Eastern towhee; credit: Larsek c/o Shutterstock
I knew that the time would come when I’d have to commit to learning bird songs in earnest. I’ve toyed with the idea before, even laughed that yes, I was on my way to becoming one of those birders, downloaded an app, and then proceeded to abandon the whole enterprise after I nearly drove my husband and myself crazy by singing along to a bird call CD while driving. (I don’t recommend this approach.)
Yellow-rumped warbler, Photo: Michael JThompson, Audubon
Sometimes I worry about what it’s going to feel like to see the first warbler of the season. Will it be as exciting as last year? Will the colors be as bright as I remember them? Will the enterprise of trying to spot the flitting, anxious, tiny birds that refuse to sit still feel as rewarding? Will I be able to ID anything other than a yellow warbler or a black and white? Will their songs all sound the same? Might something like this get old one day?
Male Wilson's warbler, credit: Tim Zurowski
Next Saturday, May 11th is International Migratory Bird Day! This is a fantastic occasion to celebrate not only the stunning spring migrants making their way through our province, but also an occasion to celebrate all birds as well as conservation efforts. It’s a chance to marvel at the things we often take for granted and to recognize how wondrous, surprising, colorful and precarious nature around us really is.
Julia and her husband in Spain's Donana National Park
I like to think that birding has changed me for the better. I’ve become more attentive to detail, more attune to the natural world around me, more cognizant about conservation issues and the perils facing bird habitats. Birds have changed the landscape of Toronto for me; I now marvel at urban parks because of their ability to transport me to a magical realm – one where warbler songs manage to drown out city noise.
Birding at Ontario Nature's Quarry Bay Nature Reserve
The first time I went out to look at birds, I had no idea what I was doing. Not only did I show up without binoculars, but I didn’t even know how to refer to the activity. When I met my birding group for the first time in a parking lot in Mississauga, I asked: “Are you all here to birdwatch?” “No. We’re here to bird.” My first taxonomic faux pas.
Least bittern credit: Craig Kempf
The first time I saw a male bobolink, I was stuck by the bird’s coloring: a sleek black face and shiny bill with a lemony yellow nape and a glistening white back. A rock star of a bird. I watched its undulating flight pattern and delighted every time the bobolink landed on the top of a low bush. The whimsical, bubbling song amused me, even though I couldn’t quite detect a melody. In any event, I was smitten.
A flock of gulls at the Leslie Street Spit, credit: Dave Pijuan-Nomura
One of the things I love most about birding is that it has given me the chance to rediscover Ontario. I’ve lived in the province for a large chunk of my adult life, and yet it wasn’t until I donned my binoculars that I appreciated how much surprisingly wonderful nature exists in the southwest corner of the province, where we sit flanked by three of the five Great Lakes. Long Point, Presqu’Ile, Rondeau, Rock Point, Selkirk and Awenda are just a few of the provincial parks I’ve discovered on my avian adventures.
Western tanager, credit: Kati Fleming
What I find most remarkable about birds is their intrepid nature. I love to point my binoculars and watch a bird soar above me, seemingly out of reach of all human pettiness. I never tire of watching warblers flutter from branch to branch, challenging me to look closer, observe more fiercely and attend to details even more vigilantly. Spending hours observing birds could lead to the false conclusion that they’re invincible, otherworldly creatures.
Tundra swans near Long Point Provincial Park, Ontario; Credit: mdf
I never imagined that I could happily spend six hours in a car on a Saturday in search of migrating tundra swans. Among birders, there’s a palpable excitement that comes with the advent of spring even when it isn’t quite here. This weekend, my bird group was so desperate for the first signs of spring, we stubbornly refused to admit that winter was nowhere near over.
Wind turbines at Wolfe Island, credit: NapaneeGal
I’m the past president and long-time member of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, and our group is currently fighting the construction of a 9-turbine wind project in an Important Bird Area (IBA), here in Prince Edward County.