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Baffled By Birds

I am a self-proclaimed “nature person”. I grew up wandering around the woods, going on hikes, and camping. I’ve always loved exploring the natural world. I love flipping over logs to look for insects and salamanders, sneaking along trying not to scare away the snakes, frogs, and deer that I encounter. But there is one aspect of nature that has always eluded me: birds. I see and hear birds all the time, but can rarely identify them outside of the most common species.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate birds, or want to learn more, but birds are intimidating. There are almost 500 different birds that can be found in New York State alone. That is a huge number, and it seems like such a large undertaking to try to learn to identify them all. That’s not even considering that males, females, and juveniles of the same species can often look entirely different, or that some look different in spring and fall. Some species even look so similar they can only be identified by sound. Gaah!

While intimidating, learning these birds is definitely possible. I have met many people who can identify birds with just a quick glance as a bird darts through the trees, or from hearing a faint call in the distance. When I am with these people, I wish I had the skills and knowledge to do the same, but I just don’t know where to start.

I have also, unfortunately, been discouraged from birding in the past by the people I have attempted to learn from. While passionate and knowledgeable, I have found that some experienced birders can be impatient or frustrated by a new birders lack of knowledge. It wasn’t until I began working at Audubon that I felt welcomed by experienced birders, who genuinely wanted to help me learn.

During Audubon’s Birdathon event in May, myself and other coworkers who were not experienced with birding decided to form our own team. Armed with binoculars, field guides, and some helpful apps, we were able to identify 26 species of birds in 4 hours (for perspective, the experienced birding team identified over 75 species in the same amount of time).

This was the first time I had fun while birding, and felt such a sense of pride when identifying the birds we found. Later that week, I accompanied the experienced birding team on their birdathon. This group of birders was welcoming and eager to share their knowledge.

While I have not yet become an expert birder, these experiences made me feel like it was something I could do, no longer a seemingly impossible task. My previous experiences have made me realize that a person’s introduction to a topic can often solidify how they feel about it, both positively and negatively.

Prior to the birdathon, I really had no motivation to learn about birds. All my experiences up to that point had been frustrating, and fairly negative. After finally having the positive experience I had craved, my mindset changed.

To that end, on September 20 and 24, from 10 a.m. to noon, Audubon will be hosting two Accessible Birding programs. These programs are aimed at those who have been intimidated by birding in the past, or who never really had the opportunity to try it out, and to create a positive experience with the hobby.

The programs are designed to have a bit of something for everyone. We will have interactive displays with bird artifacts to touch and explore, such as feathers, wings, talons, and skulls. There will be supplies like spotting scopes, binoculars, and field guide to borrow and try out.

Birds can be downright puzzling looking, like this Green Heron. Photo by Jeff Tome

On Saturday there will be two guided bird walks along our paved trail led by bird experts picked for their friendly and welcoming attitude. One walk will focus on birding by sight, while the other will focus on birding by sound.

We hope that these programs take away some of the initial intimidation that can go along with birding, and inspire some new birders in the process!

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 as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. 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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