Be still. Look. Listen.
Amazing birds are all around us–even in urban settings–if we just take the time to stop and notice them.
And a strange phenomenon seems to occur when we focus in on birds, it feels as though we shift into a new paradigm–a secret avian world that rekindles the awe of childhood discoveries.
So how do we access this transformative world?
The first step is to find the birds, and the majority of them seem to be most active in the early morn.
But if you’re like me and don’t always enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn, you can also find them throughout the mid-morning or late afternoons to early evening as they search for a snack before roosting. If you enjoy “hawk-watching”, many raptors can be found hunting during the day, and you can find nocturnal birds like nighthawks and owls in the early to late evening.
I took the photo below of this adorable, sleepy, juvenile Great Horned Owl around 4:30 pm at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Harney County, Oregon.
There are many wonderful places to go birding such as your local wetlands and wildlife sanctuaries, but I also HIGHLY recommend checking out the amazing national wildlife refuges (don’t forget your binoculars and spotting scopes if you have one). If you are 62 or older, you can get a parks pass that costs $10 for a lifetime and will get you into all National Parks including wildlife refuges for free after the initial cost. Make sure you still fill out a payment envelope at the NWRs because the refuges get funding based on number of visitors.
If you are in Oregon, there’s a wonderful online birding map called the Oregon Birding Site Guide that breaks down the birds and hotspots by county. Brilliant!
Greg Gillson, at the Bird Guide, has a great resource page of Site Guides for Oregon plus other handy resources.
After finding the birds, you need to be able to identify them. There are many guidebooks that will help you, but it’s also very helpful to learn what you can from the pros and other seasoned birders then take your new knowledge out to the field to practice on your own.
I recommend going on both the free and fee based local Audubon trips then heading out on your own personal outings to field test what you learned. I am not much of a joiner, but I’m grateful for the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Audubon leaders from my local Portland chapter. And it’s a blast sharing info and stories with other dedicated birders.
Audubon has everything you need for birding: trips, classes, birding gear (the Audubon Nature Store volunteer went out of her way to assist me with choosing a pair of binoculars). Make sure you join and support your local Audubon. As a member, you will get an added bonus of a discount on all that Audubon offers including gear, cool trips and classes.
If you live in or near Portland, Oregon, or are coming to visit check out the amazing book Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine edited by Mike Houck and M. J. Cody for great walks, bike rides or paddles through the magnificent nature spots in and around the city.
Don’t think you have enough time to bird? Just know that you can observe birds while taking a short stroll through your neighborhood or local park. Some of the easiest close-up views and photos are taken at parks where the usually shy birds have gotten acclimated to humans.
If you have a backyard, you have the perfect opportunity to support birds who are rapidly losing their habits by creating a bird sanctuary. You can also check Audubon for ways to get certified through their Backyard Habitat Birding Certification Program. This is a wonderful way to protect birds while enjoying birding in your jammies.
Even though I’ve never birded with as much dedication as I am now, birds have always been a natural part of my life. My parents had a small farm that was located in a mountainous, park-like setting. I had the honor of hanging out with cool birds and other “wild things” when I was a kid running free in the redwood groves, grassy hills, and orchards near Santa Cruz, California. Sometimes, I would haul out my grandfather’s huge and heavy field binoculars (he was a geologist with the Santa Fe Railroad) and spy on woodpeckers, Steller’s Jays, and hummingbirds through the window.
While teaching at a high school in the redwood forests of Aptos, California, I had frequent encounters with birds that hung around the classroom: American Crows that cawed from the hallway railings and interrupted class, Dark-eyed Juncos that hopped in and ate lunch bag crumbs off the floor, and the California Quail that raced to and fro in front of cars and buses.
The local beaches close by were filled with a fascinating but confounding array of shorebirds and flocks of Brown Pelicans, and the wetlands were crawling with the sinuous white shapes of Great and Snowy Egrets.
Now, from my home base in Portland, Oregon, I’m actively birding in the beautiful Pacific Northwest whenever I get the opportunity.
Slow & meandering birding is pretty much my thing, and I try to keep my focus on one main thing in the field: respect for all living things even when I’m getting visual confirmation by taking photographs or videotaping. I also strongly believe that birding should go hand in hand with conservation, preservation and education. One way to do that is to join and support your local Audubon chapter and other conservation groups as well such as the American Birding Association and the Nature Conservancy.
Like many birders, even if I’m slow birding, I still get a big kick out of seeing how many birds I can identify on a Big Day or experiencing the elation of identifying some lifers, rares and target birds. But in my opinion, every bird is special including those that are common or introduced.
Remember every bird counts: Be a “citizen scientist” and submit your observations on eBird developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Even if it’s only one bird, go ahead and report it. This information is useful to birders, scientists, conservationists and others.
And if you spot a rare, eBird alerts other local birders, so they can find and enjoy the bird as well. You can also post your rare birds observations on your state’s birding listservs. In Oregon, we have several but OBOL is the main one. TWEETERS is a great one for Washington birds.
Your birding equipment does not need to break the bank. A good pair of binoculars (buy them from your local Audubon. The Portland chapter made my bino purchase a delight and the profits go back to the birds). A point and shoot camera and an iPod Touch for easy bird and bird song identification apps can be found on eBay at fairly cheap prices. But if you already have a phone that allows you to download apps, you don’t need an iPod.
All the photos and videos (unless otherwise noted) in this blog were taken and recorded by me with my Canon Powershot SX 40 HS. With this cool camera, I am able to get close up shots and videos from respectful distances because of its amazing zoom capability.
If you keep your eye, out you might be able to find a reasonable spotting scope on sale locally or on the internet. Your local Audubon also sells great scopes. Audubon related outings often have leaders and other birders who kindly bring along their scopes for a close-up peek of some magnificent birds.
But really all you need to get started is a good pair of binoculars that match up to your eyes and a solid bird identification book. I found some great guides by checking them out first from the local library and then only buying used versions of the ones that really worked for me.
And most remarkably, anyone can bird blissfully with a pair of decent binos, tenacious patience and dedicated passion.
So Happy Slow Birding!
Meadowlarks by Sarah Teasdale
In the silver light after a storm,
Under dripping boughs of bright new green,
I take the low path to hear the meadowlarks
Alone and high-hearted as if I were a queen.
What have I to fear in life or death
Who have known three things: the kiss in the night,
The white flying joy when a song is born,
And meadowlarks whistling in silver light.