Sharing Birding

A Springtime Birding Contest

silhouette of Great Horned Owl in moonlight
Photo © Kevin Shank.

Is anyone seeing robins in the snow yet? I suspect yes is the answer. When I was a child, it was a highlight to our family to see the robins returning—often in January. For one, robins spend the winter not far from us in our cold, cold mountains, believe it or not. One year I saw a large flock when the temperatures were well below zero F.

I want to announce a birding contest of some sort for this spring. I’ve pondered just what form the contest should take. We’ve tried a number of approaches over the past years. Some of you know what I mean. And, some of you are new readers and don’t have a clue.

Part of me would like to know which of the birding contests we have done was particularly fun to you. But asking now isn’t helpful for this spring. We work several months in advance, and your answers now will come in way too late to have an impact on this contest.

The other part of me would like to blend the best of the past with something new. I like variety, and I assume you do also. Maybe I’ll recap some of the contests of the past and then launch off in a direction. We will see how this takes shape.

We had a fall migration contest in 2020, and results were compiled in two teams—Team Hawk and Team Owl. We put half of the submissions into each team. Then we compiled the results, listing all the bird species collectively seen, and also listing each participant by name. That contest was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. And then there was the new subscriber whose first issue was the compilation of the results. “Are these magazines always going to have a bunch of birds and names in them?”

In 2021 we had a “Birding w/Friends” contest. That time a 200-foot circle was to be the chosen spot, and participants had 24 hours to record all the species they saw or heard from that circle. We wanted the area big enough to include a window, if desired, as well as the backyard for a barbecue with friends and space to tent. That one was fun too—they’ve all been fun.

In 2022 we had a wild bird art contest followed by a Spring Migration Bird Contest (stories and photography). Participants had 24 hours, but could ask friends to help, even friends at a distance, to also do a 24-hour block and add the results in for a larger tally. That contest was a big success. We compiled a book of the submissions which totaled 354 pages.

So, what should our spring 2024 contest look like?

I had some ideas today as I went about my work. I shared them with Bethany tonight, and she gave the contest a name—“Sharing Birding.”

Not all successful birding centers around seeing ump-teen dozen species before lunch. Sometimes successful birding comes in simple packages.

I remember wishing to have a knowledgable birder give our family an introduction to birding. Aden Troyer agreed to do that. Our first evening together, we had a fun non-bird encounter. A mama bear with cubs was entertaining the locals in the community that day. It was late when we got to see her. The light was poor for quality pictures, but we took some anyway. We enjoyed seeing the cubs play.

black bear and cubs
Black bear and cubs. Photo © Kevin Shank.

While our day and a half with Aden may have been just another “walk in the park” for him, our family got a boost that enriched our lives. Today some of our children are very avid birders. For an example of how their lives are enriched, I recall one time when Shaphan went out for a few hours on a spring turkey hunt, only to come back having seen/heard more than fifty species of birds as he hunted—primarily as he sat by a tree.

Jumping back to my childhood, I recall an avid birder, a neighbor, showing us a Baltimore Oriole nest over a stream. We didn’t see those birds very often, and had never seen a nest. That may have been fifty years ago, but I still have the memory. D. Ralph probably barely gave the occasion a second thought.

We are blessed with neighbors and friends who point us to special birds and nests. Several years ago some children showed us a Great-horned Owl’s nest they had found. Just last summer we were pointed to a photogenic Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest someone found on a branch that stretched over their sidewalk. This was the first time some in our family got to see an active hummingbird nest. Maybe that will be their “fifty years ago” memory.

Ways you might share birding could be introducing a friend or a family to the activity just as Aden did for us. Maybe you can put up some bird feeders and bird bath for an elderly person so they can enjoy watching birds outside their window. Or, perhaps you know someone who is physically challenged and not able to do the long or strenuous hikes to Birdville, but who could enjoy being taken to a lake to see waterfowl through your binoculars or spotting scope. Maybe you have found a fun nest or spied a special bird, and you share the discovery with someone. And, it could be that you are birding with friends who are likewise avid birders, and all of you are out to see how many species you can collectively find. That works too.

These are all ways to share birding. Your species count might not be the highest. But maybe, just maybe, you gave a child their “fifty years ago” memory.

So, what are the rules?

The person or family submitting the story must be an active subscriber to Nature Friend magazine. All ages welcome to participate.

Choose one 24-hour period between now and May 25, 2024, and do birds. We will want your fun story, so bank on that. It can be helpful to make notes about the fun things that happen as they occur, so when you write the story about your day, your notes can be a memory jog for fun details.

If you wish to do this with a distant friend, you may. Your friends can likewise choose a 24-hour period (can be a different period from yours) and record as many birds as they see or hear. Your friends do not need to be active Nature Friend subscribers to participate in your list.

You may combine your lists to collectively capture the longest list of species you can. Write a story about your day, and, secondarily, also work some fun details into your story that pertain to your friends’ birding day. Just remember, this activity isn’t solely about long lists. We are looking for quality time with friends, and that may or may not include a long list of species.

Submit your story to us no later than May 31, 2024. We are looking for fun birding stories. It is fine to include a species list, but a species list alone IS NOT what we are looking for.

We always enjoy seeing good photos. If you are a photographer and are participating in this activity, please submit your best high-resolution jpeg photos. Edit your work. Please don’t send soft-focus, poorly-lit, or distant birds. Those photos are not useful to us. Caption your photos with the species name.

Note: While you may invite your friends (no limit) who are not subscribers to help you capture a fun, long list, and while you are encouraged to draw from their experiences in your writing, those submitting stories or photos for this contest must be active subscribers. Winning submissions receive one award, not one for each person who participated.

How to Submit

Include your name, mailing address, and subscriber number (found on mailing label). Phone numbers and e-mail are appreciated too, when available.

Photographers, submit photos on a flash drive, or e-mail as high-resolution jpeg attachments. Remember to also label ALL your submissions and drives with your name. We don’t want a drive on our desk with no name on it. A name only on an envelope is not sufficient, as the drive will certainly get removed from the envelope. Package flash drives between cardboard to ship.

If you require anything to be returned, please include $2 and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with adequate postage.

There will be grand prize, first, second, and third place awards, plus some honorable mentions.

Nature Friend
Sharing Birding Contest
4253 Woodcock Lane
Dayton VA 22821

E-mail: birdcontest at naturefriendmagazine dot com.

You may also submit using the form below.

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Feb 01 2024 - May 31 2024