I don’t think it’s any sort of secret that I love running around looking at critters. Still, I never really considered myself to be a “birdwatcher” because I was something of an “everything watcher”. Wasps, muskrats, eccentric mushrooms, pigeons, unusual trees… my interest in the world is broad, and of course birds fall under that vast umbrella of interest. Besides, I grew up next to a wildlife refuge, and all those birdwatcher people seemed to be odd folks who slowly drove their cars past the house with spotting scopes balanced in the driver’s side window. Granted, it was nice that they didn’t speed as much as the golfers did, but it seemed to me at the time to be the sort of thing that old people from the city did in their retirement, and wasn’t exactly a childhood aspiration. Plus, the birds were essentially in my backyard– I didn’t have to drive anywhere if I wanted to see a goose or a hawk.
But, in recent years, I’ve become more aware that, yes, I am a birder… at least a birder of sorts. My first clue was the fact that I started keeping a list to see how many of the birds of Montana I’d seen, an interest prompted by my ornithology class in college. Once I had an idea of what was actually out there, and how much sheer variety there was, I got intrigued with “discovering” those “new” birds I’d never heard of. I was aware as a teenager, for example, that there were several kinds of ducks: mallards, wood ducks, and some sort of littler duck known as a teal. There were lots of other ducks out in the world of course, but they all lived somewhere else, or were somewhere remote. Just three, maybe four, maybe five kinds of ducks lived next to me, right? Wrong! There’s all sorts of ducks dwelling near my parents’ house that I’d never really seen before, like Pintails and Buffleheads, not to mention a whole variety of geese, herons and grebes. Heck, I’d never even heard of a “grebe” before!
My second clue came more recently, when, similar to what’s depicted in the comic, a co-worker asked me if I was a birdwatcher. I started to give a tentative answer– a wishy-washy “well, sort of, but…” kind of response, but then I remembered that when I had done a run around one of the local parks, I had noticed that the American Widgeons were back. I didn’t notice simply “ducks”, or “weird looking ducks”… I could muster the fact that they were widgeons from seeing them in previous winters, which meant that I had been paying more attention to them than I’d thought. So I answered “yes! yes I am!” Emboldened by my declaration, I even made a deliberate outing on New Year’s Day, solely for the purpose of looking for and looking at birds, something which I’d never done before.
Anyway, the turn of the new year has prompted me to start myself a whole little personal project about “looking for birds” through 2015, although I don’t think I’ll detail that here at the moment, since I don’t want to alienate you with too much bird talk. So, another time, perhaps. We will talk about birds. And squirrels, and bumblebees, and charismatic rock formations, or any number of things that happen to pique my interest.