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NATURE NOTES - Number 2 August 1, 2020
Our current topic: Introduction to Birds
Birding is an adventure that can be done anywhere, anytime, and with very little equipment. Let’s review a few basics to get you started on some summer birds. The only thing really needed is a field guide, which I will discuss below. Binoculars are helpful but not required. Scouts sometimes find birding boring – until they see that first “special” bird that all of a sudden gets them excited. It might be a brilliantly-color bird they have not seen before, or a hawk overhead, or a heron over the lake. Seldom has anyone given them the chance to look at a bird and think about it. Here’s your opportunity. You can’t become a good birder overnight. It takes time and study. Here are some thoughts to get started.
- Look at more than the color. Color is what you first see, but look at the size, the shape, the length of the tail, any wing bars, or head or throat markings. These give you the keys you need to identify the bird in a field guide. Teach the scouts to look for details. A good life-lesson.
- Where is the bird? Many birds are often found in a specific habitat. Think Robin, and you think “yard”. This applies to other species as well. So realizing where you see the bird will help identify it. That long-tailed bird on the telephone line is likely a Mourning Dove. Those fast flyers maneuvering over water are likely swallows. For more examples, look up the habitat of a Meadowlark or a Kingfisher. Be aware of surroundings. Another life-lesson.
- Look for other signs – or sounds. Some birds can easily be identified by sound. Ever hear the Whippoorwills at Camp? Look for signs such as tail movements (read about a Phoebe) or the way it scratches the forest floor (check out a Towhee). Take in as much as you can and then grab the field guide.
- Don’t try to identify every bird you see. Start slow, learn a few and expand from there. As you page through the field guide you will see pictures that you may remember later. You will get better.
- A good way to get scouts involved is having them make a list of birds seen – at home, or on a campout. This is a good start for Nature or Bird Study Merit Badge. As summer moves into winter there will be opportunity for different birds.
A few comments about field guides. Some of you may want to use apps to identify birds and that is OK, but flipping through a field guide is a much better way for beginners to learn. Use the app to supplement the guide. When acquiring a guide remember that a simpler guide may be best for beginners. Two simple paperback and inexpensive guides I like are:
Beginner’s Guide to Birds (Eastern Region) by Donald and Lilian Stokes, and National Geographic’s Pocket Guide to Birds of North America. These will cover MOST birds in our area. As you gain experience or interest, move up to a more detailed guide.
Good luck, and remember, the more you look, the more you find.