport, as Pop says, and it gives us something to talk about besides Drumpf and the election, which is almost as depressing as climate change and the like (and certain to have long-lasting repercussions on the environment.)

And so I leave you with this video (because I'm heading out to the birding spot!),  "Sh*t Birders Say," which I find funny, having heard my dad talk like this for years.  Now I'm starting to as well.  See, beginner bird nerd.

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