When I take people out on a “bird watching tour”—if they are new to the hobby I usually give them a version of the following:
Bird watching is really a poor moniker for the experience one can have outside if one is aware of birds (and other natural environmental items such as plants and bees and snakes!). To me going outside to “watch” birds is short hand for getting into an absorbing new way of looking at the world. I find that it is enough of a challenge that I get into the state of flow.
This state has been described in the psychological literature as a pleasant mindset where the experience of time “flows” and the mind is absorbed on the present task so that all worries about the past and thoughts for the future melt away in favor of the present moment. This is one definition of the meditative state.
There are many described types of meditation—some sitting and breathing quietly but another equally valid type, which is “walking meditation” which simply has one notice what is around. Both types have incredibly long pedigrees for being useful for health (lowers blood pressure and helps immunity as two examples) but also for improving creativity and problem solving. Sometimes the mind needs to shut off the major sections to have issues resolved in more “underground” ways.
I just took some very nice women from Cedar Mill on a bird tour. And we listened. And we saw many things. And they said they didn’t realize how fast the time flew and how pleasant it was. Getting into that mental flow state while adding a few birds to the life list and learning some ecology is a great way to spend a couple of hours.
So what do you hear outside in your yard or on your trip to the grocery store or gym? I hear the White Crowned Sparrows who have just migrated back from their southern winter haunts. Their complex song reminds me that spring is here. So many people don’t seem to even notice these birds singing away in the tops of trees or on poles—they literally are everywhere in Cedar Mill. If you don’t know what a particular bird sounds like go to the Cornell Ornithology web site www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478 and type in a bird name in the “all about birds” search box. You will be rewarded with a recording of this bird. The best way to learn bird songs of course is to watch them sing—that way one accumulates a particular bird one at a time. Trying to learn all of them on a CD or a tape is incredibly hard to remember. But if you see one in your yard and watch it sing, you will have many clues to help your memory.
This week in my back yard I welcome back our swallows. They appeared really late this year compared to the 12 years of records I have kept about my back yard wetlands. They are about one month late in fact. Now they are swooping over the pond eating the latest insect hatch and chattering away. No nest building yet but I imagine that will occur after they fatten up from their long journey to this location.
I also am hearing the return of the Virginia Rails who do a very odd “ kidick, kidick “ song. These elusive birds are rarely seen, in fact in all the years I have spent looking at my wetlands area I have only seen them dart out once from the grasses and cat tails. The Marsh wrens are doing their rattling breeding song going from cattail to cat tail. The warblers are just starting to appear and so are the amazing small Common Yellowthroats- they call “ witchedy witchedy” and they appear in my yard mostly yellow but with their “Lone Ranger” black eye mask. Soon possibly a Green heron will arrive in my wetlands but they tend to be the latest spring migrant who appears. The house finches are singing away lustily from the tops of the trees and it sound like spring…
I even heard that some folks have seen hatched Anna’s hummingbird nestlings… now the flowers need to bloom to provide the nectar for these rapidly growing babies…
Bird Watching is really “bird hearing, bird seeing and bird knowing”. Have fun.