11 November 2007

Go Birding Again for the Very First Time

My wife had uploaded some of my photos from last weekend's visit to the pond near my parent's house onto her computer, and as I was looking at them I found some photos from my first two days being a birder. Hard to believe what it was like when I first began, even though it was only last Christmas! Some people have their spark birds that get them started--I had a book. A few weeks before Christmas my father bought a Peterson field guide (who buys themselves things a few weeks before Christmas? Answer: my father). I started leafing through it and realized how much I would enjoy birding. Considering my lineage, it's shocking that I hadn't picked it up before. My paternal grandmother, whose house I spent a good portion of my childhood days in (right next door to the house I grew up in), kept diaries filled with the lists of birds that came to her window feeder. My maternal grandfather had me fill each one of his birdfeeders whenever I visited (I didn't really mind): one with corn, one with sunflower seeds, and one with a songbird blend. His brother is also a long-standing member of the Mass. Audubon Society. It's a shame neither of my grandparents lived to see me take up birding, it would've been nice to hear their stories.

So a few weeks before last Xmas I started thinking a) I'm sedentary, b) I always wanted to be the guy in the group that when someone asked "What was that that just flew overhead?" I'd know the answer, and c) whenever I went for a walk on a trail or around a reserve, I never felt like I was doing anything. So that was it. To the top of my list went the Peterson field guide, which I (expectedly) got when we went down to Florida to Kellie's folks' for the holidays.

Cattle Egret and a horse, just chillin'

As an aside, let me tell you that Florida is a wonderful place to start birding. The day after Christmas I was off. I borrowed Kellie's digital camera (no binoculars yet) and trotted off down the road to sees what I could sees. In some ways I miss that day, walking to the next yard, saying "Wow cool." taking a photo, and going onward, not really stopping to determine any behavior or looking for specific field marks. Mostly I'm kicking myself for not spending longer looking at the Glossy Ibis and Sandhill Cranes. But it was still great. Ahh, to have each bird be the first again!

Things wouldn't really kick off for me until I permanently borrowed some binoculars from my parents, but those first days were fun. The camera was useful because it kept a record of the field marks I didn't know I was supposed to look for, like the legs of the Great Egrets at Wall Springs Park.

Here's a good look at the feet, so you get all three important field marks at once: bill, legs, and feet. Herons and egrets are great birds to start out on because they forage slowly, are large enough to see with the naked eye if need be, and are wonderful introductions to identification by field mark. If I were confronted with a sparrow, I would have been flipping through Peterson and by the time I looked up to look for the streaking pattern it would most likely be gone. No, if you can, look for wading birds and male ducks, in my opinion. They'll start you off right.

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