Author Topic: Birding, how to get started?  (Read 2619 times)

CowboyAndIndian

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Birding, how to get started?
« on: April 20, 2019, 07:56:25 PM »
I've always been interested in birds. The first decent day of this spring, sitting in my back yard I saw so many birds.

Would love to learn more about them.

I was able to find out about eBird (eBird.org) and Merlin bird identifier. Looks like both of these are from Cornell Universi
Any suggestions by any experienced birders?

Khaetra

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2019, 05:07:07 AM »
I love birding and often take trips just for that purpose.  Both of those apps are excellent to help identify what you see and the only things I would add would be a notebook, pencil and binoculars.  Nothing fancy, just a cheap spiral notebook to write down birds you see and descriptions of those you don't know so you can identify them later.  Binoculars are extremely helpful to peer into bushes/trees and in the distance (added bonus: I also enjoy astronomy and use my bins to look at the night sky).  A decent pair run around $40 on Amazon and being a one-time purchase, with care, will last forever.


brute

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2019, 06:00:25 AM »
I'm not a birder, but I am married to an avian biologist. So uh. Birds. So many birds.

Get comfortable with your guide books. I suggest Sibley. Good binoculars are key, we like Eagle Optics and Vortex for the inexpensive ones. If you aren't trying to see stuff very far away, you can get away with cheaper, but if you're serious and want to get all the details of the little buggers then you'll want so good ones. Learn what actually identifies birds in various poses i.e. actively flying, soaring, etc. Key in on bill shape, streaking, eye color, relative size. Learn the bird's songs and calls. If you want to know whats out there,  your ears will tell you more than your eyes.


Lichen

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2019, 08:09:21 AM »
Google your local Audubon society. They generally have meetings that are free and open to the public, as well as public events at local wildlife areas and wetlands where you can learn the basics of the birds in your area. You'll get a chance to meet the local expert amateurs in birding that are familiar with the birds of your area, as well as get advice on the best tools/guidebooks. Some societies even have classes or equipment loan programs for members, so it may be worthwhile to get a membership to further help you develop the hobby.

Sibley guides for your region are considered an excellent resource for amateurs. If you don't want to make an investment in a good guide yet, then see what guides your library offers. Not a bird resource, but definitely worth a look-through in my opinion, is the Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. You don't have to be an artist or even have an urge to draw, I just really like how he lays out how to be a careful nature observer. Learning to view something in nature with the idea to sketch or describe it makes it much easier to pick out defining characteristics quickly -- something that comes in handy when your subject may fly away instead of letting you study it ;)

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2019, 08:42:41 AM »
Thanks, @Khaetra, @brute, @Lichen.

Binoculars: I had bought one when I went to South Africa. I dug it out and checked. It is a 10x42 6 Nikon Aculon. I had not paid full price but had got it as an opened package for half off (approx $50). This looks quite decent. What do you/SO use for binoculars?

Notebook: Good suggestion to keep track of what birds I see. I downloaded the free eBird app on my phone and you can keep a journal on it. Seems like it may be better for me, since I always keep my phone with me, but can very easily misplace a notebook. Another advantage of the app is that it will help with avian research since it updates a central database and can potentially detect and improvement or fall in bird populations.

Guide Books: I'll hold off buying Sibley until I am sure that this passion will endure(I'll try and borrow it from my library). The idea is great, so I have replaced it with another free phone app called Merlin and have set it up with the database for my area(North East USA). After using it yesterday, I was able to identify those blackbirds on my lawn (a common Graekel). Seems to be quite well built, with sounds and pictures.

Local Groups: Great idea @Lichen. I'm going to search for any Audobon society or local events or groups. I guess there may be some groups on meetup.com.

Looks like I was able to get started in a very mustachian way, for free, using what I had.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2019, 08:44:21 AM by CowboyAndIndian »

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2019, 08:45:57 AM »
DH is a biologist who specializes in birds. In fact, he's packing right now for some survey work in a national park this week.  I have worked/sometimes work with birds as well, though not currently. 

Good binocs are absolutely crucial, if you want to avoid immediate frustration.  I agree totally with brute on his rec for glassware.  DH buys his field techs (who often have little experience starting out) Vortex Diamondbacks (8 x 42s).  They run around 200$.  The 8x magnification isn't as high as more experienced birders might want, but most beginners appreciate the extra light-gathering capacity, esp if you will be birding in woods with less light.  Be warned, if you get into this hobby, eventually you will probably be unable to resist the Zeiss/Leica-level glassware and the urge to take trips to good birding locations, but it's an inexpensive hobby apart from that.  Regardless of what you buy, you want them to be water-proof, not water-resistant.

Sibley guides (both to id and bird behavior) are the current gold standards in the U.S. (we have SO MANY copies in our vehicles, office, houses, etc), but if you are one who prefers photos, Kaufman guide is good. Cornell is also a terrific resource.

It is very easy to be overwhelmed by trying to focus on color patterns when you start out birding, so it is extremely helpful for beginners to spend some time with more experienced birders who can help you stay focused on 'gestalt' and general id characteristics (body shape, relative size, movement/flight pattern, bill shape and length, where the bird was seen and what it was doing [perching high, flitting through the canopy, wading in a mudflat, etc]) when you first start out.  It becomes easier once you understand that you can rule out tons of possibilities with just a quick look at a bird (no color pattern needed) and an understanding of locations and seasons in which you are likely to see certain species.  Then the fun work of finer-detail observations begins.

