Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tip #1 for Birdwatchers: This Is Kind of a Zen Thing

I thought that maybe I’d try something different here, just for fun. I’m going to institute an ongoing series of tips for birdwatchers. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m a world-class birder, or that eventually I’ll complete any kind of comprehensive ‘system’ of birding or anything, but I have done my share of watching our feathered friends and have a few bits of advice I could share. Some of them might be technical tips on using binoculars, some of them might be tips for observing and identifying, and some might be more oriented to seeing things in a new way or opening up the experience to something unexpected.

And so…

Tip #1 – This Is Kind of a Zen Thing

If you’re out on your own, find a comfortable spot to sit and be still for a period of time. Try for ten minutes at least, but twenty would be even better. Someplace comfortable, a little out of the way and off-trail, where you can hide from other human trampers and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible. Make sure that your legs won’t fall asleep on you, settle in, shut up and keep your eyes and ears open. Small movements of your head are okay, but try not to reach for your binoculars or that candy bar. Just be still, quiet and pay attention.

We generally make a lot of commotion as we travel about, and even if we don’t frighten the birds away we often change their behavior. Try and get a glimpse of what might be going on when you’re not there! Maybe some shy individuals will finally show themselves, or perhaps resume their feeding or singing. Remember that some birds (especially those active at night) may be almost invisible when they are roosting; you might want to pick a good spot for owls. Once a Great Horned Owl materialized before my eyes after I had been sitting still for fifteen minutes - I had been looking right at it nearly the entire time!

Try to use this time to really see the whole picture – what kinds of trees are the birds in? What, exactly, are they eating? How do they move, how do they perch? Do they interact with other birds? How do their songs change or repeat? All too often we spend the day caught up in our own activity and excitement and catch very few of the finer details of what is really going on around us. As Yogi Berra said, “You can see a lot just by watching.” If nothing else, enjoy the time to yourself and come back to the trail with refreshed eyes.

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