By Ben Gruber
Last week I was out at a duck marsh in the Mead Wildlife Area, doing some training with Belle, the (future) duck-retrieving dog. I picked a pretty out-of-the way spot so there would not be distractions. She was doing well until another car pulled up and out climbed a guy wearing dress slacks and shirt carrying a tripod and spotting scope.
I had not expected to see anyone, and I failed to have a means to control my soaking wet and muddy puppy. I was pretty horrified watching my muddy pup streaking towards this well-dressed man while simultaneously wondering why on Earth he was there in the first place. I was at least a little relieved when he fended her off quite successfully with the tripod.
My embarrassment only grew when I ran up to grab Belle and recognized the man from a place where I frequently go for work training and education. Despite the poor manners from Belle, he was understanding of her poor puppy behavior and our surprise to see anyone else there.
He explained he was a “birder” and had heard reports of a pretty difficult-to-spot migratory bird from the sandpiper family: the marbled godwit. After just a few minutes peering through his spotting scope, he confirmed the birds’ presence on the exposed mud flats of the marsh. These birds are well suited to the waters’ edge habitat, with long legs and an even longer beak for standing in shallow water and grabbing food.
He quickly pulled up an app on his phone, confirmed the identity of the bird, and posted a sighting confirmation on a birding site. Birders tend to share their sightings with others, allowing others to flock to the area and share the experience.
I must admit, from someone who really has never had an interest in chasing birds that I cannot hunt and eat, it was a cool experience. I can see how you can get caught up in the excitement, and it is a great excuse to get outdoors all year. Plus, as my acquaintance proved that day, it can be done in dress clothes with only a few minutes’ time on the road between business meetings.
It looks pretty easy to get started. The essential equipment includes binoculars or a spotting scope and a bird guide. Bird guides can be printed or viewed on a smartphone with the Audubon Society and other organizations offering popular free apps. With the app, you can research what bird you might be seeing as well as share your observations with others.
Bird watching can be done in your yard, at a local pond, or travel to a wetland to really get the full experience of migratory birds traveling through from wintering to nesting grounds. It is an activity that requires little money, experience, or physical abilities and is truly accessible to all. The ability to view from a distance makes it ideal for children, requiring little stealth and only moderate patience.
My family has downloaded the Audubon Society’s app trying to learn the songs being played in our yard, and you may soon catch me out near the marsh with my binoculars and smartphone looking for birds.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.