Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
Confessions of a struggling birdwatcher

Today’s blog comes from Carlin Thompson, discovery leader at Sandbanks Provincial Park.

My name is Carlin and I am a struggling birder.

As the leader of Ontario Parks Discovery, I am surrounded by colleagues with a passion for the natural world, which I share.

Many share the specialty of identifying birds, something I do not do.

These are my confessions.

1. I hesitate to call myself a bird watcher.

I’m a bird watcher…or am I?

Or am I a bird watcher? Or just someone who casually watches birds?

My inability to possess one of these titles is due to my discomfort with my own lack of experience. I am surrounded by experts and they inspire me, but I have often felt reluctant to “talk birds” for fear that my own ineptitude would come to light.

A park staff and a visitor look through binoculars.

bird watchers love to share their knowledge. I have learned a lot from these people, but I have also missed out on a lot by not sharing my interest and talking about the topic.

With the growing popularity of bird watching, it’s easier than ever to find a community of like-minded people. Connect with your fellow birders at a local naturalist country club or join a Facebook group. These are great ways to ask questions and celebrate your sightings.

I’ve been working at Discovery for seven years and it’s time to own it… I’m a bird watcher!

2. I lack the necessary concentration

You often hear passionate birdwatchers dreaming about their “Big Day” or “Big Year.”

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Watching serious birders with their checklists and seemingly singular focus gives you the impression that the activity requires giving up everything else.

I discovered that bird watching combines well with other activities. You can observe and identify birds as long as you are outdoors or adjacent outdoors.

Wash breakfast dishes? Check out that Blue Jay at the feeder outside the window!

Driving to the supermarket? See those vultures circling the field?

Taking the kids to the park? Get a bunch of that osprey nest on top of the parking lot lights!

Simply keeping an eye out for birds adds a whole new dimension to your everyday life. Not to mention the perfect combination of bird watching with other natural activities such as fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing and more.

The truth is that I will never have the singular focus of abandoning everything else in the name of spotting a specific species, and I’m okay with that.

Bird watching enriches all my outdoor experiences.

3. I suffer from an inflated ego

Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name?”

To even dare to question the importance of names, it’s clear that Shakespeare was neither a birdwatcher nor a father of young children constantly asking “what’s that?”

Child looking at an egg.

A question that is asked a little less in my home than “but why?”

I am currently the resident bird expert in my house (at least nowhere else), as a direct result of being able to identify the birds in our neighborhood.

The easiest way to start bird watching is to become familiar with the birds in your own backyard. Learn its name, observe its behavior, and become familiar with its calling. You will be surprised how you come to enjoy your visits.

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The boy looks at the trees.

As a mom, it’s an ego boost to always have the answer to “what is that?” The truth is that I am at serious risk of my 6 and 8 year old children outgrowing me. Their insatiable curiosity is quickly outpacing my ability to stay ahead.

4. I can only identify part of the birds I see.

I have downloaded the applications; There are some really great ones!

I have a favorite field guide, worn from use.

I even took bird identification courses at Cornell Lab.

bird on a tree branch

And yet, as I stand in the field, the names escape me. The truth is that I love it look birds, not identify them.

Even common species exhibit interesting behavior when given more than a passing glance.

Whether you’re lounging in a chair on your balcony or deep in the woods on a park trail, you can easily watch birds go about their daily lives: nesting, feeding, hunting, mating, and more.

Naming a bird is not knowing it.

But if you’re like me and still want to put a name to it, keep carrying those books, checking those apps, and taking pictures to identify yourself later.

I read somewhere that bird watching mostly involves patience, careful observation, and a willingness to let the wonder and beauty of the natural world take over. I’m here for it!

If you are too, try bird watching. The nuances of shorebird identification may escape me, but I’m a work in progress, striving to improve my skills, and that’s okay.

Looking for more bird watching resources? join iNaturalist! Upload your bird sightings to the Ontario Parks project or have a community scientist help you identify the species.

Or, participate in the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. It’s a five-year survey project and the more the community participates, the better!