Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Today was an exciting day in my birding life.  I am doing undergraduate research in the ornithology lab and this morning they sent me out to check on bird feeders they had set up.  They are running experiments on House Finches in Southwest Virginia and needed to ascertain how many were visiting their feeders.  We went to 4 feeders for about 10-15 minutes each.  One was by the President's house on campus near a shrubby retention basin.  Incidentally, it appears the President likes birds, as he has about 4 bird feeders set up on his balcony that were attracting the majority of the birds we saw this morning.  The only House Finches we saw all day were at his feeder along with some Carolina Wrens, Titmice, etc.

The next feeder we checked was at the pond near the vet school.  It was on the opposite bank and was entirely abandoned, despite being chock full of delicious sunflower seeds.  I scanned the water, searching among the Mallards for something interesting.  There was a regal Great Blue Heron resting in the shallows and then my eye caught a black shape gliding among the Mallards.  At first I wrote it off as a Muscovy duck since that is the only black waterfowl I've seen around these parts, but upon closer inspection I realized it was an American Coot!  I've never seen one before, and it always excites me when I can identify a new bird without having to use a field guide.  We watched the Coot bathe in the pond for several minutes before it hopped up onto the bank, giving us a nice display of its yellow legs.  A truly marvelous find indeed!  Even though they're not incredibly rare, I haven't had a life bird in quite awhile and this made my morning.

Not my photo. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_coot/id

What made it even more satisfying, however, was the group of birders who happened to walk up the path right at that moment.  There were about 7 elderly ladies with binoculars walking towards me, so naturally I ran over to them to tell them the exciting news.  They seemed glad to see the bird and I was happy to share this moment with other birders who would appreciate it.  I couldn't stay though because we had 3 more feeders to get to.

Even though the House Finches were sparse, the morning was fairly birdy and it was a lovely time to be outside.  We saw a Flicker, a RB Woodpecker, some Nuthatches, Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Fall sparrows galore.  The White-Throated Sparrows serenaded us as we traveled from feeder to feeder with "OH SWEET CANADA CANADA CANADA."  It was a wonderful way to start my day and a wonderful experience sharing the joys of birding with others.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Why is that girl staring at a tree?"

This, I think, is what many people must think to themselves as they pass by me throughout the day.  On any average day, I usually stop about 5-10 times to search for or examine birds.  This might not seem like an entirely large number, but you must keep in mind that these stops are almost always in between classes on a campus with over 20,000 students.  It always seems that the most interesting birds pick the most populated places to stop and do something intriguing.  I am certain I have received more than one odd look as I stare up at a tree, circling beneath and more often than not sneezing because the sun is in my eyes. I have come to the realization, however, that I really do not care.  Unlike most of my college-aged peers, I've lost the ability to care if people are judging me for doing what I love.  If anyone ever asks me what I'm doing, I simply look at it as an opportunity to get someone else interested in birding.  I have gone past the quirky level and succeeded in becoming that obsessive bird girl, and I don't care who knows it.  I've tried getting a group of Wildlife Society members together to go see The Big Year tomorrow, but unfortunately no one seems to really care.  I'll keep working though, don't you worry your pretty little face.

In other news, today in my Principles of Fisheries and Wildlife class we talked about human dimensions in wildlife management and birding was used as an example several times.  The professor brought up a point that has stuck with me all day.  What is it that makes a birding experience good?  What motivates people to get involved in an expensive, time-consuming hobby such as birding?  Is it seeing many species in one day?  Is it seeing your favorite bird, even though you've seen it countless times before?  Is it the solitude of your favorite birding patch?  Is it socializing with other birders in your area or learning from well-respected birders in your community?  I think it's a culmination of these things, and this lecture made me want to take a moment to just appreciate all the wonderful aspects of the birding lifestyle.  I think one of my favorite things about birding is that you can do it all the time.  I'm birding all day as I walk from class to class.  I see warblers among the willows and mallards in the Duck Pond, and Red-Tailed Hawks getting mobbed by crows as I walk across the Drillfield, and it always seems to give me an instant boost to get me through a busy day.  I detest being late for class, but on several occasions I have lost track of time while simply watching a Carolina Wren hop among some branches.  I can constantly be quizzing myself on bird calls when I hear them, and more times than I can count I have texted myself some syllables hoping to try to look up an unknown bird call later online.  Birding has become what occupies my mind in moments of dullness (i.e. when I should be paying attention in Evolutionary Bio) and what motivates me to do more, be more, and see more.

I just wanted to share with you all my joy and love for the world of birding, and make it known that I am happy to be a part of it.  Good birding my friends, and may you make the most of the time that is offered to you.