Songs/calls are invaluable for id, as well, but usually take longer to learn.  It can be very rewarding to start out learning those of the birds that are common right around your house.  I regularly will be working at home and only half-aware of sounds, but will suddenly be alert b/c I caught a faint bird call that my brain registers as unusual for my yard.  This happened a couple mornings ago and when I grabbed the binocs and went into the backyard to investigate, there was a mixed flock of warblers and a flock of American goldfinches moving through. Without that sound, I wouldn't have seen them.

If you have a local Audubon group, they can be incredibly valuable for beginners, giving talks on bird id and biology, helping you learn songs and calls, and running local field trips.  E.g., DH sometimes volunteers with our local group to give short seminars on raptor identification and biology, which can include anything from class lectures to actual field trips where you trap live raptors.

You are also in proximity to the terrific Cape May Bird Observatory, and are in a 'honey hole' for some of the best birding in the U.S. during autumn migration (esp shorebirds, raptors, and warblers :envy:).  You might consider visiting there, which will probably give you access to more classes, info, and possibly the opportunity to try out different glassware.

It's an addictive hobby!  I went from being just generally 'into birds' as a kid to feeling totally naked traveling anywhere other than on local errands without my binocs LOL.  Be aware, birders often get up EARLY (I'm not a morning person, but have forced myself up at the crack of dawn for years...ugh).

Birds are an endlessly fun, delightful, and sometimes awe-inspiring hobby (or line of work). And birding easily doubles the fun factor of anywhere you travel...the very first bird I saw in Australia when I got out of a cab in downtown Sydney was a sulphur-crested cockatoo flying between the skyscrapers, and I almost peed myself with excitement.

Good luck! 

ETA: I see you asked about glassware we use.  DH has Zeiss 10xs and I have Leica 10xs, and DH has tons of scopes of various brands as well, but this is much more expensive than what you will want to be paying to start. My binocs were ~1,000$ on sale.  Scopes are incredibly helpful, but if you hang out with local birding groups (Audubon, etc), you will have free access to some scopes for when you really need them.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2019, 08:50:09 AM by wenchsenior »

LadyMuMu

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2019, 09:07:06 AM »
We love eBird in our house.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2019, 09:09:58 AM »
Thanks for the detailed reply @wenchsenior.

Wow! Lots of great info.

I'm only 2 hours from Cape May and I am FIRE'd. Weekday trips should be so easy, less traffic and crowds. So I guess, I will be making some trips this summer and fall ;-)

Looks like the binoculars that you are suggesting are the Roof prism types, while I got a Porro prism type one. The major advantage of the Roof prism is that it is substantially lighter than the Porro prism type, which would probably help considering that you carry it all the time. I might break down and buy a Vortex/Eagle later ....

Yaay, my library has a couple of Sibley books. I put a hold on the birding basics and the guide.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2019, 09:26:59 AM »
I just realized that I spent the morning sitting at the table in my back yard looking at birds in my back yard with the binoculars.

Hope my neighbors do not think I am a peeping tom....

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2019, 08:29:49 AM »
I have ordered a bird feeder since I cannot identify the smaller flying birds. Hoping to lure them to my feeder and get to see them up close and learn a lot more. I have also been browsing thru telephoto lenses for my camera so that I can take some pictures too.
This is a slippery slope and I think I may have unleashed a monster ;-)

It is very easy to be overwhelmed by trying to focus on color patterns when you start out birding, so it is extremely helpful for beginners to spend some time with more experienced birders who can help you stay focused on 'gestalt' and general id characteristics (body shape, relative size, movement/flight pattern, bill shape and length, where the bird was seen and what it was doing [perching high, flitting through the canopy, wading in a mudflat, etc]) when you first start out.  It becomes easier once you understand that you can rule out tons of possibilities with just a quick look at a bird (no color pattern needed) and an understanding of locations and seasons in which you are likely to see certain species.  Then the fun work of finer-detail observations begins.

Songs/calls are invaluable for id, as well, but usually take longer to learn.  It can be very rewarding to start out learning those of the birds that are common right around your house.  I regularly will be working at home and only half-aware of sounds, but will suddenly be alert b/c I caught a faint bird call that my brain registers as unusual for my yard.  This happened a couple mornings ago and when I grabbed the binocs and went into the backyard to investigate, there was a mixed flock of warblers and a flock of American goldfinches moving through. Without that sound, I wouldn't have seen them.
So true, I am seeing far more birds than I could identify. If they only stay still, then I can use the Merlin app to find out what they are.  But if they are flying or I can just hear them, I am totally at a loss. On my morning walk today, I heard distinct bird calls which I could not identify.

Quote
If you have a local Audubon group, they can be incredibly valuable for beginners, giving talks on bird id and biology, helping you learn songs and calls, and running local field trips.  E.g., DH sometimes volunteers with our local group to give short seminars on raptor identification and biology, which can include anything from class lectures to actual field trips where you trap live raptors.
I have found that the Audubon society in NJ has a preserve(Plainsboro Preserve) very close to my home, maybe less than 5 miles away. I am ashamed that I have never been there. Hope to remedy that soon. Don't think they have any planned activities there, but would be great for a walk and maybe see more birds. I'm hoping to get to Cape May later this summer.

I cannot travel much, still recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, so looking/identify/learn about birds is an intellectual challenge and is a perfect way to spend time. I could never have done this when I was working, so a win for FIRE!

ETA: I also had an old bird bath. Looks like if I keep it clean and make sure I add fresh water each day, there will be more birds visiting!

« Last Edit: April 23, 2019, 08:57:52 AM by CowboyAndIndian »

Lichen

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2019, 09:02:37 AM »
Cornell has an excellent site for bird calls (and other ID tips):

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/page.aspx%3Fpid%3D1059

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2019, 09:16:27 AM »
bird photography is definitely a slippery slope.  In the world of photo-bugs, the guys with the most expensive gear tend to be birders.

