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05 July 2006
Hidden in plain sight

To celebrate the 1st birthday of the I and the Bird blog carnival, carnival founder Mike of 10,000 Birds issued a request that past participants in IATB write a little bit about why they enjoy birding and blogging about birds. No problemo. For me, this is an easy answer....

Spring birdingReasons I Bird #1 - I was introduced early. As a rural farm kid, I was always interested in animals - both wild and domesticated. Recognizing this, 'Santa' brought me a copy of the Golden Press "Birds of North America" when I was 7 years old. I still have this bird guide, though the cover is partially missing, victimized by some teething cat or dog as I recall. I was fascinated by this book, paging through it endlessly. I memorized the pictures and distribution maps, wingspans and other details. I chose the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) as my favorite because it was the biggest with a 9-foot wingspan. I think some of my bird identification today is still based on stored images from this volume. After receiving the book, I started paying attention to birds at my Gramma's feeder in the winter and to birds seen on cow-retrieval missions down to the pasture along the river and on childhood hikes through the woods. Birds were everywhere. I reached a plateau of sorts though. No one else in my life was interested in birds beyond a casual, backyard relationship. My birding interest remained platonic, minor, wierd for a long time.

Reasons I Bird #2 - Birding can happen anywhere, any time. My birding interest and skills were renewed however, when I met B and we started hiking and fishing and birding together. At last, another person who found these critters fascinating! And she'd memorized the bird guides too! Sweet! I learned a lot in a short period of time. Now, birding is more-or-less integrated into all the other outdoor things I/we do. Birding is occasionally the sole purpose of an outing, but more often than not, it's done together with other activities. I look up to the sky, the treetops and the brush while working in my field research plots; fly fishing affords lots of wetland and riverine birding opportunities, and even backyard time is spent monitoring birdlife. A pair of binoculars is handy and sometimes a bird guide within reach is helpful, but birding requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere.

Reasons I Bird #3 - Bird populations are dynamic and transitory and always changing. No two days spent birding are the same. Even if you return to the same park bench at the same time on consecutive days, you'll likely spot some different birds. Each location and habitat holds different birds and they vary from one season to the next and from one day to the next. I've got new bluebird, sparrow and robin fledglings in my yard almost daily. Some days I catch hawks or an eagle soaring overhead and other days it's cranes and herons. This morning I noticed a titmouse singing energetically from our satellite dish. I hadn't seen a titmouse in a few weeks. We've got a brown thrasher nesting and raising young in our immediate area this year. I've never noticed one before. Spring and fall migration seasons bring birds through my area that do not normally reside here - and these birds don't stay long. I could see a golden eagle or a fox sparrow if I'm lucky.

Reasons I Bird #4 - Birding is a deep subject. I've found that my skills as a birder have changed and improved such that I continue to appreciate the depth, the additional layers and complexity of bird life. I've improved from identifying common backyard birds to spotting and identifying transient, migratory birds to understanding the general category of a bird from just a fleeting glimpse to learning to identify some birds by their songs alone, without ever seeing them. I've become comfortable with birding concepts and lingo - coverts, passerine, buteo, buffy. I've got a long way to go to become a seriously skilled birder, but I like that I can learn more whenever I'm ready to add a new species or bird song or geographic region or some other dimension to my birding arsenal.

Birding also translates into the larger picture of nature, environmental 'quality' and natural resources. It's hard not to appreciate a well-preserved habitat versus a degraded, uncared for area by noticing differences in birds and other wildlife. Attention to birding often leads to learning more about other, related natural science subjects.

Reasons I Bird #5 - Birding is fun to share. Perhaps I'm well on my way to peculiar-old-lady status, but I like to introduce others to birding in small casual ways. I point out birds to the students accompanying me on trips to field sites. B and I call out birds to each other while wading a trout stream or paddling around a lake. My sister's kids are interested because we're interested and we point out interesting tidbits at every opportunity. I look forward to birding together with nieces and nephews in years to come. I think this aspect of birding is probably the reason I like to write about it here on occasion, and also the reason I like to read other blogs that include the subject of birds at least occasionally.

Having said all that, I'm happy to have stumbled upon Mike's invention of I and the Bird and all the wonderful people and their masterful blogs that have come to be associated with it. Happy Birthday IATB! (Nicely done Mike!)

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