secret confessions of a closet birder
My wife and I love the outdoors. Submersing ourselves in nature is our favorite escape from the annoying noises of life. Peace to us is defined, not as zero sounds where it's so quiet your ears hum, but at that place where all you hear when you stop and listen is the quietness of nature. Small animals foraging about the bushes, birds singing, wind moving through the trees, and our old dog lapping water from a mountain stream are all signs we have found a peaceful escape.
But honestly, birders are nerds.
There, I said it. In fact, several years ago while watching my wife photographing a small bird in a tree with her large lens camera wearing olive green cargo pants, I remarked that she was one fanny pack away from being a birder. We had a good laugh, volleying “you’re the birder” comments at each other as we stopped every time we saw another bird. With each bird sighting, we always tried to amateurishly define the bird but never to the point of knowing because knowing would be a symptom of being a nerdy birder.
This silly name-play between us went on for months. Whenever we’d see a bird, we’d wait for the other person to toss out a name before the other would say, “birder”.
Then she started giving me the look as I would go to the kitchen to grab my local county laminated trifold bird brochure to see if I could match the small colorful birds seen in our front yard to one of the many birds on the page. Or when I completely cleaned my hummingbird feeder every week while refilling them with the proper 4:1 ratio of sugar to water.
During our 14 months of traveling around the US, we found so much beauty in many things from amazing scenery, flowers, trees, and swamps to oceans, and yes, birds. We became fascinated with the massive numbers of migratory birds from the Everglades north through Florida. We were thrilled when we came upon emus in the Texas hill country, and the bald eagles and ospreys feeding along California's north coast. We’d lie in bed and listen to the marvelous calls of the loons as we camped near lakes in the northern states and learned that the black bills of the swans are legit Trumpeter swans.
After our travels, I decided to volunteer for something in our local open space organization. While perusing the list of volunteer opportunities ranging from park ambassador to frog monitor, I became captivated by a raptor nest monitor volunteer position. “Raptor nest monitors aren’t birders” I proudly told my wife as I booked my training class.
The raptor nest monitoring was amazing. It allowed me to bushwhack well off-trail within the park carrying a scope, tripod, and official name tag. I would set up for a few hours behind a large rock outcropping and peer across a canyon into a nest of a golden eagle couple. I observed the egg hatch, an eaglet’s growth, and eventually, it fledged the nest, all over 4 months.
From my perch, I was able to also enjoy other birds, herds of deer, and an occasional nap. There was nothing more exciting to see than a nest exchange between adult eagles or more disappointing to have accidentally napped through it.
I admittedly felt proud at the sight of the huge fledgling eagle as it stood on the edge of its nest just days before it left. Contrasting that sight to the small goofy alien-looking hatchling peering just over the edge of the nest just a short time before. The experience was amazing and one I’ll hopefully return to next season, as a proud full-fledged, birder.
Yes, as I type this I am for the first time admitting in public that I am one of them/you and do enjoy it as I do all of nature. I just hope you all still love me with my new fanny pack.
Feel free to visit our travel blog at www.travelswithtoohey.com for wonderful nature photographs my wife took along our journey.