I saw you mentioned a feeder. great!  I'd add several different kinds with different seeds to attract different birds, and improve the space near your feeders to maximize visitation.  Bird want some shelter nearby they can perch on between feedings.  FIL puts out his used xmas tree... if you want something more permanent you could plant some small trees 10-15' from the feeder(s).   Bird houses also give a great way of observing from the comfort of your home.

Tons of 'plans' online for making feeders and birdhouses out of scrap wood and junk (e.g. 2 liter soda bottle feeders).

Ask your local Audubon society for tips in attracting birds native to your area.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2019, 10:02:40 AM »
Cornell has an excellent site for bird calls (and other ID tips):

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/page.aspx%3Fpid%3D1059

Fantastic. Love the idea of mnemonics to remember sounds (birdie birdie birdie for the northern cardinal). For now, will focus on the ones in my area and that I can recognize and then work my way thru the others.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2019, 10:15:36 AM »
bird photography is definitely a slippery slope.  In the world of photo-bugs, the guys with the most expensive gear tend to be birders.

I saw you mentioned a feeder. great!  I'd add several different kinds with different seeds to attract different birds, and improve the space near your feeders to maximize visitation.  Bird want some shelter nearby they can perch on between feedings.  FIL puts out his used xmas tree... if you want something more permanent you could plant some small trees 10-15' from the feeder(s).   Bird houses also give a great way of observing from the comfort of your home.

Tons of 'plans' online for making feeders and birdhouses out of scrap wood and junk (e.g. 2 liter soda bottle feeders).

Ask your local Audubon society for tips in attracting birds native to your area.

Great ideas. 

I actually have crab apple trees right next to my kitchen/family room windows. Maybe a great place for adding a feeder in between them. Much better to sit on your couch and watch birds instead of TV :-)

I promise, I'll stop at one lens (Even I do not believe myself!)

Khaetra

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2019, 10:39:13 AM »
I promise, I'll stop at one lens (Even I do not believe myself!)

Of course you will!

<looks around at all of her camera gear and remembers how many times she said that exact same thing>

brute

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #15 on: April 23, 2019, 10:41:42 AM »
I promise, I'll stop at one lens (Even I do not believe myself!)

Of course you will!

<looks around at all of her camera gear and remembers how many times she said that exact same thing>

1 of each type of lens you mean. Plus a backup, just in case. And also a spotting scope, because then you'll have it. Thank the noodle-y one that my wife got most of her gear on the job and they let her keep it.

Khaetra

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #16 on: April 23, 2019, 11:39:41 AM »
I promise, I'll stop at one lens (Even I do not believe myself!)

Of course you will!

<looks around at all of her camera gear and remembers how many times she said that exact same thing>

1 of each type of lens you mean. Plus a backup, just in case. And also a spotting scope, because then you'll have it. Thank the noodle-y one that my wife got most of her gear on the job and they let her keep it.

Yeah, bird/wildlife photography can lead to GAS (Gear Acquirement Syndrome) pretty quick if one is not careful :).

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #17 on: April 23, 2019, 12:25:59 PM »


So true, I am seeing far more birds than I could identify. If they only stay still, then I can use the Merlin app to find out what they are.  But if they are flying or I can just hear them, I am totally at a loss. On my morning walk today, I heard distinct bird calls which I could not identify.


Yes, it is very overwhelming at first. Beginners often tend to overload themselves considering tiny plumage characteristics of everything they see, but it's usually easier to start out getting to know differences in overall look and behavior of different families of birds, and then getting more detailed from there.  Here's a pic to illustrate what I mean (random grab off the internet, thanks unknown photographer):

A similar picture to this was just posted to a Facebook forum that I frequent. An argument immediately broke out over what species this was, but 2 seconds is enough for me to id this as a northern harrier (hawk), almost certainly an adult female. 

How can I so quickly differentiate it from all the other raptor species it might hypothetically be?  It isn't that I'm a super-good birder (I am soooo not).  But I do have a lot of general experience with raptors, which helps me instantly discard the majority of possibilities.

E.g., we have 35 species of raptor in North America that forage during the day (if you include the short-eared owl).


1. Landscape: Photo was taken in southern Great Plains, in winter. Open, mostly treeless, dry-ish landscape.  This automatically rules out most raptors immediately (those that are forest dwellers, those that migrate south to winter, those that remain in the north all year), but leaves 8 possibilities: northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, prairie falcon, merlin, American kestrel, golden eagle, short-eared owl. Also possible (if wandering a bit out of range) would be peregrine falcon and bald eagle.

2. Size: not helpful in this photo, and actually not as helpful to a beginner as you might believe. Size is incredibly deceptive in birds and hard to judge accurately.

3.  Field marks (plumage/body shape). The pictured  hawk is nondescript brown with some pale edging/streaking on the back. Front not visible.  Distinct white rump patch, darker bars on tail.  Unfortunately, ~20 raptor species have 'brownish' backs with some tail barring at some ages or in some plumages.  Good thing we automatically ruled out a bunch via point 1! 

The white rump patch is promising, though ~10 species have white at or near the tail base. Good thing we already ruled a bunch out via point 1!

This bird has relatively long wings and tail for its size, and wings are narrowish. Head looks small, and kind of 'flat-fronted'. 

Even if you didn't know size, this does not have the body shape of an eagle, which resembles a flying rectangular plank. Juvenile bald eagles have very large heads/beaks, lack a white tail patch, and usually occur near water.  Adult golden eagles lack the tail patch, and juveniles (which have it) typically exhibit the golden nape feathers. Not an eagle.

