Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nature Food for Thought

Yesterday I planned for the cold and left for work an hour early. I don't know why the temperature makes traffic crawl, but based on the hype the morning news was giving the temps I knew it was either going to be a stop & go affair, or everyone would be afraid to open their doors and I would have the roads to myself.

As it was the drive was slow, but I still arrived nearly an hour before I normally do, which had the benefit of giving me a chance to get away for a bit more time at lunch. I took the opportunity to head up to Eldorado Canyon State Park, which is a bit of a stretch in an hour, and had the extra bonus yesterday of being sheltered from the wind.

I grabbed some lunch on the way, and ate in the sunshine with my window down. The Chickadees serenaded my midday meal, but remained well out of sight in the treetops. I believe they were the Mountain variety, but don't trust my ear to be positive.

Since nothing was visibly moving while I ate, I decided to try out a new tool - the iBird app I recently added to my iPod. I pulled up a few likely species and played their related calls.

Nothing responded to closely, until I played the Canyon Wren, the species we had heard last weekend in Deer Creek Canyon. I have also seen this species in later months just to the north in Gregory Canyon, so it seemed worth a shot.

I did get a response, but it didn't sound anything like a Wren. A series of pleasant, slow, staccato notes queried through the air. My best guess after listening to a few others later in the day was that it may have been a Pygmy Nuthatch. As I have stated in previous posts, I am flat out bad at identifying birds by ear, but hope to improve. The iBird app, along with the Smithsonian Guide CD loaded on my iPod, will hopefully be a way to make some inroads.

While I sat, not seeing birds, I was thinking a bit about how consuming birding is for some folks, and if that carries an intimidation factor for others. I am looking forward to the upcoming Christmas Bird Counts, and it took me back to last year, when just over a month in I decided to sign up for the Boulder CBC. For me, birding is mainly a solo activity. I have many friends, and while we frequently engage in camping trips and other outdoor activities, none of them are too interested in waking up well before dawn to head out in cold weather to find some birds. Granted, they don't know what they are missing, but I can't say I blame them. Until late 2008 I would have been right there with them, looking to sleep in.

So my concern for others, on looking back at last year, is that there are those out there who enjoy getting out and watching birds, or have a feeder and look up the visitors in a book, but who wouldn't really consider trying to talk their friends into tagging along for a first Christmas Bird Count. For me, the concern I expressed to the count organizer was that I didn't want to be put with a group whom I would hold back. I like meeting new people, and wasn't concerned that I would be miserable, rather that they would be because of my lack of skills - little did I know at the time just how lacking I was. I know others in my life for whom jumping into that type of an experience for the first time without others to join them would be enough reason to just stay home on a warm couch.

As it turned out, I was with three very esteemed birders, and as a bonus they were all bloggers who I have been able to follow since. It was my first group birding experience which had the dual effect of showing me what a difference experience makes in birding, and also just how enjoyable the whole process can be regardless of skill level. I was also fortunate in that all three had jobs in the birding world and shared a knack for interacting with others on the topic. Some birders can be less 'people people', and while still enjoyable would not have been as engaging for a first timer as they were.

As I was signing up for this years edition of the same count the organizer checked back to let me know that a different birder would be covering that territory. I replied back that he could put me with any group that needed an extra set of eyes, at this point I know I will have a blast, and learn something in any group. I am confident enough now that I know I can at least make a contribution, even if I am not pulling out obscure IDs.

I guess the emphasis of this ramble is that if you are like I was, a just getting started birder, and are wondering whether you can just sign up for one of these Christmas Bird Counts by yourself, the answer is unequivocally yes. Count organizers are there to make groups that work, and they will understand if you are new to the game. I can't guarantee anything about your experience, just like I have no idea what I will see or who I will be with this year, that is part of the fun. I can say with confidence that the experience will be well worth five dollars, and the first count will be one that will stand out for years to come.

To find out more go to the getting involved page or just search for a count in your area.

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