Tuesday, May 30, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Beginners flock to Birding 101 to learn basics

Special to the Homer News

It’s like being left out at recess. Everyone is busy doing something: Spinning around on that thing that makes you dizzy, playing 4-square or pushing each other on the swing. And there you are. Watching everyone else have fun. For non-birders, the Shorebird Festival may bring back those memories of being on the outside. But, how can you join in, or get excited about, something you know nothing about?

If the grade school tour around Gull Island didn’t pique your interest in birds, this class might.

9 a.m., more than 30 people gather in the high school choir room for their first lesson. The rest of the birders are out —birding. Karla Hart, Juneau’s Watchable Wildlife Program Coordinator, is the instructor. She waits for people to file in and choose which blue plastic seat they want to spend the next two hours in. Then, it begins.

Hart introduces herself and explains why she is well-qualified to teach a class to people who have never learned how to bird. Reason: She says she isn’t a very good birder, and besides, she’s not a morning person.

After her cheerful introduction Hart asks her first question: How many people consider themselves a birder? No one raises their hand.

“It isn’t some secret society or club,” Hart reassures the class. “You can bird anywhere.”

No response.

So Hart begins to tell the class why birding really is fun. Or how it can be fun.

“Birding is a lifelong pursuit,” she says. “Birding is something you should never stop learning.”

“You can start at one or 60 or 70.” At that nearly the entire class laughs. Most of them fit the older description.

Hart continues to lure the class. It’s relatively inexpensive she says. All you need to get started is a field guide and a pair of binoculars.

She pulls a stack of field guides from a desk. Different people have different tastes in guides, she says. Sometimes drawings of birds are easier for beginners to identify than photographs. Also, it’s a good idea to start with a field guide that is specific to the area, she says. That helps to eliminate all the birds that aren’t. Which could save new birders some time, because there are more than 10,000 species of birds in the world. Hart tells the class that there are “bird chasers,” people who try to see all the species.

One more reason why birding is a good hobby. You can do it anywhere. On vacation or sitting at home watching your bird feeder. Just remember to get a guide specific to the area if you’re traveling.

Now it’s time to see what the class knows about identifying birds. Hart pulls out a stack of pictures and holds the first one up in the air and asks the class to say what it is.

“Puffin!” everyone calls out.

The puffin is followed by a hummingbird, cardinal, toucan, owl, duck, flamingo, ostrich and parrot.

There is a bit of confidence growing in the class. Those were easy.

“I thought you guys just said you weren’t birders,” Hart says with a grin.

There are sheepish laughs from the class.

As you learn the familiar birds really well, Hart tells the class, it will make you more observant and teach you what to look for when you don’t recognize a bird.

Hart begins to quiz the class on how they recognized the birds in the pictures she held up. The shape of the bird’s body, beak and feet are clues about where to look in a field guide. Hart explains that field guides are organized by the type of bird.

“For the Shorebird Festival you’re going to be wearing out the first quarter of your guide,” she says.

Now it’s time for the class to try out their field guides and bird identification skills. Hart reaches into a bag and begins to pull out small, stuffed birds. She suggests that people work in teams and swap guides if they need to. Almost 15 stuffed toys fly out into the class. When squeezed, they mimic the call of the bird they replicate. To make the identification easier, Hart also passes out a list. She promises that all of the stuffed birds are on the list. The class just has to write the number on the bird’s tag next to the name on the list. Simple.

The next half hour is spent flipping through field guides. The birds to be passed along the fastest are a bald eagle and robin. Others take more time, like the Smith’s longspur and hermit thrush.

As she collects the stuffed birds Hart warns the class that in real life they won’t be able to hold the bird and squeeze it to make it talk. When watching a bird that is new, Hart advises the class to not rush straight to their field guides. Spend time watching it, how it moves, what it eats and if it has any distinctive markings. She says that it is a common mistake of beginning birders to think they have discovered a new or rare bird.

As the hands on the clock near 11, Hart gives some final advice to the class.

“If you only go with the good birders, it’s easy to become a lazy birder.”

She says that beginning birders should go with people of their own level. That way they are challenged to figure out birds for themselves.

“Don’t expect to identify every bird that you see,” she adds.

“Make it easy and fun for yourself.”

A final note on birding etiquette — always put the binocular strap around your neck when borrowing a pair from another birder — and class is over.

No more feeling left out. No secret club. Just a field guide and a pair of binoculars. Bring on the birds.


Blogger google nut said...

I just happened upon your blog and it's proven to be quite interesting. I run a garden statue website at http://www.bigchimes.com and I have some deals you may find interesting this spring. I will return often to your blog and check out your new posts. Good luck and keep it going!

7:39 AM  
Blogger Chris Moonbeams said...

Hi, I was surfing the internet and happened on your blog. I'm quite impressed , with how this all works. This is one to watch.

Best wishes,

binoculars and birding

2:02 AM  

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