The 4 falcons (prairie, peregrine, kestrel, merlin) have long pointed wings and longer tails, but ALL lack the distinct white rump patch.

That leaves the harrier, red-tail, and rough-legged hawks, and the short-eared owl, all of which frequent open country during the winter in the southern plains.

Short-eared owls have brown streaky backs but with distinct dark and pale patches on their wings, lack the tail patch, and have short tails and short round wings. Not a short-ear.

Juvenile red-tails have the brown streaky backs and light tail barring, but lack the white tail patch. They also have much broader wings and a shorter tail. Not a red-tail.

We are left with rough-legged hawk or northern harrier.  Eliminating rough-legged hawks could be tricky (this is where experience with raptors really helps, as does seeing the bird out in the wild on the move).  Rough-leggeds have variable 'color morphs', some of which have a white tail patch or faint tail bars.  However, though they have intermediate-length wings, they still don't have quite the same 'profile' as the northern harrier.  Harriers have a 'flattish' face that rough-leggeds lack.  Unlike harriers, rough-leggeds often have a pale 'window' patch in the outer ends of their wings.

Also, these two species move and forage very differently, which is where a lot of time out in the field really helps.  Rough-leggeds tend to perch on telephone poles or any other tall structure out on the plains, or they tend to alternately soar and hover while watching for prey below. Harriers tend to forage by continuously quartering very low (often less than 10 feet) off the ground, rocking back and forth and flapping only occasionally, holding their wings in a shallow 'v' shape.

By landscape and context (open, treeless, winter), field marks (profile, white rump patch, flattish looking face), behavior (coursing low), we know this is a northern harrier.  We know it is likely adult female b/c adult males are pale gray above, whereas females are dull brown.  Field marks are insufficient to entirely rule out that this could be a juvenile (which are similar to adult females but more cinammon-y in color)...we would have to see the underside of the bird to be confident (adult females tend to be whitish with brown streaking, while juvies are cinnamon brown with variable streaking).

It's really helpful to go out with birding id groups/classes, b/c the instructors can give you context by which you can quickly rule out most possibilities and hone in on the field marks that you need.  It goes from being overwhelming to  fun very fast. Although admittedly, periodically very frustrating (the plentiful birds that you can't 100% 'call'.)
« Last Edit: April 23, 2019, 12:44:11 PM by wenchsenior »

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #18 on: April 23, 2019, 05:01:24 PM »
Wow @wenchsenior!

Blown away by your knowledge.

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #19 on: April 23, 2019, 06:55:50 PM »
Wow @wenchsenior!

Blown away by your knowledge.

Thanks, but it required nothing but time spent paying attention. I'd better be decent at it after all these years!
« Last Edit: April 23, 2019, 06:59:55 PM by wenchsenior »

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #20 on: April 23, 2019, 08:32:03 PM »
In my backyard I have a birdfeeder with safflower seeds that attracts cardinals, and I think maybe sparrows but not sure.

And another feeder has nyjer which attracts yellow finches.

There's some evergreens nearby for the birds to fly to before and after feedings from the bird feeders.

brute

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #21 on: April 24, 2019, 07:34:04 AM »
Wow @wenchsenior!

Blown away by your knowledge.

Thanks, but it required nothing but time spent paying attention. I'd better be decent at it after all these years!

Excellent description of how to use all the available information to figure out the species. The time of year, the landscape, and behavior are things my wife always hammers on. Being able to eliminate options makes it SOOOO much easier to identify what it actually could be.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #22 on: May 10, 2019, 07:26:55 AM »
Just thought I would update you on the progress. I am still watching birds around my home, hopefully, I can go and watch birds at other locations later this summer (recovering from Guillian-Barre).

I have set up a squirrel-proof birdfeeder which actually seems to work. Perfectly located, I can see the feeder from my desk and from the sofa.  Trees next to the feeder are a sanctuary for the birds, but far enough that the squirrel cannot jump onto the feeder. The squirrel tries getting into the feeder every day, then gives up and eats all the seeds dropped by the birds. The squirrel and mourning dove's do a great job of cleaning up. I have also added a bird bath a few feet away and I see a lot of birds stopping there for a drink after the feed. I see a lot of common grackles, but the blue jays stopped visiting when I replaced the feed from Sunflower to a mix. Seems like about 6 different birds which come to the feeder (Common grackles, blue jays, mourning doves, sparrows, house finch, cardinal). The grackles seem to dominate the feeder and I am wondering if I can put up a feeder which will attract smaller birds and still keep out squirrels. Any suggestions?


I kept seeing what I thought was a female cardinal with a sparrow which regularly visits the feeder. So weird that a female cardinal and sparrow were friends. All this time, the male cardinal would be on the ground, never coming upto the feeder. Something was not right, what I thought was a female cardinal did not have a crest. I slowly came to the realization that I was wrong and that was not a female cardinal. Out comes the Merlin app, and voila, it was a house finch couple. So interesting that the house finch couple always fed together.

I've also sat on the porch and watch red-tailed hawks. I still cannot distinguish them with the naked eye, but if I get a good look with the binoculars I can clearly see the red tail.

I have got the Sibley books from the library. One on birding basics, one on birds of the east and the last is the full guide to birds.

Also, reddit.com has a few birding resources which are helpful. One is https://www.reddit.com/r/birding, one is https://www.reddit.com/r/whatsthisbird. Both are very useful.

Edit: Wonder why the robin's do not show up at the feeder. They seem interested and watch from a distance. Maybe, they do not eat seeds?



« Last Edit: May 10, 2019, 07:49:53 AM by CowboyAndIndian »

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #23 on: May 10, 2019, 11:15:23 AM »
Just thought I would update you on the progress. I am still watching birds around my home, hopefully, I can go and watch birds at other locations later this summer (recovering from Guillian-Barre).

I have set up a squirrel-proof birdfeeder which actually seems to work. Perfectly located, I can see the feeder from my desk and from the sofa.  Trees next to the feeder are a sanctuary for the birds, but far enough that the squirrel cannot jump onto the feeder. The squirrel tries getting into the feeder every day, then gives up and eats all the seeds dropped by the birds. The squirrel and mourning dove's do a great job of cleaning up. I have also added a bird bath a few feet away and I see a lot of birds stopping there for a drink after the feed. I see a lot of common grackles, but the blue jays stopped visiting when I replaced the feed from Sunflower to a mix. Seems like about 6 different birds which come to the feeder (Common grackles, blue jays, mourning doves, sparrows, house finch, cardinal). The grackles seem to dominate the feeder and I am wondering if I can put up a feeder which will attract smaller birds and still keep out squirrels. Any suggestions?


I kept seeing what I thought was a female cardinal with a sparrow which regularly visits the feeder. So weird that a female cardinal and sparrow were friends. All this time, the male cardinal would be on the ground, never coming upto the feeder. Something was not right, what I thought was a female cardinal did not have a crest. I slowly came to the realization that I was wrong and that was not a female cardinal. Out comes the Merlin app, and voila, it was a house finch couple. So interesting that the house finch couple always fed together.

I've also sat on the porch and watch red-tailed hawks. I still cannot distinguish them with the naked eye, but if I get a good look with the binoculars I can clearly see the red tail.

I have got the Sibley books from the library. One on birding basics, one on birds of the east and the last is the full guide to birds.

Also, reddit.com has a few birding resources which are helpful. One is https://www.reddit.com/r/birding, one is https://www.reddit.com/r/whatsthisbird. Both are very useful.

Edit: Wonder why the robin's do not show up at the feeder. They seem interested and watch from a distance. Maybe, they do not eat seeds?

When you see a red-tail soaring, note the dark leading edge of the underside of the wing. That's one of the diagnostics to recognize red-tails (even as juveniles when they don't have the tail color yet).

Robins eat mostly insects/invertebrates (grubs/worms) and fruit, rather than seeds. ETA: one of the great irritations of feeding birds is that it is much easier to attract the seed-eating families then the fruit or insect eating families, even though things like warblers and tanagers are some of the most colorful and fun.  See, this is how you end up getting up at daybreak to go stare into dense thickets in pursuit of cuckoos, vireos, gnatcatchers et al.  (I just went thrashing through part of a thorny mesquite thicket along the Rio Grande a few days ago to confirm that I was hearing a Lucy's warbler) or staring up obsessively at open edges of thick, tall woodlands (along fields, roads, water) so that you can see the upper canopy, where the little buggers are flitting about.  It's even WORSE in the rainforest, where it's dark, and often cloudy and rainy, and the tree canopy can start 50 feet above you. And you are stuck down there knowing it's teeming with good stuff right over your head LOL.  My husband and I have done quite a bit of professional bird trapping, and I have fantasized about setting up mist nets along elevated bridges built just below tree canopies, so as to more easily catch some of these families.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2019, 11:23:33 AM by wenchsenior »

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #24 on: May 10, 2019, 12:18:46 PM »
When you see a red-tail soaring, note the dark leading edge of the underside of the wing. That's one of the diagnostics to recognize red-tails (even as juveniles when they don't have the tail color yet).
Awesome. Went back and saw pictures on the Merlin App (http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/) and Sibley and the pictures clearly show the dark leading edge.  I was looking for the belly band, but the dark leading edge is far easier to spot. Thanks.

Quote
Robins eat mostly insects/invertebrates (grubs/worms) and fruit, rather than seeds. ETA: one of the great irritations of feeding birds is that it is much easier to attract the seed-eating families then the fruit or insect eating families, even though things like warblers and tanagers are some of the most colorful and fun.  See, this is how you end up getting up at daybreak to go stare into dense thickets in pursuit of cuckoos, vireos, gnatcatchers et al.  (I just went thrashing through part of a thorny mesquite thicket along the Rio Grande a few days ago to confirm that I was hearing a Lucy's warbler) or staring up obsessively at open edges of thick, tall woodlands (along fields, roads, water) so that you can see the upper canopy, where the little buggers are flitting about.  It's even WORSE in the rainforest, where it's dark, and often cloudy and rainy, and the tree canopy can start 50 feet above you. And you are stuck down there knowing it's teeming with good stuff right over your head LOL.  My husband and I have done quite a bit of professional bird trapping, and I have fantasized about setting up mist nets along elevated bridges built just below tree canopies, so as to more easily catch some of these families.
Thanks. Now I need to find out how to invite those fruit/insect eaters to dinner ;-)

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #25 on: May 10, 2019, 12:43:05 PM »

Thanks. Now I need to find out how to invite those fruit/insect eaters to dinner ;-)
It's all about creating an environment they like to feed in next to a space they feel comfortable/protected.  Robins like to feed in grassy patches and around gardens where they can get lots of worms and hopping/crawling insects.  If you're using pesticides on your lawn, stop doing that and you'll attract more birds (not to mention helping out the planet).  I've also heard of people attracting them by buying bins of earthworms and seeding them around newly turned earth (like you would get around a flower bed or garden). 

Likewise you can attract swallows and martins and other insect-eating birds by installing a few appropriately sized bird houses.  Often takes a season or two for some to take up residence, but once they do you'll see them often. Each kind of bird prefers a slightly different house setup (e.g. swifts need to be  in a field somewhere, away from trees or large bushes). 

awesome to see you enjoying your mustachian hobby.

