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Simple Gifts

Written by Guest Blogger
    Thursday, 07 May 2015
Simple Gifts

Have you ever had the experience of turning a corner in a familiar neighborhood, and suddenly becoming alert to all sorts of buildings or natural features you had never noticed before? That's sort of what becoming a bird watcher has been like for me. I've walked along creeks and in woods my whole life, but it's only been within the last few years that I've truly been aware of my winged companions out there.

This blog post was written by Suzy Clarkson Holstein. Suzy is a member of the Center and enjoys going on regular bird walks (rain or shine!) with others. 

My passion for birding began unexpectedly. I've always enjoyed canoeing, and so I cajoled my daughters to join me on an Urban Ecology Center "birding by canoe" trip scheduled on my birthday. I figured we could tolerate the bird spottings and just enjoy ourselves on the river. Then, on that perfect spring day from my canoe, I saw the scarlet tanager. The jet black wings against the flaming red flanks dazzled me, and I almost immediately caught the infectious enthusiasm of our fellow travelers. "Where is it?" "Which tree? The one with two forks in it?" "Did it just this minute fly off?" "Oh, I've never gotten to see one before!" My beginner's luck had led me to spot a gorgeous, eagerly sought migrant, and soon, I had completely succumbed to the birding bug.

IMG 1256As the infection has progressed further and further, I've recognized the many unexpected gifts birding has brought me. Patiently, my companions help me scan the trees repeatedly until I finally see the hard-working yellow-bellied sapsucker. Later, I'm able to be patient with myself when I hear the indigo bunting calling over and over and, after a diligent search, I can find the brilliant blue bird in the sunlight. There's a lovely feeling of accomplishment and gratification that's hard to match.

Just the ability to hear that call represents another blessing birding has brought me. The times and spaces for intentional listening become rarer and more difficult every day in our culture, but bird watching (or more accurately bird listening) opens up that sacred space. It astounds me to realize that the same path I've traveled for years echoes with the distinct notes of at least 15 to 20 species of birds, birds that I can now distinguish and identify. Those sounds were always there, but my ears didn't hear them. I've become able to tune in, to move past the static of other internal and external noises, and come to my senses – literally. The great benefit, beyond knowing the nuthatch by its nasal "yank" or the red-bellied woodpecker by its warm "churr," is the feeling of belonging in the natural environment, of deep connectedness to the world that I move through.

And then there are the special, fleeting moments that feel like unexpected grace. For example, once, when I'd only been a confirmed bird watcher for a few months, I was out walking our dog along the bike path on a foggy April morning. I happened to look at a little leafless bush on the side of the path, and it was full of tiny ruby-crested kinglets. The whole vision, bush and all, just seemed to appear suddenly out of the fog. The little kinglets were all displaying their miniature red crests in the middle of their foreheads, something they only do sporadically. Such moments, completely beyond my conscious effort or control, are part of every birder's treasure chest.

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Yet those of us who go birding at the Urban Ecology Center have another, truly distinct treasure: the staff who lead us. Both Jennifer Callaghan and Tim Vargo share their considerable knowledge and experience with us several times a week, in all kinds of weather and conditions. More than their knowledge, however, they share their patience, their kindness, and their good humor. From the beginning of my time participating in the Center's bird walks, I marveled at Tim's ability to treat the dumbest beginner question with respect and thoughtfulness. (I know, because I still ask them all the time.) Jenn maintains her cheerful spirits even when her fingers and toes are freezing and even when bird banding scheduling is maddeningly challenging. Even if I didn't like birds, I think I would pay money to spend time with these wonderful folks – not to mention the joys of being with my fellow enthusiasts (or lunatics, depending on whom you ask.)

BikinBirdersNot surprisingly, then, the upcoming Green Birding Challenge represents a true high point of my year. I get to spend the day biking and birding, with my daughter and other friends, looking and listening for these amazing little guys that share our world. What a gift!

Want to help our teams count for a cause?

This Saturday our Green Birding Challenge teams are counting for a cause as they try to spot as many birds as they can in support of the Center's Community Science program! They're over 90% of the way to their fundraising goal - pledge or donate today and help them finish strong!

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Guest Blogger

Guest Blogger

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