You are here: Home » Birds » My birding journey – from beginner to bona fide birder

My birding journey – from beginner to bona fide birder

Tanya Clark Birding
Tanya Clark Birding

If you had asked me a few years ago about birding, I would have said, “What’s that?” Sure, I knew a lot of the typical back yard birds like Chickadees, Cardinals and Mourning Doves, but I had no idea that birding was an actual activity that people did together in an organized fashion.

So what is it about birds that people find so interesting? Obviously, it will differ for each person; it could be their song, their colours, their migration patterns or the association with the freedom of flying. There are those who choose to go birding in a recreational fashion and people who are interested in scientific data and flight patterns. Whatever the level of birding knowledge and interest, a common theme is their love of avian species.

A search on Google for birding brings up almost 5 million results in less than 30 seconds with websites about magazines, associations, locations and festivals – all dedicated to birds! This fascination with birds extends to sports and games as well. Many popular extreme sports such as skydiving, paragliding and bungee jumping give adventure seekers a rush of adrenaline while replicating the feeling of flying, even for a short period of time. Apps like Flappy Bird and Angry Birds have both been among the top iTunes apps and have been downloaded millions of times across the planet. Both of these games allow you to ‘fly’ the bird. There seems to be quite an interest in birds in our society, even if people don’t consider themselves birders.

In my journey to become a better birder, I participated in the Carden Challenge for the first time last year. This 24-hour birding and wildlife event raises funds for the stewardship of the Carden Alvar – a globally rare ecosystem. Teams of four go exploring to find as many species as possible through a variety of habitats (wetlands, grasslands, forests). Honestly, I was a bit wary going into it. I had heard quite a lot about the event and knew that a lot of the participants had a lot of identification skills. It was intimidating – sure I could identify some of the birds that I saw in town but there are hundreds on the Carden Plain. With my trusty bird book, knowledgeable comrades and the use of mnemonics (a way to identify a bird by linking their song to an easy to remember phrase – so an Eastern Towhee sings “Drink-your-teeeee”), I was able to identify quite a few birds – finches, grosbeaks and even some sparrows. Its one thing to enjoy a bird call or marvel at their colours, but it’s completely different to actually know what you are looking at or hearing. It’s almost like a eureka moment when you identify a bird correctly.

Much to my surprise, the Challenge was really enjoyable. As we drove around the area, with our windows down and our binoculars ready to search the tree tops, there was a sense of excitement that I haven’t felt in years. We would see something in the distance or see a flash of a soaring unidentified bird and stop each other so we could all take a look. What could it be? Would it be a new species that we had yet to check off our list or a rare bird sighting? My team, ‘The Couch Potatoes’ (Couch as in Couchiching…not Couch as in a living room chair) saw and heard an impressive 108 species of birds in 24 hours. Now just think about the number of species you see at your feeder. At my house, there are probably only 10, and that’s on a good day. So to see 108 different species in that short timeframe – wow! What an amazing ecosystem we have just 30 minutes outside of Orillia.

Birding is a really easy activity to get into. Regardless of your knowledge level, my advice for someone interested in learning more about birds is to go to the library or local store to get a bird book and search the Simcoe County Nature Board online to find out what birds have been seen lately in the area. Another great resource are the Naturalists Clubs in the area which have monthly meetings and presentations.

Over the time working for The Couchiching Conservancy, my enjoyment of bird watching has grown. When I tell most of my friends about birding, they don’t understand. When I express my excitement about seeing an owl or a purple finch, they just don’t get it. That’s ok though – birding isn’t for everyone. I have however noticed that I am rubbing off on my friends. One friend told me that she now notices the birds around her and the different songs they sing. If I can influence my friends in that way – to encourage them appreciate nature and take time to notice the world around them – that is enough to make me happy. I am now proud to call myself a bona fide birder…even if I’m still learning.

Written by Tanya Clark