One of the best ways to learn about bird watching is to go out with people who are more proficient than you. In the Upper Valley, we are fortunate to have a very dedicated, albeit small in number, group of such birders. They range in age from a Dartmouth College student to a retired college professor with steps between covered as well. Some are not just highly capable birders alone; they combine their passion with exceptional photographic skills (see Jim Block or Cynthia Crawford’s web sites for examples).
I recently spent almost a full morning in the company of several of these illustrious watchers tramping around the grounds of Windsor, VT’s Lake Runnemede at Paradise Park located adjacent to US Route 5 just north of the town’s business district. The outing was part of the Vermont County Bird Quest, a year long, state wide, bird watching program sponsored by the Norwich headquartered Vermont Center for Ecostudies.
Generally on theses outings, someone is designated the official list keeper charged with recording each species observed and the numbers of each seen. Despite this, I usually keep my own list, because other party members occasionally see species that elude me. That was to be the case on this particular morning. Several people reported seeing and/or hearing a field sparrow. I had to take their word for it. I neither heard nor saw it. Another bird record was a northern waterthrush. Despite having plenty of direction from my colleagues, I could not locate it visually. I did hear it singing, and in bird watching, hearing a bird counts as an ID. That was one I could add. Just the same, visual confirmation would have been more rewarding.
These experiences bring to mind another good reason to bird with a group; there are many more eyes available for discovery. Even better is when someone in the group has a high-powered camera. They often can get a photo that will confirm a bird’s identity when only a fleeting look is possible as is sometimes the case when a bird of prey drifts by at high altitude.
Birding with a skilled observer also has the benefit of gaining useful field hints that help identify a species whether it’s a particular behavior – eastern phoebes bob their tails – or the bird’s call bringing to mind a spoken phrase; the barred owl’s "who cooks for you?” call being a particularly notable example.
Finally, going on a birding outing with a skilled observer provides an opportunity to ask questions as they occur. Members of the local birding community are only too happy to share their knowledge.
To find out about upcoming birding events and opportunities to get out with some of the Upper Valley’s experienced birders, sign up for the Upper Valley Birders listserv by clicking on the following link: