Bird-watching a year-round treasure hunt |

Bird-watching a year-round treasure hunt

Dee Bolton

Bird-watching is a year-round treasure hunt. You never know what you will find.

Well, actually, the time of year, location and habitat help us predict what the usual avian suspects might be – but seeing and hearing, identifying and getting to know each bird is a real treasure.

Bird watching requires you to be a compulsive note-taker and list-maker. Quickly, the thrill of spotting and naming a bird becomes addictive, so you need to make notes as to the time of day, the location and the habitat of that species to anticipate seeing it again under similar conditions.

Bird-watching places you completely in the moment.

You lose the sense of time when you watch a pair of eagles carry twigs to meticulously fortify their aerie; you wait motionlessly for the great horned owlets’ heads to appear above their nest; you gaze mesmerized for the return of a food-toting mamma woodpecker whose demanding fledgling squawks impatiently at its hole. You abandon your cell phone to be transported by the chuckle of a coot in the reeds edging a lake, a plaintive owl hooting at dusk, the eerie warble of a loon at midnight, the green-tailed towhee’s rustling of dried sagebrush leaves in the heat of noon.

Bird-watching connects you to the natural world.

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Through bird-watching, you come to know the trees, grasses and flowers in your area. Quickly you notice that goldfinches frequent thistle blossoms, and sparrows like grasses going to seed; swallows return to your pond only after bugs have hatched, so you pay attention to the transformation of larvae on pond scum; dippers seek creepy-crawlers in rushing, fresh, cold streams burbling around rocks.

Birdwatching connects you to the seasons.

In Steamboat Springs, the red-winged blackbird’s ode welcoming spring comes even before the robin’s “Cheerio,” and great blue herons and sandhill cranes begin nesting before warblers arrive to assure us that summer had indeed returned. Hummingbirds start their journey south in September – earlier than many other migratory species. And winter has truly arrived when the juncos migrate from the higher elevations to your feeder. Spring is surely on its way when they disappear to seek the lofty spruces of the mountain ridges.

Birdwatching fine-tunes your skills of observation: in studying the wingbars of a bird, it bursts into song. In identifying that bird by its physical characteristics, you also come to know its music. That medium-large black speck in the sky is either a crow or a raven – you know which it is because the crow constantly flaps its wings while the raven periodically glides. When a flock of chickadees moves into an area, you stay close, because oftentimes juncos and nuthatches follow shortly thereafter. To distinguish the sparrows, which at first glance appear to be the same, you pay attention to whether the black line traverses through the eye or above it; you determine whether the thrush’s breast stripes are wide or slender; whether the hawk’s tail bands are horizontal or vertical, or the loon’s eyes yellow or red.

When the rudiments of size, shape and habitat, have been mastered, you are familiar with the common birds of an area. Then you begin to seek out the snow goose waylaid by an early snowstorm, the tanager that belongs in Arizona, the swan that only migrates East of the Rockies. Those rare sightings are an added joy because you really have spotted a treasure.

If you go

What: The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count

When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: Meet at the Stock Bridge Transit Center

Contact: Call 879-9046