I have recently started paying attention to the many interesting bird species I come across on my local walking, kayaking and hiking adventures around the Lower Mainland. In the last three months, I have spotted numerous Bald Eagles in the tall trees near my home on the Coquitlam River, and have stood there, mouth gaping wide, dumbly staring up at these majestic birds and only slightly nervous that they will suddenly glance down, meet my gaze, and dive-bomb me with ferocious beak and talons ablaze. So… it might go without saying that I am a novice bird-watcher.
Despite being surrounded by an impressive array of birds on any given day, I am unable to identify even the most common species. I admit I have often taken quick snapshots with my smartphone, and sent them to a more savvy birder friend for quick IDs. Using this method, I have (or, he has) identified numerous eagles, hawks and owls in my area, some beautiful ducks, and even an osprey. But without a generous and knowledgeable friend at the other end of my wilderness-411 texts, what’s a resourceful gal to do?
Well, it is my pleasure to report that there is no shortage of bird identification education in our midst. Not only can you take out any number of amazing local and regional bird books at your library, you can download any number of bird ID apps for your smartphone too, ranging from free to $14.99. Some top-rated apps allow you to listen to thousands of bird songs and identify your feathered friends by song. This is not going to help me though… I cannot very well stand underneath a mystery bird and start playing the anthems of its enemies! Nor do I wish to look through a complicated database of bird attributes, piecing together clues like colour, size, flight pattern, and beak shape to identify the likely identity of my suspect, like a cop in dimly lit prime time show. These apps seem beyond my ability, at least for now.
What I need is a birder friend to walk with me and point out the easiest ways to identify the likeliest birds in my area. That is, I need a human being, because I learn by asking questions, and by listening and looking at the same time. Luckily for me, there are knowledgeable bird experts everywhere in the world, just waiting for a dope like me to pay them for a birding tour, customized to my region and my season. With that, I am on the lookout for beginner birding hikes and guided trail walks. So far quite a few in my area look promising. Metro Vancouver offers a number of seasonal programs in the regional parks, and local conservation groups sponsor walks and talks about specific birds at local parks and lodges.
Do you have any recommendations for a novice birder like myself? Share your tune in the comments, or tweet me! (get it?)