[mou] Satisfying Birding Experience (long, maybe too long)

Steve Weston sweston2 at comcast.net
Sun Jan 27 12:20:30 CST 2008

I have had so many rich experiences, I will try to touch upon a few.

While birding in northern Minnesota in an area that I had never been, I left 
the car by the side of the road to follow a trail into the woods.  The 
trail, apparantly used by local duck hunters and perhaps fishermen, ended at 
a marsh.  I had to crouch under a bush to view the marsh.  I pish to call 
something out of the reeds, but I only attracted forest birds.  Turning 
around I pished in about a dozen birds, mostly warblers, all conversing 
intimately with me from the bush under which I sat only four to ten feet 
from them.

Even better are the experiences that are shared.  Birding with a stranger on 
a fall warbler day, I pished, held out my hand and a chickadee landed.  Then 
there is the time I brought a friend out to find a Prothonatary Warbler, 
which he had never seen.  We went out to a pond with dead trees in the water 
by a railroad track.  It was quiet.  Figuring that the Prothonatary, a 
cavity nester, would be antagonistic to a Screech Owl, I whistled its call, 
and a bright drop of sunshine flew in to a tree twenty feet away.  It gave 
us a long examination, before flying off.  I don't think either of us 
brought our binocs up.

Sometimes the experience is remote to the birds.  I love taking kids out 
birding.  I teach interactive birding.  Bird watching is fine, but talking 
with the birds is far more interesting.  There are few birding experiences 
more satisfying than having a young scout introduce me to his friends, as 
"Bird Guy" or something like that, and show me that in the last year he has 
been practicing pishing.   Anytime I can infect someone with the birding bug 
is rewarding.  I remember on a Christmas Bird Count three years ago taking a 
couple of high school students with us.  their science teacher recruited 
them by promising extra credit for participants.  I always start the day on 
this count by heading to a park.  As we pulled up to the entrance, I spotted 
a pigeon sitting at the peak of the silo at the farmstead, now park 
headquarters.  Training my binocs on the bird, I realized it was a hawk, and 
I suspected that it was the Gyrfalcon that had been hanging around the area. 
Everyone got a good look through the scope and a better look as it flew by 
at eye-level  not fifty feet away.  With almost our first bird the day was 
already monumental. We threw the scope back in the car headed into the park. 
We then grabbed the scope and headed  to the bluff to scan the Mississippi. 
The river was teaming with waterfowl with gulls and eagles as spectators 
along the ice.  A quick scan and I found an atypical gull with no black on 
the wingtips.  Everyone got a good, though distant, view of a pure white 
Iceland Gull.  In their first hour of birding they had gotten two of the 
most desirable birds in North America.  Later the teacher reported back to 
me on their excitement.

Oh, there are so many more...  the call of a loon at night, the Saw-whet Owl 
that answered my whistle when I took the garbage out in  a snow storm, the 
nesting Great-horned Owl with its four young, the Hummingbird on a nest, the 
twelve species of hummers swirling around as I sat trying to sort them out, 
too many warbler and not enough eyes, finding a Piping Plover in the pond in 
the industrial area.

It is too nice out to be typing and I hear my binoculars calling.

Steve Weston on Quiggley Lake in Eagan, MN
sweston2 at comcast.net

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