Often we hear a bird, but do not ever see it, cleverly concealed in the tree leaves, or tall grass. My advice: Learn the songs of the birds in your area. Even better, learn the songs of the birds in your country.
Like many birders, at one point, I reached a plateau and only added to my list by traveling to new areas. It was only when I really committed to learning the birds’ songs did I find myself at an entirely different level of birding. I started with the Peterson’s audiocassettes and graduated to CDs, which allow me to jump quickly to the species I want to listen to. Now I use the Audubon Birds Pro app on my Google Pixel phone, which has a number of terrific features, one of which is the “Voice” tab. I recommend it.
I have a keen sense of hearing and I put this to good use in my birding life. Now, as I go about my day, working in my house or yard, I often simply listen and don’t stop what I’m doing to find my binoculars and the bird. I can picture in my mind the bird I’m hearing. I also use Merlin and eBird and on and on. I enjoy getting together with fellow birders and sharing the knowledge and stories, wherever I live and travel. Birding hotspots are aptly named.
In my 50 years of birding, I’ve learned the most important thing is just getting out there, being where the birds are — with a good book. I started with the Golden Field Guide from St. Martin’s Press and gift from a colleague in a library (where we all talked about books and birds and such). Each time I found a new bird, I made a checkmark next to the picture and a notation about the date and location, and I’m very glad that I did this. One of my great joys is paging through my guide, spotting a date and location, closing my eyes and reliving that moment. Don’t be afraid to mar your field guide. Go ahead and baptize it with the coffee that fuels those early morning forays. Pay attention to respected sources and friends. Be open to learning new things and don’t get stuck on being an expert. Acknowledge that I am no ornithologist but a passionate lifelong birder.
I agree with my friend, Terry. It’s the singing. Dawn and Dusk. One day in Big Bend National Park, birding with my friend, Valerie Naylor, a former Big Bend ranger, we squeezed in one last short hike before sunset, on a trail in the Chisos Mountains. I heard a bird that was unknown to me. Valerie was up the trail ahead of me, so she didn’t hear it. Earlier that week, we had birded with famous West Texas birding guide Mark Flippo. So over dinner at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, we called Flippo on a pay phone and left him a voicemail in which I imitated the call I’d heard. Later he called us back and told me I’d done a perfect imitation of the Black-Crested subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse. I counted that as a first “sighting!” Does hearing, but not seeing, count as a “sighting?” I say, “Yes!” Or at least I did on that day.
“Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world was meant to be celebrated.” — Terry Tempest Williams, “When Women Were Birds”
NEW ZICK DOUGH: SMALL BATCH
Melt in the microwave and stir together 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup lard.
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups chick starter, 2 cups quick oats, 1 cup yellow cornmeal and 1 cup flour. Add melted lard/peanut butter mixture to the combined dry ingredients and mix well. (http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2010/03/zick-dough-improved.html)
Must go now and fill the bird feeders at Red Oak House and get some household chores finished on this sunny winter morning.