I consider myself to be a casual birder. I grew up in a family of enthusiastic birders, drifted away from the hobby when I went away to college, and recently have become more interested again as an enhancement to my hikes. A few recent hikes have included so many bird sightings that I decided to write separate posts in addition to the regular post for selected hikes.
When I was in grade school my brother had scarlet fever. An important consequence was that he was confined to a comfortable chair in our living room all day for something like 6 weeks. My dad had the brilliant idea of putting up bird feeders just outside the windows. Birds were constantly coming and going, and did a great job of keeping my brother entertained. Not surprisingly, he quickly became the family expert.
The whole family ended up enjoying having feathered visitors, identifying them, keeping track of which species visited each day, and so on. We began to incorporate birding into Sunday afternoon excursions to local open space parks as well as family vacations. We eventually had enough pairs of binoculars that everyone could have a pair, and my dad added green felt donuts to all of them so that no one’s glasses got scratched. Though there were surely some contests among us kids to see who could spot something first and identify it, birding was quite a cooperative family enterprise.
We each had a copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds and diligently recorded our “life list” entries as we identified, usually by sight but sometimes only by hearing, new species. We had a couple of LP recordings of bird calls, which I remember listening to numerous times. I actually have three copies of Peterson’s guides, two of the Eastern/Central Guide and one of the Western. My dad devised book jackets made from sturdy but flexible plastic film, and my guides are still jacketed today. One of the Eastern Guides was already used when it became mine, and it shows its age. But it sports Peterson’s autograph, obtained when he gave a talk at the local Audubon Society chapter. We were all so excited to get our guides autographed by their famous and respected author! I must have gotten the other two guides later, since they are not autographed.
Most of my life list entries are dated ’64 and earlier, with a smattering of entries in the 70’s after I first moved to the west coast. After that I focused on other priorities, and I think the next new entry is in ’09. During that long period I didn’t pay specific attention to whether bird species I saw were new, and consequently didn’t note new life list entries, though there probably were some. That began to change in 2009 when I went hiking in Pinnacles National Monument and was lucky enough to see a couple of California condors – which I did add to my life list.
Today my birding opportunities are primarily associated with hikes, and my compact camera that has up to 48x zoom serves – sometimes well, sometimes not so well – as my binoculars. Typically I take pictures during a hike and sit down with my Peterson Guide afterward to do identifications. Sometimes my subjects cooperate and have struck good poses when the picture is captured, but the “hit rate” can be pretty low. I have had reasonable success, though, capturing enough of the right detail to make identifications. I also rely heavily on the wonderful Cornell University Ornithology Lab web site, which typically has several photos, song and call recordings, range maps, and references to similar species. In addition, the Search function is very useful.
When I go on a hike or outing with numerous bird encounters, I plan to write a short post, with photos as appropriate. I haven’t fully decided yet, but I may combine other encounters so that I can share bird-related experiences and pictures that I think are interesting. Stay tuned as my thinking evolves!