Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.
A lot of birdwatching is standing around looking at nothing. It’s also a lot of walking around looking at nothing.
Let me rephrase that. A lot of birdwatching is standing or walking around looking at things other than birds. No matter where you are, there is always something to look at — even if it is the trees, shrubs and flowers in the habitat in which you are seeking birds. I think it is an essential part of being a birdwatcher to appreciate the “less exciting” things in nature.
To be a birdwatcher you also need very heavy doses of patience and faith.
You could walk around your favorite woods or park for an hour or more and not see a single bird. But faith, and of course the desire to see some birds, makes you keep on going. More often than not, from my experience anyway, patience is rewarded with some great bird sightings. Often, the patient birdwatcher is rewarded with a delightful flurry of bird activity.
I was reminded of this the other day, and I wasn’t even birding per se. Of course, like most birdwatchers, I am always birding no matter what I’m doing, but in this case the primary task at hand was simply walking to the basketball court with my son Will.
On the way to the court, a rustling in the leaves caught my attention in a neighbor’s yard. I glanced over and saw a chipmunk dart underneath a log. The chipmunk was the only nature sighting of the entire walk. At the time, however, I didn’t really notice or care. Getting to the court to shoot some hoops with Will was the purpose of the walk, after all.
But about halfway home on the return walk, a Belted Kingfisher rattled overhead and I pointed it out to Will. Both of my boys have a certain affinity for kingfishers because the best decoy in my very modest collection is a Belted Kingfisher.
So we enjoyed that sighting (and hearing), but it also started a nice flurry of bird sightings on the rest of the way home. The birds were probably there on the walk to the basketball court, but we just didn’t notice. The kingfisher’s rattle seemed to awaken our senses and bring about the possibility of seeing more birds.
A small group of Black-capped Chickadees came next. They flitted among a row of tangled forthysia looking for morsels to eat. A few Tufted Titmice worked a mid-level tree behind the chickadees.
A Red-bellied Woodpecker flew across the street, showings its distinctive wing pattern, and landed on a dead tree in another neighbor’s yard. It made its funny sound, bobbed its head and disappeared onto the other side of the snag.
Taking a cue from the kingfisher, a small flock of Mallards took off from the nearby lake and flew overhead to wherever they would be spending the night.
Finally, at the foot of our driveway, we spotted a Hermit Thrush picking berries off an unknown bush in the wooded part of our front yard. Thrushes are always a welcome sight, especially in your own yard.
I apologize for not knowing what type of berries the thrush was eating. I guess I need to brush up on my flora identification skills. I’ll do that the next time the birding gets slow.