watching, like wine tasting, is an acquired taste
that adds flavor to common camping, hiking, and
It's practiced by true connoisseurs who
appreciate the finer sights and sounds of nature.
My son became a bird watcher (properly known as
a "birder") after a science lesson showed
the variety among bird beaks and bird feet. A
nearby nature center had a display of local birds
where we could look at beaks and feet of sparrows
and hawks and ducks at our leisure—and then
we got hooked. But you can also get hooked by
what you hear. "Who is singing?" I thought
every spring for years. "Who is it who goes
twee-twee-twee every March morning at 5:30 a.m.?"
I was thrilled when I joined a birding group and
finally connected a face to that singing menace.
Birds are hard to see, so if
I were you, I wouldn’t really bother looking
for them. Start easily by waiting to see who lands
on your shrubs, flies onto your deck—or
into your windshield. Get acquainted with them.
Find out their names. Look them up in a bird guide.
of the time, you will see the rarest and most
colorful birds completely by accident. In order
to increase your chances of seeing one of these
birds and be able to appreciate it, you need two
things: binoculars and an easy reference bird
guide. When you stumble upon a bird, binoculars
are essential in order to get a closer look at
it, so that its distinguishing features may be
observed. If it helps, write down the features
in a notebook so that it will be easier to recall
the bird when you try to identify it in a book.
The book you purchase should have a very easy
to use table of contents. This will allow you
to look up a bird quickly in order to identify
its species before it moves. In order to increase
your speed at identifying birds, it would be helpful
to study the bird guide before going on a trip
in order to familiarize yourself with common identifying
marks of birds, and well as bird body types. After
frequent trips and studying a field guide, you
will soon be able to identify most common birds
in your area from memory.
Or if you'd rather use your
ears, you can buy tapes or CDs of bird calls.
Listen to them in your car as you drive to the
woods. You'll expand your awareness of the life
around you, and add a new dimension to your enjoyment
of the environment.
Here are common woodland birds
in western Pennsylvania to listen and look for:
- Common Yellowthroat – sparrow size with black mask, yellow
throat, olive body color. Habitat: bushy undergrowth
by streams. Says “wichity-wichity.” Link
to sound file.
- Woodthrush – Robin size with rust red body color
and spots on white breast. Habitat: sapling
infested hillsides. Gorgeous burbling song that
says “ee-oh-lay.” Link
to sound file.
Towhee – Robin size. Males are
black on top, white breast, rusty side patches;
females the same but brown on top. Habitat:
mature woods with undergrowth. Says “drink
your tea.” Link
to sound file.