I received a phone call this week from a friend in Portland. She asked, “Is this a good time to talk?” I said, “Sure, I’m just about to go on a hike.” Then, I stopped myself and chuckled, do you actually “hike” when you’re in Florida, the flattest state in our nation?
Well, these hikes may not be the most vigorous around, but they are still new territory for me.
Other new territory for me is birding.
So you may think me a bit of a bird brain when I share my fun this week: I volunteered for Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. It’s the Audubon’s 117th year they’ve collected bird-count-data from volunteers. Luckily, they require experienced volunteers, so we got to buddy-up with two experienced volunteers who are zoologists for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. From 6 o’clock in the morning, to 6 o’clock in the evening, we scoured our zone for as many flying, chirping, digging, singing, swimming, soaring birds we could find and identify – that’s where the “experienced” part is critical.
I knew we were in for a big day the moment I stepped out of the car. Our birder-team pulls out a tripod, a speaker, binoculars, then suddenly stop sharply with an “ah ha” finger to the air and said “there’s a Limpkin”, it’s unmistakeable scream now embedded in my ears. . .then out came a scope, a field guide, maps, clipboard and pens. Whoa, I’m wiping sleep from my eyes, and these folks are all in.
Then, the sun came up.
I could take my first glance at the clipboard – it’s a list of birds, covering almost half the page. I could’ve sworn I saw maybe three birds. These gals are good.
OK, it’s just about 8:00 a.m. and stop number one is under our belt. Woody & I are getting a better feel for what we’re doing: we can point.
As silly as it sounds, I actually think it helped. They identify. I would point and say, “There’s a duck! Oops, he just went under the water. . .” And you know what, “duck” doesn’t cut the mustard. Was it a Wood Duck, a Grebe, a Coot, a Mallard? Soon we become eager pupils. Testing our knowledge by pointing and attempting to identify.
“That’s a Pine Warbler.”
No, it’s a Palm Warbler – I’m thinking, then what the heck is he doing in that pine tree? Quickly we learn birds can have overlapping characteristics, one species may have several different songs, some showoff, some are timid. You can count a bird when you recognize its call, or its shadowy shape.
We were introduced to Gnatcatchers, Catbirds, Yellow Rumps (another warbler), Prairie Warblers,
Kinglets, a Snipe, Towhees and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers
I can’t tell you how long it would feel, standing still, staring at a bush, seeing it shake and stir, without even seeing what was creating the commotion.
As the sun went down, we wrapped up. Our experienced birders had a difficult time stopping, and drove from our last park very slowly, with the speakers making a stuttering sound from the rolled down windows. Answering the call, clambering from an oak tree, to fly overhead – to our surprise & joy – one more species to add to the list: two Great Horned Owls.
We counted 57 different species all together. Folks from 11 different zones gather, eat, and share their findings. We’re dirty, tired and simultaneously enthusiastic, we have learned a new hobby.
I hope I won’t be too late, but (in my best Ralphie voice) I’ll be asking Santa for an official Polaris Optics Spectator 8X32 Compact Bird Watching Binoculars for Christmas.