Jamie Drake Do some bird watching Saturday
Even before I became an official outdoors writer with this newspaper, wild birds interested me.
A squirrel-proof birdfeeder was a housewarming gift from my dad when I got married and that bird feeder provided hours of entertainment for my family over the course of many years, until it finally wore out and had to be replaced. When my firstborn showed an interest in watching the birds at the feeder, I dusted off an old pair of binoculars and bought a basic color-coded bird guide so we could figure out exactly what we were looking at.
Truthfully, back then I knew only the most common birds like cardinals, goldfinches and robins. At first, almost every bird looked the same — small and brown. Their distinguishable features didn’t seem very distinguishable to my novice eyes, but over time I got better at identifying them and pretty soon could easily tell the difference between a tufted titmouse and a nuthatch.
When we participated in our first Great Backyard Bird Count, I confidently submitted our tally of birds online and then took a short quiz afterwards so the Audubon Society could assess the level of my identifying skills. That was a smart move by the Audubon Society because based on my quiz results, our submission was probably deemed unreliable. My confidence started to fizzle out after the third or fourth question. It was embarrassingly clear I didn’t know as much about birds as I thought I did, but a decade of practice has sharpened my skills quite a bit.
Lately I’ve been spending even more time than usual outdoors and I’ve seen all sorts of birds that I’ve never seen before. When the forsythia was blooming, a flock of cedar waxwings spent a several days eating the blossoms and some leftover holly berries in my neighbor’s yard.
On one rare sunny day this month, when I was planting tomatoes in our garden, I heard a cat meowing and turned around to see that the noise was coming from a catbird on a pole in our raspberry patch. And my excitement couldn’t be contained as I whooped and hollered for my 5-year-old daughter to come see the stunning male rose-breasted grosbeak eating mealworms at our feeder just last week.
A few years ago we got a movie from Netflix called “The Big Year.” It’s a pretty funny movie starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, who are amateur birdwatchers vying to be the top birder of the year. They race around North America, from British Columbia to Oregon to Attu Island, Alaska, trying to outwit and outmaneuver each other to rack up seeing the most bird species in a year. I’ll probably never get the chance to travel to remote places to do any serious birdwatching like the guys in the film, but this year is already shaping up to be my biggest one yet.
Maybe you are interested in the birds in your yard or have a youngster at home who would like to do some birdwatching with you. This upcoming weekend would be a great time to start. The Cornell Lab will be hosting its second ever Global Big Day on May 14. Over 6,000 different bird species were recorded worldwide last year.
It works the same way as the original GBBC that takes place in February every year. Birders pick a location and record the different types of birds seen and how many. Don’t recount the same chickadee that makes multiple trips back and forth from the feeder, just count it once. The amount of time you spend watching is also submitted with the tally. If you are feeling especially helpful, weather conditions are appreciated by the scientists compiling the results.
To participate and submit your observations, go to www.ebird.com. Personally, I’ve downloaded the ebird app on my phone,