What is the fastest-growing leisure activity? Canoeing? Tennis? Shuffleboard?
No, the fastest-growing hobby is bird watching (or ‘birding’ as we who are hooked prefer to call it).
Most often, interest in birding begins with putting seeds out for the winter birds. Once you recognize that several species come to your feeder, you buy a book to help identify them.
Several good field guides are available. Peterson’s Eastern Birds has a system of arrows pointing to significant features on each bird which is helpful to beginners. Another recommended guide, National Geographic’s Field Guide to The Birds of North America, has excellent drawings of birds in various plumage. Since some birds change their colours with the seasons, this makes the whole game a little more challenging.
To appreciate the exquisite feather patterns and colours in our avian population, you will need a pair of binoculars (most birders prefer a seven or eight-times magnification). Choose binoculars that will not be too heavy to carry around your neck for several hours at a time. Approximately $400 will buy a very good pair. A “zoom” feature is not recommended.
Where are the best spots to find birds? Canatara Park is a good place to start. Tarzanland in winter has chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and, if you’re lucky, a tufted titmouse. In May, it will be full of migrating warblers and thrushes. Check out Lake Chipican or the beach area for ducks, gulls or herons.
The St. Clair River is a wintering place for thousands of ducks. As well, the Wawanosh Wetlands on Blackwell Sideroad, the Howard Watson Nature Trail (the old railway right-of-way from London Road to Camlachie) or the Acorn Trail at Huron Oaks golf Club are worth visiting.
The end of the airport runway at Blackwell and Michigan roads has, for the many years, provided an exciting winter sighting: short-eared owls hunting mice in the late afternoon or snowy owls.
Birding is a long-lasting, all-season hobby. Since there are 9,000 bird species worldwide, including over 800 in North America, you won’t run out of things to look for in the first year.
For more information on this topic or any other nature-related subjects, contact us.
Written by Carole Buck
* Thanks to the Sarnia Observer who originally published this series and granted LWI permission to use it online.