Thursday, September 27, 2012

10 Steps To An Enlightened Birding Experience

 Every now and then I have one of those perfect birding mornings. The weather is perfect, the scenery is spectacular, and all of my senses seem to be operating in high definition. It can be a spiritual feeling that reminds you of how great it is to be alive. Naturally, watching birds on days like this is also great. You have more of an appreciation of each bird you see. I've tried to figure out which conditions or circumstances lead to such a day and came up with the following list of suggestions.  
1) Select a birding destination the night before you go:  Choose a location that is secluded, has comfortable walking trails, is naturally scenic, and has good birding habitat.

2) choose a day with ideal weather conditions: I prefer a day with low humidity, little or no wind, and  sunny to mostly sunny conditions.

3) Do tomorrow's chores today: If you have to cut the grass, paint the hatchway, make out bills,  go shopping or whatever, try to get it done today. This will clear your schedule so that you won't be thinking about what needs to be done after you're finished birding.

4) Have all of your equipment and supplies ready to go: Decide what you'll be bringing for your trip such as camera, binoculars, snacks, drinks etc. and have them organized the night before. This way, you can just grab them and go in the morning.

5) Make sure you get a good night's sleep: A good night's sleep will help you feel at your best so that your ready for step 4.

6) Get up early enough so that you can arrive at your destination at day break: This is probably the most important thing.Early in the morning the air is fresher, there's less unwanted noise pollution, the lighting conditions are better, and it gives you more time to enjoy the best hours for birding and photography. Birds seem to be more active and less easily spooked just after daybreak.

7) Coffee, tea, or breakfast? Having a good breakfast will ensure that I won't be thinking about food an hour into my birding trip and a little coffee helps sharpen the senses.

8) Don't think about the past or the future: When you arrive at your destination try to turn your mind off. Concentrate only on what surrounds you at that moment. This may be easier said than done but it is key to being in the zone.

9) Concentrate on your breathing: The air should be clean and cool early in the morning. Take deep, slow, breaths. Listen to the sound of you breathing and feel the air entering your lungs. This type of breathing helps you to relax and stay focused.

10) Use all of your senses to pick up every detail: Listen closely to everything you see, smell, or hear; leaves crackling under your footsteps, the sound of dew drops falling from the trees, the scent of pine mixed with the morning mist, or the subtle movement of leaves in your peripheral vision. Even pay attention to the silence that surrounds the sound.
 Don't worry about which species you see, just enjoy each and every bird to the fullest. I can't promise that these ten steps will lead to a morning of enlightened birding but hopefully it will enhance your overall experience!

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Not Easy Finding A New Hawkwatch Site

I spent some time at a couple of the hawk watch sites in Connecticut again this year in hopes of seeing kettles of Broad-winged like the one shown in last year's photo taken at Booth Hill in West Hartland Connecticut. I made a visit there again and enjoyed seeing many of the same loyal hawk watchers.Some of them have been counting hawks since 1972. We saw a fair number of hawks totalling in the 100's but they weren't in close enough for a photo.
I also tried a place called a site called Johnnycake Mountain in Burlington for the first time. I was able to see quite a few Broad-wings there during my visit. From what I understand, this site may be developed soon and might no longer be available as a hawk watch site. Booth Hill and Johnnycake mountain are both in a country setting located at the edge of open fields with scenic views. I enjoy hawk-watching in a country setting even though the shoreline hawk watches are supposed to have larger numbers of hawks. I noticed that Johnnycake Mountain had a one day count of 1929 total raptors including 1892 broadwings on 9/20/12.

 I enjoy visiting the known hawk watching sites and picking up tips from the veterans but I'd also like to be able to find kettles of broad-wings near where I live. It's not easy though because you have to have the right weather, right flight days, and right viewing conditions. There's only roughly a two week  period to search out a suitable place and then you have to spend several hours at each place to test it out. One of the good things about searching out spots is you end up visiting places that have great views. The top of Great Hill has good elevation but the view isn't panoramic enough. It's a good place to find Black Vultures but I haven't had much luck finding broad-wings there.
I went up to the the orchards in Glastonbury where there are wide open views looking over toward Hartford. I saw a group of 3 Red-shouldered Hawks patrolling the area while there and did see some broadies pass through but only a few. I was encouraged to see that a kettle of 30 was reported just across the river in Rocky Hill so maybe this spot will have potential.  Great views though and you can shop for fresh fruit and homemade pies right at the bottom of the hill!
I saw a small kettles of  hawks passing over my yard one day so I decided to take a walk down to a local field which overlooks the Connecticut River valley. It was in the afternoon but I was pleased with the view and did have some nice sightings. 3 Bald Eagles soaring overhead, a kestrel doing it's hovering routine and 6 Broad-winged Hawks. Not much to talk about but it gave me a little encouragement. My location is a little too far east and south to get big numbers like they do in western Connecticut but if I'd be happy with anything over 100 broad-wings on a peak flight day. At least it looks like a mighty comfortable spot to give it a try!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In Defense of The Arrogant Birder

If you've spent enough time around other birders there is a chance that you may have heard talk about birders that have a reputation of being arrogant. They may be full of knowledge but give off  a condescending vibe to those who dare to breath the same air. It's disappointing to hear a new birder talk about a negative experience they've had when another birder corrected them in a way that made them feel embarrassed.

It would be easy for me to jump on the -chastise the arrogant birder-bandwagon but instead I thought I'd look at things from a different angle by posing 2 questions:

1) Is it possible that the birder who has a reputation of being arrogant is misunderstood?
Sometimes perception plays a role in how we look at others. Someone who is new to birding might find an experienced, knowledgeable birder to be intimidating and maybe in their view, a little too full of themselves. Sometimes, people can be seen as arrogant simply because they are self-confident and good at what they do. There are also those who may be very good at developing their birding skills but may be lacking people skills. They don't intend to offend but just can't help themselves.

2) Is arrogance such a bad thing? There are people in many walks of life who are perceived as overly self-confident, cocky, pompous or whatever term you want to use. This list of people includes  talented actors, politicians, doctors, professional athletes, lawyers, and musicians. That over-inflated ego may be what helped them become great at what they do. The rest of of us are entertained by their talents or might benefit from their skills.

  The vast majority of birders are friendly and helpful. Arrogant birders are probably a rare species. Even they might have something to contribute such as writing a book or making new discoveries about birds. If nothing else, it seems to be a topic of interest that is discussed within birding circles. Would you read a blog that was title: "The Arrogant Birder"? I would just out of curiosity and I doubt that I'd be the only one. Not everyone is wired to be humble or diplomatic in their approach so we might as well celebrate our diversity. If we were all the same, the world would be a lot less interesting.