Last year I decided to delve into the art of birding a little more deeply.
I have always loved spotting birds in the wild and trying to figure out what they are, but I never took the time to investigate much further than my own limited knowledge and the knowledge of those around me.
All that changed when I downloaded the Merlin Bird ID app a few years ago. This app asks you a series of questions to help you identify the bird you spotted. It is easily accessible right on your phone, and very, very simple. My kids love using it to ID a bird we pass on the highway or a bird we hear in the woods. This app made me fall in love with birding and made me want more. I wanted to see more birds. Know more about the range of the Red-Headed Woodpecker. Know which duck was swimming along the shore…… My love of birds and discovery was bubbling to the surface.
I soon found that the amount of information about birds and birding is endless. Facebook groups, local and national birding societies and clubs, field guides, apps to help you identify birds and apps to help you record those bird sightings and contribute to citizen science! I found a couple of field guides that worked well for our family, an inexpensive pair of binoculars, and a perfect bag (with Gwen Frostic’s Michigan mitten sewn on the front) to stow it all away in.
My next discovery was the American Birding Association’s Checklist for birds in North America. I watched the movie The Big Year a while ago and now it came to life for me seeing how the main characters checked the different bird species off their list for the year. (The movie follows three men who are competing for the most species seen in a year. It is a very fun movie and gives a great glimpse of North American birds!) I decided to start a life list with the birds I had seen in the past year that I had pictures of, and remembered the exact day and location of the sighting. If I was unsure of the place, time, or was not 100% certain of the ID, I would not include it on my list. Some birds I know I have seen, like the Common Loon that was always on the lake at my great Aunt and Uncle’s cabin, but I did not include them because I am unsure of the dates, and honestly it will be great to search for them again.
I started my list slowly and added some great birds we had a chance to spot on our vacation at Houghton Lake. The Pileated Woodpecker, Red-Headed Woodpecker and Northern Flicker were all spotted and photographed on an afternoon walk. Our backyard birds brought the count higher and an afternoon at Michigan State University added a Baltimore Oriole and an Albino American Robin to the list.
In the fall I had the opportunity to join my husband on his work trip to Las Vegas. I am not really into the gambling, shopping or party scene of Las Vegas, but I was so excited to get out exploring for some fantastic western and desert bird species! While my husband attended the conference, I hopped in a rental car and drove to the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Red Rock Canyon, Death Valley, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the Clark County Wetlands Park. I added about 30 birds to my life list in those three days. I am sure I will share more about that trip soon.
One thing I came to realize is how birds can quickly become invisible if you are not paying attention or don’t know what to look for. I wonder how many amazing birds I have passed by because I was just not really looking. We are so used to seeing and hearing them, that we can miss the sweet subtlety of spring migration or a bird we have never seen before staring us in the face. I treasure time when I can learn from and walk with another birder. They see more than I do because they know exactly what to look for and they use the sounds as clues to the next discovery.
About a week ago I noticed I was inching closer to 100 birds on my life list. A fellow birder on Facebook mentioned that there were a few sightings of Long-Eared and Short-Eared Owls at the Maple River State Game Area that I should check out the next time I passed through. Sunday morning the kids and I headed out of town for a party and made a stop at Maple River a priority.
It took us a little searching and a lot of shushing, until we accidentally spooked a Northern Harrier (#100) and a Long-Eared Owl (#101). I even added another sweet bird, the American Tree Sparrow (#102) to the list! Our kids are up to 59 on their life lists, and my son wants so badly to catch up with me. I can’t wait to see what bird #200 is.
Talk to you soon!