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The birding arts: observation and listening

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By Sylvia Brockner

People often ask me how I happen to see so many more birds and animals than they do.

They often say that they at least drive into downtown Evergreen every day, sometimes more than that, and they don’t see half as many things as I do.

I usually reply to this that birders are made by learning the art of observation. I am not as good an observer as my late husband Bill was. He began birding the minute he woke up. Many days he had the first bird on his daily list before he got out of bed by looking out the bedroom window.

He usually had 10 birds on his day’s list before he left the house by checking those at the feeders and several more just driving down the driveway. His eyes moved constantly and he was always aware of any movement.

If he saw a bird like a hawk perched on a utility pole, he would pull off the road as soon as he safely could so that he could observe it more closely with his binoculars. Bill also had an excellent ear and listened for bird song.

Just hearing a bird sing makes it easier to locate it, but Bill also could tell most of them by song. I have never had that good an ear and frequently could not tell the difference between similar songs. There are many good recordings now available if you are interested in trying to learn bird songs.

When birding with a group or on a field trip, the leader will do his best to see that everyone gets an opportunity to see the birds they locate. When with a group, common courtesy is necessary. Idle chatter is frowned upon as it makes it difficult for others to hear the leader and may frighten the bird.

Most leaders will help you locate the bird by saying something on the order of, “It’s in the ponderosa at 10 o’clock.” This may be amended since there may be 35 ponderosa pines right in front of you to include some clues as to which particular ponderosa he means and the time gives you some idea of where to look in the tree.

If you don’t know the common trees, you should, so maybe your next purchase should be a tree guide. We only have three major trees here, the ponderosa pine, the blue spruce and the Douglas fir. There are occasionally narrow-leaf cottonwoods, plains cottonwoods or willows along our streams that shouldn’t be too difficult to start with, and birding may teach you a few more.

Practice this with a birding friend: watch a bird at your feeder. When it flies, tell your friend, “It landed in the Douglas fir at about 10 o’clock,” and you may want to add, “It is feeding about half way between the tip of the branch and the trunk” or “It’s moved in close to the trunk and is hiding behind a little branch.”

If a soaring hawk is seen, it is the same type of guidance that is used: “It is circling in the blue sky above the water tank” or some other skyline object. And then switch around and let your friend give you guidance.

At Hawk Mountain, everyone knows the peaks of Kittatiny Ridge that you see from the north lookout, so you will hear someone say, “There’s an eagle over one,” or perhaps it will be, “A kettle of broadtails over three.” Then you can pick them up with your binoculars and watch them as they fly nearer and nearer as they follow the currents of air along the ridge.

Birding is not difficult unless the terrain is steep. Listen to your leader. He or she will try to get everyone a chance to see the birds. Most leaders will ask you not to go ahead of him, or let your dog or children run ahead. This frightens the birds, so you probably won’t see much. Many advise no pointing as this movement also startles the birds.

Really, birders have very good times and there’s plenty of talk and merriment when they get back to the car. How to bird just boils down to good manners. Birders like to share their hobby and want everyone to see all the “good” birds.

If you were rained out on the June Weed Day at the lake, there will be another week:

Wake up and Weed will be at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, at Evergreen Lake. Brunch will be served at 10 a.m. The event is sponsored by the Community Weed Awareness Campaign. Come join us. It doesn’t usually rain before noon.