Birds are often the focus of both Don Hendershot and George Ellison, and while it has provided me with knowledge of various bird species and their habits, it has never made clear to me why people bird —what exactly the attraction is.
Saturday, I stood in a parking lot in Highlands, shaking hands with several occasional birders, and a couple who go out a few times a week and are walking versions of a bird guidebook. They have a working knowledge of most birdcalls and can identify a species before I have even put binoculars up to my eyes.
As a journalist, I know a little about a lot of topics — some of which I can speak authoritatively on and others I don’t even try. I am always impressed when people seem to have a breadth of knowledge in one particular area.
The day in all was successful. We identified nearly 40 different kinds of birds, many of which we saw or heard before even leaving the parking lot.
A mourning dove, which I mistakenly thought was named for the time of day, perched on a power line. A red-eyed vireo, whose distinctive mark is a black line over its eye, moved from tree branch to tree branch.
We heard an eastern towhee, whose call is mnemonically pronounced as “drink your tea.” Though, admittedly, all I heard was noise, not the bird imploring us to enjoy a cup of tea. The one call I did pick up on is the eastern phoebe, whose song sounds exactly like its name. Though it seems somewhat self-centered for the bird to call out its own name, the call makes it easier for novices such as myself to ID it. If someone created a beginner birding bingo, the eastern phoebe would surely be on it.
When we couldn’t see the birds but heard them nearby, our group leader attempted to coax it out by playing the species’ call. Feeling territorial, the bird often came out of hiding to take a gander at the fellow bird flying so near its nesting area and gave us a good view of it.
During the first hour or so, different varieties of birds were easy to spot. Everyone was out singing and marking their territory before beginning work for the day. But as time moved on, we saw many of the same birds even though we changed locations hoping to find something new.
We added about eight birds to our tally at our second location. Our group leader bravely went down a hill to the nest of a turkey and scared the mother out of a bush where she likely guarded her young. The mother ran around making a ruckus and generally looking crazy and ridiculous in an effort to frighten off our leader.
I found that birding is like going to the zoo, except all the animals are playing hide and seek. People visit zoos to stare at all the exotic animals, but in nature, the animals are not caged, making it more challenging — and more rewarding — when a rare bird is found.
Around 11 a.m., we dispersed, realizing that most birds would be too busy gathering twigs for their nest or food for their fledglings. As the birds toiled away, I went home for a much-wanted nap.
I woke up later, hearing birds call. I hoped that osmosis would have kicked in on the trip, and I would be able to identify the type of bird singing outside my window. But all I could hear was quick succession of “twee twee twee twee twee tweet.”