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #26 on: May 10, 2019, 12:50:04 PM »
When you see a red-tail soaring, note the dark leading edge of the underside of the wing. That's one of the diagnostics to recognize red-tails (even as juveniles when they don't have the tail color yet).
Awesome. Went back and saw pictures on the Merlin App (http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/) and Sibley and the pictures clearly show the dark leading edge.  I was looking for the belly band, but the dark leading edge is far easier to spot. Thanks.




I've never seen a juvie with no belly band, but some of the adults are too dark or too light underneath for it to be visible. Red-tails are super-variable, plumage wise.

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #27 on: May 11, 2019, 08:23:57 AM »
It's all about creating an environment they like to feed in next to a space they feel comfortable/protected.  Robins like to feed in grassy patches and around gardens where they can get lots of worms and hopping/crawling insects.  If you're using pesticides on your lawn, stop doing that and you'll attract more birds (not to mention helping out the planet).  I've also heard of people attracting them by buying bins of earthworms and seeding them around newly turned earth (like you would get around a flower bed or garden). 

Thanks. I have never used pesticides on my lawn. So there were always birds on my lawn and trees.

Last year, I made a mistake and got Mosquito control. I did not do enough of research, I assumed they would get rid of standing water and kill the larvae, but they ended up spraying trees and bushes. Last year, I did not have mosquitos but also did not have any insects or moths or butterflies. There were no birds on my lawn or on the trees. There were no bats flying above my garden in the evening. The bats would literally turn away from my garden and go elsewhere. This was a horrible decision by me. I will never get mosquito treatment again. This year, I have seen a lot of birds, confirming that the mosquito control was the problem.

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #28 on: May 11, 2019, 09:07:45 PM »
I don't have any advice to add @CowboyAndIndian, but thank you for starting a birding thread! I visited a wildlife management area today and saw this little beauty in the willows. I only saw one Northern Yellow Warbler last summer, so for me they are always a treat even if they are not really rare.

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #29 on: May 12, 2019, 07:53:52 AM »
Nice!  I haven't seen one this year yet, either.

RE: Attracting fruit and insect eaters, we originally gardened our sterile backyard mainly to attract pollinators, but by accident discovered  a 'magic' bird-attracting plant for the west/southwest: Ribes sp., specifically R. aureum and R. odoratum (smells AMAZING).  We started with 3 plants on our part-sun back fence, which gradually formed a semi-espaliered thicket of maybe 20' long x 4' wide x 10' tall, and it is swarming with birds spring-autumn.  Of the >70 species we've recorded in our backyard, probably half are attracted primarily to that thicket. That and a running fountain pull in birds like a magnet during migration and pre-migratory 'staging'.


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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #30 on: May 12, 2019, 09:56:33 AM »
I don't have any advice to add @CowboyAndIndian, but thank you for starting a birding thread! I visited a wildlife management area today and saw this little beauty in the willows. I only saw one Northern Yellow Warbler last summer, so for me they are always a treat even if they are not really rare.
Thanks @Parizade. This hobby has given so much pleasure in the last few weeks.

Could we please have more pictures?

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #31 on: May 12, 2019, 10:19:19 AM »
Nice!  I haven't seen one this year yet, either.

RE: Attracting fruit and insect eaters, we originally gardened our sterile backyard mainly to attract pollinators, but by accident discovered  a 'magic' bird-attracting plant for the west/southwest: Ribes sp., specifically R. aureum and R. odoratum (smells AMAZING).  We started with 3 plants on our part-sun back fence, which gradually formed a semi-espaliered thicket of maybe 20' long x 4' wide x 10' tall, and it is swarming with birds spring-autumn.  Of the >70 species we've recorded in our backyard, probably half are attracted primarily to that thicket. That and a running fountain pull in birds like a magnet during migration and pre-migratory 'staging'.

Thanks, @wenchsenior, you have sent me down the rabbit hole again! Order in with Amazon for 3 plants of currant clove (R. odoratum). Looking into fountains also.

I presently have crab apple and regular apple trees in my yard. I know the crab apple is very popular during the late fall, early winter. Any other suggestions for plants? I have one corner of my yard (the NW corner) which I want to reserve for a garden similar to this https://qr.ae/TWI74Y . Hopefully, the clove currant will go there.

Wow, 70 species!! I have seen 8-9 from my back yard. I have a long way to go.

ETA: I would like something like this garden https://www.gardenista.com/posts/10-garden-ideas-to-steal-from-superstar-dutch-designer-piet-oudolf/
« Last Edit: May 12, 2019, 10:36:37 AM by CowboyAndIndian »

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #32 on: May 12, 2019, 11:23:19 AM »
Nice!  I haven't seen one this year yet, either.

RE: Attracting fruit and insect eaters, we originally gardened our sterile backyard mainly to attract pollinators, but by accident discovered  a 'magic' bird-attracting plant for the west/southwest: Ribes sp., specifically R. aureum and R. odoratum (smells AMAZING).  We started with 3 plants on our part-sun back fence, which gradually formed a semi-espaliered thicket of maybe 20' long x 4' wide x 10' tall, and it is swarming with birds spring-autumn.  Of the >70 species we've recorded in our backyard, probably half are attracted primarily to that thicket. That and a running fountain pull in birds like a magnet during migration and pre-migratory 'staging'.

Thanks, @wenchsenior, you have sent me down the rabbit hole again! Order in with Amazon for 3 plants of currant clove (R. odoratum). Looking into fountains also.

