Birding by Beginners

by Carol Frazer | Jul 1, 2024 | 0 comments

Sharing Birding Contest Grand Prize

American Robin in wild cherry tree
American Robin. Photo © Robert Frazer.

My husband and I are not birders. Thanks in part to Nature Friend, some of our adult children have gained skill over the years in hearing, spotting, identifying, and sometimes photographing birds, but “Dad” and “Mom” have almost no skills whatsoever in that area. Nevertheless, in a Nature Friend magazine, my eye had caught the underlined sentence, “We are looking for quality time with friends…” as a key part of a birding contest. That was inspiration indeed for us to try out “Birding” for a day, while enjoying a hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire—a favorite anniversary activity of ours!

We took along my husband’s big lens and chose a 6.2-mile, 2600-foot, out-and-back hike which passed through multiple types of environment: a bit muddy at the bottom with a stream and mixed forest, then through a section of hemlock forest, then through sections of pine and spruce forest, then up to the bare summit with an old fire tower and magnificent views. This is our preferred type of hike—views and spring flowers!

When we arrived at the trail head, we were astonished by the symphony of birds singing. Not that we saw them. We aren’t used to looking for birds, camouflaged in the trees. But they were obviously there.

Before we had left home, our daughter had suggested an app which could help us identify birds. She had installed it and given me some instructions for using it. So I turned it on and—wow! Look at that list of birds!!!! Already this morning we had heard American Robin, Song Sparrow, Ovenbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-eyed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow Warbler, and Northern Cardinal! Admittedly, the only one we had actually seen was a robin, before we even got to the trail head. But we felt excited to know that all those birds, which were mostly unknown to us, were actually there—somewhere! We grabbed our things and started hiking.

We listened as we hiked along, occasionally using the phone to identify more birds and adding recordings of Dark-eyed Junco, Blackburnian Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Pine Warbler (wow—how many different types of warblers are there, we wondered???), Pine Siskin, Cedar Waxwing, Red Crossbill, and Eastern Bluebird.

Still we hadn’t seen any of those birds. Hmmm… maybe our persistent tramping noisily uphill and lack of sitting quietly to just look and watch had something to do with it. We did spot a frog on the trail and, lacking birds to photograph, my husband decided to take a photo of that.

Oh, no. Somehow, it was the broken lens on the camera, and the good one was back in the car. No going back for it now. But the long lens was in his pack, so he pulled that out and put it on the camera. Not what we usually bring along with scenic views as our principal goal, but probably good to have it on the camera just in case we actually spotted some of those joyfully singing birds!

At last we heard what seemed to be an animated argument amongst a bunch of birds in a bush—and saw what we suspect was a bunch of juncos fly off—too fast to even attempt a photo. Then we came across a Black-capped Chickadee giving himself a bath in a wee puddle. Wow—birds move fast! Robert upped the ISO…and upped it some more…and mumbled something about not being accustomed to using such a high ISO in such bright daylight…and then mumbled something else about not having brought along a tripod. We were learning about what it takes to photograph birds!

We reached the top of the mountain, quickly enjoyed our sandwiches and the views, applied more bug repellent as the spring bugs seemed particularly hungry, and commenced our descent. We were getting better at recognizing when there was a different song amid the ones we had already recorded, even though we still weren’t able to spot most of the singers. On the way down we additionally recorded Swainson’s Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and, near the stream, a Belted Kingfisher.

Near the end of our hike, I was very excited to hear a different, loud call far above. I looked up and spotted a soaring bird which landed atop a very high tree. I turned on the identification app and the bird obliged by giving a final call or two before flying off—apparently a Broad-winged Hawk, though I did something wrong and my recording disappeared. How sad! And I had actually seen that bird!

So ended our first day of birding, without a single decent photo. Not a success by the standards of experienced birders, but a success for us—an enjoyable day spent together learning a bit more about God’s creation. Many thanks to Nature Friend for inspiring this educational and enjoyable time!

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