What Sparked Their Interest in Birding – Part 3

As we read the stories from birders, many were sparked by a mentor — an older friend or a parent.  Others were converted by the flash of a Blackburnian Warbler or Northern Cardinal.  Still others were young nature lovers who evolved into birders.  Doug C. has been thinking about this and summarizes it like this:

I find this particular thread on how people acquired their passion for birds to be extremely interesting.   I have always been curious how others got into birding and have asked many. Over the years, I have decided that this acquired passion can be placed into one of three general categories. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, people become dedicated birders by being born into it, or achieving it, or having it thrust upon them.

Some have been toting binoculars since they could walk and have gotten field guides as one of their earliest remembered gifts.  photo by USFWS

Some of us are born to birding.  We are born into a family that is already seized with this passion.  Some are the children of professional ornithologists or naturalists. Some are children to parents who are already dedicated amateur birders.Because these people have been studying birds all through their peak learning years, they are often the most accomplished among us.

Some of us achieve birding.  My Lois is one of those.  A new feeder in the back yard brings in birds one has never seen before and curiosity takes over.  When a person enters birding by achieving it quite often results in it being difficult to know the exact moment when the passion took over.  They start trying to find out what the yellow bird picking at the thistle is, and before they know it they are standing in the rain at the Pipe line road in Panama. The transition is slow but sure and ones’ life has changed.

Gerry Cooperman and I fall into the third category.  We had birding thrust upon us. His conversion took place 9 years before mine but is eerily similar.  The bird he saw through the scope was in a plowed field and was a Killdeer. My experience was also through another’s scope and it occurred on a beach and was a Ruddy Turnstone.  In both cases it was a revelation.  We stepped away from the scope knowing that our lives had changed in a fundamental and profound way.  We were blind but now could see.

An interesting note on my first birding encounter was that the two birders who took me out for the first time at one point became excited and directed me to look at the bird in the scope. “Look at the bill” they encouraged me, “Look at that big black bill.”  It was a rather plain looking plover and although I knew it was exciting by their reaction, I didn’t think it matched my stunning Ruddy Turnstone.  The Turnstone turned me to birding but I also got a Wilson’s Plover as a bonus that I have only appreciated in later years.

Stuart W. was one who began young and has been at it, off and on, for six decades:

Where does it begin?  One of my earliest memories is being held up by my  mother to see a bluebird or robin’s nest in a tangle of leaves next to the back door of our house in Plymouth. Then, as a little boy, I chased robins  across the yard with a salt shaker because I’d been told I could catch one if I could only put salt on its tail.  We moved to Sudbury when I was ten, during an invasion of Evening Grosbeaks that lasted a couple of years or more, and they would mob the feeder I had outside my bedroom window (I also remember a one-legged Chickadee that showed up for at least two years running.)  The next year, in 1959, my father drove me to Concord to see the Hawk Owl that appeared in a mid-town parking lot that winter – the last life bird of the great Ludlow Griscom.  It’s been an erratic trajectory, but one I’ve been on for sixty years.

Walt W. likewise has a lifetime of observing nature, the wonders as well as the environmental changes:

Walt has a 1947 Peterson field guide that he used as a youngster in Ohio.

As a child growing up in Ohio in the ’40s, I was lucky in having fields right behind my house. My lifelong interest in nature was sparked one day as I sat spellbound in a school auditorium watching a live snake show! While I began my nature interest by collecting snakes & other reptiles, my fascination with nature eventually spread to the rest of the natural world, including birds. (I still have a rare 1947 copy of Peterson.) For many years I kept a diary of my nature observations & jaunts which included pencil sketches in the margins.

Although I moved to MA many years ago, I still return occasionally to my Ohio hometown & there to revisit the center of my youthful world–the woods, creeks, & pond at the local golf country club. Little did the golfers realize what a natural paradise existed beyond the greens & fairways! I mapped & named the places where my discoveries were made–Snake Bank, Turtle Peninsula, Oak Ridge, Salamander Creek, Fern Glen, etc. Although much has changed in the years since I roamed this wonderful place, there have been occasional delightful surprises during my visits.

On one return in the summer of 1993, I discovered, to my considerable distress, that a maintenance road had been cut right through the middle of “my” beloved woods (a big island of trees surrounded on all sides by the grassy fairways). But a pleasant surprise awaited me that day! I quote from my notes: “In & around a clearing along the road where tall dead beeches & debris piles existed, there was a concentration of birds: a  Wood Pewee singing from an exposed dead branch; a Carolina Wren calling loudly while searching through the low cover; a flock of both adult & juvenile American Robins on the road itself; Common Grackles; a raucous Blue Jay; American Goldfinches; an American Crow; a pair of Mourning Doves also on the road; Tufted Titmice; a flock of Cedar Waxwings taking flight. The highlight was a family of Red-headed Woodpeckers! The adults were working the dead trees, periodically calling & carrying food to the dark-headed young following them.” Unfortunately, sometime later the entire woods was replaced with a practice green! A sad ending.

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3 Responses to What Sparked Their Interest in Birding – Part 3

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