I presently have crab apple and regular apple trees in my yard. I know the crab apple is very popular during the late fall, early winter. Any other suggestions for plants? I have one corner of my yard (the NW corner) which I want to reserve for a garden similar to this https://qr.ae/TWI74Y . Hopefully, the clove currant will go there.

Wow, 70 species!! I have seen 8-9 from my back yard. I have a long way to go.

ETA: I would like something like this garden https://www.gardenista.com/posts/10-garden-ideas-to-steal-from-superstar-dutch-designer-piet-oudolf/

That link looks fantastic!    I had better not recommend anything specific in terms of plants, b/c I am in a radically different climate/soil and across the country from you.  Your local Audubon group will have tons of advice on the best plants for birds in your area.  You might have native species of Ribes around your area that will do better than mine (which are western). 

Yeah, it's actually considerably more than 70 species-sightings-in-yard if you count the birds that have flown/soared over our yard, as opposed to actually been IN the yard. But we've been here almost 20 years, with about 15 of them after we gradually landscaped our backyard for birds/insects. See pics below; we would never have gotten anything like that number had our yard remained sterile like the first pic.  Someday we'll tackle the equally sterile front yard. Lawn...ugh.

Speaking of new bird sightings, DH and I also keep track of interesting sightings in the neighborhood, esp at the park half a block from our house. On our (binocular-free...see we CAN do it, but now I'm regretting we didn't have them b/c see rest of sentence...) walk this morning we saw our first Yellow Warbler of the year (they are singing all over, but we finally saw one); Mississippi Kites building a nest in a locust tree (MS Kites are thick all over town); and most interesting, a Bronzed Cowbird pair, with the male displaying using his 'helicopter flight' (see link to someone's video https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=AwrEzeexU9hc.HIAN9RXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N2Noc21lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNwaXZz?p=cowbird+helicopter+display&fr2=piv-web&fr=mcsaoffblock#id=1&vid=c464e487b003280dbe94239d32171089&action=view).  Bronzed Cowbird range has been expanding north in recent years; we are outside their traditional range, so this was a cool sighting. And we'd never seen that display before.

Birding makes every walk fun!

ETA:  If you get a fountain, learn from our mistakes. Get one that is taller than ours, and place it further from vegetation. We have constant trouble with feral cats in our neighborhood coming and trying to hunt in our backyard.  We currently have the fountain off b/c of this (it's unfair to 'bait' the birds in with water only to have them potentially ambushed) and are investigating putting flashing barriers up on our fence to prevent most of the feral cat encroachment, digging out some of the close vegetation, and getting a taller fountain.  Cats are an incredible problem for native birds.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2019, 11:27:21 AM by wenchsenior »

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #33 on: May 17, 2019, 08:09:46 AM »
I think that is an American Goldfinch with a house Finch couple. Am I right?

I've started taking some pictures of my feeder, but still using the 18-50 lens and taking the picture thru the glass and the screen. So, not very good pictures....

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #34 on: May 17, 2019, 08:13:54 AM »
It is interesting how the female House Finch and Cardinal are happy to share the feeder, but the male Cardinal never goes to the feeder. He seems to always eat off the ground (you can see just his head below the feeder).

Parizade

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #35 on: May 17, 2019, 08:32:12 AM »
oh my gosh THANK YOU everyone who is posting photos, this is quickly becoming my favorite thread.

A DNR naturalist was kind enough to send me a map of Sandhill Crane nesting areas recently, I'm planning a photo-safari tomorrow to see if I can get some good shots of the fuzzy little ones. Stay tuned :-)

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #36 on: May 17, 2019, 09:03:17 AM »
@wenchsenior , I want a garden like that. It is so beautiful. Is it a "new perennial movement" garden?

@Parizade , we want pictures!
« Last Edit: May 17, 2019, 09:07:40 AM by CowboyAndIndian »

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #37 on: May 17, 2019, 09:14:00 AM »
It is interesting how the female House Finch and Cardinal are happy to share the feeder, but the male Cardinal never goes to the feeder. He seems to always eat off the ground (you can see just his head below the feeder).

Our cardinals also are interesting in that they won't use our flat-topped bubbling fountain, but they go nuts when I do overhead watering of my yard...they get right in the spray and PARTY.

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #38 on: May 17, 2019, 09:18:30 AM »
@wenchsenior , I want a garden like that. It is so beautiful. Is it a "new perennial movement" garden?

@Parizade , we want pictures!

I dunno what to call my garden.  DH calls it my "Botanically Bountiful Bird-benefitting Backyard" LOL.

ETA: It IS mostly perennials.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2019, 09:31:20 AM by wenchsenior »

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #39 on: May 17, 2019, 09:22:19 AM »
@wenchsenior , I want a garden like that. It is so beautiful. Is it a "new perennial movement" garden?

@Parizade , we want pictures!

I dunno what to call my garden.  DH calls it my "Botanically Bountiful Bird-benefitting Backyard" LOL.

BBBBB

Lol!!

Parizade

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #40 on: May 18, 2019, 05:39:59 PM »
@Parizade , we want pictures!

Just remember, you asked for this lol! I never did find the sandhill cranes but I did find a nesting trumpeter swan! I found the peregrin falcon's nest and got a shot of one of the adults feeding the young (not a good shot, but what a cute butt eh?). A spectacular pair of wood ducks, a pair of blue winged teals, a pied billed grebe, and a cute little redstart. Not a bad day!

Parizade

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #41 on: May 18, 2019, 05:41:58 PM »
oops, only 4 photos allowed per post

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #42 on: May 18, 2019, 07:50:21 PM »
Just remember, you asked for this lol!

I'm in heaven!

