Birding everywhere takes flight

Pictured is a Savannah Sparrow.

As I ran, I listened. I had already noted the cheery call of an American Robin and the persistent chips from a group of House Sparrows when I stepped out the door. A few steps up the road, I recognized the melancholy music from an Eastern Bluebird. When I passed the wide branches of a Silver Maple leafing out, I heard a buzzy sparrow song. A Savannah Sparrow! That one I can’t forget because I don’t have it on my list yet.

Yes, I was running and birding. This week was Audubon’s annual Bird-a-thon. This fundraiser gathers individuals and teams to spot as many birds as possible in a 24-hour period of time. Participants can count birds they observe for a continuous 24-hour period. or go out a few hours a day for the entire week. Donors pledge a certain amount per species or a flat donation.

This year, the bird-a-thon runs through Sunday. Money raised supports the Ryan Exline Memorial Scholarship for a student pursuing a degree in an environmental-related field. Additional funds support ongoing care and habitat improvements for Audubon’s live animals.

You don’t have to be a great birder to realize that running is not the typical way most people bird. A typical image of a birder involves walking slowly, gaze directed skyward, with binoculars in hand. Sometimes birders stand in one place for what seems like an extremely long time to catch even a glimpse of a bird among the trees and bushes. Birders even have shared language, including words like, pish, lifer, and butterbutt. (Pish is a sound made to attract birds. Lifer is a bird seen for the first time. Butterbutts are Yellow-rumped Warblers.)

In the past, I have participated in the bird-a-thon in a typical way, looking for birds with intense focus. There is a joy and benefit to spending time with such a narrow, specialized focus. The days are full of competing demands on our attention. To spend time in nature with one focus is time well spent. To challenge yourself to notice and record and constantly learn more is important work.

But I don’t think birding has to look like that all the time. This year, I decided to bird differently. I wondered how many different kinds of birds I see daily in my everyday life. What birds do I really share my world with? Generally, I pay attention to the birds that are flying around. But this time I’m keeping track of the birds I see while walking the dog, doing yard work, and yes, running.

Three days in, I’ve counted 13 species while helping with improvements to Audubon’s Wildlife Walk area, 12 species while driving up to Buffalo for a plant sale, and 14 on my morning run. Some of these are repeats. I counted American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds and House Sparrows every time. I’ve seen 27 species of birds so far.

For an experienced birder, these numbers and experiences are not impressive. I’ll probably miss most of the waterfowl and warblers because I don’t live in the places they live. And I can only count what I can identify. There may be birds that I am missing that I just don’t know about. But that’s not my goal.

Some may say I’m bird watching and not birding. Jonathan Rosen wrote in a 2011 New York Times article “Crudely put, bird-watchers look at birds; birders look for them.”

But, do the terms really matter? With more than 800 bird species in North America, living in almost every habitat, there’s a good chance of seeing birds. To take even a few minutes every day, anywhere, to stop and find out who else is around us is also time well spent. I’ve observed and talked about birds with the people I’m with, who all have varying levels of knowledge and experience. And, most importantly, I’ve had fun so far. Observing birds’ colors, calls, and antics adds joy to my daily life. To learn more about and participate in Audubon’s bird-a-thon, https://go.rallyup.com/c/birder.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.


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