Thursday, November 17, 2011

This is for the Birds

This hawk watched me as I investigated a stream a while back.
This time of year is great for getting out and exploring wilderness areas close to where you live.  Even if you don't live close to what you might consider a wilderness area, if you can appreciate the smaller wild things, this time of year is great to observe them.  From the geese heading south, the frogs burrowing their holes, the way a leaf falls to the ground as it separates from the branch on the maple tree, or the way that same leaf moves down a moss covered stream.  The colors, the air temperature, the lack of bugs, so many things make the fall a great time of year to explore the woods.

One thing you should be aware of before you explore in the fall, is the local hunting seasons.  Be cautious and be sure to wear your hunters orange.  Even with this risk though I encourage you to get out there and walk into a field, up a stream, along a dirt road, or across a hardwood ridge this fall.  The numerous small rewards will tally up to a large bounty in the end.

The art of observing the smaller things can be difficult sometimes and I recently had this driven home to me.  I have been developing a project at work where we will engage outdoor enthusiasts to collect field data.  More specifically we are using avid bird watchers to count bird species and numbers along some stretches of local streams.  Trying to set up the research sites meant I had to establish them and perform a preliminary assessment to make sure it was suitable for the purpose of the study.  Doing this meant that I had to try and observe some of the bird species.  Much easier said than done I found out.

With two other staff members I walked slowly along an area we had identified as a potential site.  We moved quietly and spotted many birds at a distance but I couldn't get close enough to snap a good photo or make a positive identification.  I am not even a part time bird watcher.  The only time I watch birds specifically is when I'm at the McDonald's parking lot and there are gulls flocking nearby.  This experience was a bit humbling as I got a bit frustrated that I couldn't identify one.  It became a challenge and I found myself really enjoying the experience and instantly realized the appeal of this low impact activity.

I was able to identify some of the more common birds.  The murder of crows kept heckling me as I missed one photo opportunity after another on one of the many black capped chickadees we seen.  I heard the blue jay and the downy woodpecker before I seen them and I have to admit the youngest in the group spotted them first.  A number of robins played peek-a-boo as well and refused to sit still long enough to have their picture taken.  As I write this I remember the frustration I felt trying to photograph adult salmon not long ago and can't help but make some comparison.  

Throughout the various sites we visited we observed a number of birds and each site offered something different and that was a huge reward in itself.  If you think bird watching is for the birds, I challenge you to try and get a great picture of a downy woodpecker.

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