Beautiful pictures! What camera and lenses do you use?
« Last Edit: May 18, 2019, 07:51:56 PM by CowboyAndIndian »

Parizade

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #43 on: May 18, 2019, 08:11:21 PM »
Nikon Coolpix P900. It's a point and shoot, so you can't change lenses, but the zoom is great!
https://www.cnet.com/reviews/nikon-coolpix-p900-review/

The grebes were doing their mating dance but they were too far away to capture. Still pretty fun to see.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2019, 08:14:13 PM by Parizade »

wenchsenior

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #44 on: May 18, 2019, 10:26:53 PM »
Nikon Coolpix P900. It's a point and shoot, so you can't change lenses, but the zoom is great!
https://www.cnet.com/reviews/nikon-coolpix-p900-review/

The grebes were doing their mating dance but they were too far away to capture. Still pretty fun to see.

That's a good day!  Love the squeaky teals!  The peregrine butt made me giggle and feel a little envious. I've spent soooo many hours watching raptor nests, but relatively few watching peregrine nests.  Makes me nostalgic. Though not nostalgic for having to listen to hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of food-begging from the nestlings LOL.

Parizade

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #45 on: May 18, 2019, 11:26:28 PM »
The peregrine butt made me giggle and feel a little envious. I've spent soooo many hours watching raptor nests, but relatively few watching peregrine nests.  Makes me nostalgic. Though not nostalgic for having to listen to hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of food-begging from the nestlings LOL.

The babies were silent until the parent came wheeling in with a shriek, which set them all off shrieking back. Then they became quiet again when they started feeding. It was all quite dramatic, as if National Geographic had staged the whole thing for effect. I loved every minute!

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #46 on: May 20, 2019, 11:00:10 AM »
When I broke my arm and had nothing better to do than sit around and look at birds is when I got into birding.  We went to wild birds unlimited and got a pole with some accessories.  We have a peanut ring that attracts mostly blue jays, a finch feeder with thistle, a standard feeder that we fill with safflower, and a suet feeder.  We also have a squirrel baffle on the pole to prevent squirrels from climbing it.  We also have 2 hummingbird feeders mounted on our fence separate from the pole.

We also bought the "Birds of Michigan" field guide by Stan Tekiela.  It came accompanied by 2 audio cds of all the birds in the guide. I was hesitant to purchase it (I think it was like $30) but it's been an amazing resource.  I ripped the audio cds to mp3s and put them in my dropbox which is on my phone, so I'm able to easily search for and listen to the birds on my phone which has been useful.  I know he has field guides for other areas and would definitely recommend him.

This season we have been getting a lot of baltimore oriels coming to our hummingbird feeders.  I went 36 years of my life and only saw a single baltimore oriel, but the last 2 weeks I've been seeing like 50 a day.  Probably the same 5 or so over and over, but you get my point. Also seeing a hummingbird multiple times a day.  Only the female so far this season.  We also have a bunch of rose-breasted grosbeaks hanging around lately - I'd never seen one of those until a couple weeks ago.

Our regular birds are cardinals, robins, blue jays, house sparrows, goldfinches, house finches, mourning doves, grackles, dark eyed juncos, white crowned sparrows, red bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, and probably a few more I'm forgetting.

We've also seen titmouse, chickadee, northern flicker, nuthatch, hairy woodpecker.  We've seen some other ones around michigan, but not in our backyard.

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #47 on: May 20, 2019, 11:23:17 AM »


This season we have been getting a lot of baltimore oriels coming to our hummingbird feeders.  I went 36 years of my life and only saw a single baltimore oriel, but the last 2 weeks I've been seeing like 50 a day.  Probably the same 5 or so over and over, but you get my point. Also seeing a hummingbird multiple times a day.  Only the female so far this season.  We also have a bunch of rose-breasted grosbeaks hanging around lately - I'd never seen one of those until a couple weeks ago.



Aw, I grew up in WI and it was the Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks that got me super into birds as a kid!  And Loons, of course.  I had such a great Loon call that I could get ours to answer me.  My parents used to make me do it as a party trick.  I was also a great swimmer and used to constantly put on fins and try to swim 25-30 m underwater to sneak up on our Loons as they were fishing.  Once in a while I got close so they'd have to scoot away.  They were always sticking their heads under to watch me as I swam up...I still have such a vision of those red eyes glaring suspiciously at me.  Poor Loons!  I was a such a pain in the ass to them!

Parizade

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #48 on: May 20, 2019, 06:08:35 PM »
I had such a great Loon call that I could get ours to answer me.  My parents used to make me do it as a party trick.  I was also a great swimmer and used to constantly put on fins and try to swim 25-30 m underwater to sneak up on our Loons as they were fishing.  Once in a while I got close so they'd have to scoot away.  They were always sticking their heads under to watch me as I swam up...I still have such a vision of those red eyes glaring suspiciously at me.  Poor Loons!  I was a such a pain in the ass to them!
What a great childhood memory! Loons are the state bird here is Minnesota so it's always special to see one. I heard on today but didn't catch a glimpse

@frugalnacho do you ever put oranges out for your orioles? I've heard they like the fruit. Make an orange feeder for Orioles

brute

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Re: Birding, how to get started?
« Reply #49 on: May 21, 2019, 05:52:26 AM »
Loons are still super close to my heart. As a kid, I got to enjoy 2 years of chemotherapy. (Enjoy is probably a strong word). My folks managed to get us up to Canada for a fishing trip between treatments, and the loons were a completely new thing for me at that time. It was the first time in months that I'd had a break from needles and angry nurses and calloused doctors. Hearing loons still brings me back to the sense of relief I had that trip.