It’s a singular irony that many folks who have pursued careers as professional ornithologists seldom have time to just go birding.
Blue-winged Teal at Teal Ridge Wetland in Stillwater, OK.
That’s why I try to steal a couple of hours each Saturday morning, before my family is up and moving, to at least count the ducks on some local lakes or take a short walk in a city park to commune with some chickadees. For years this has been my Saturday morning routine, and the joy of the birding was accented with the opportunity in the car, while driving between birding spots, to listen to NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. I tried to time my walks to make sure that I was back in the car to catch Scott’s weekly conversations with that late great newsman, Dan Schorr. I’ve been missing Dan for a few months now, as I know millions have.
Yesterday morning’s combined birding and weekly Morning Edition listen took an odd – yet thoroughly pleasant – turn when I climbed in the car between birding stops and began listening just as Scott Simon began to describe his first time birding – at Huntley Meadows Park with Donald and Lilian Stokes. What fun to hear chickadees and woodpeckers in the background as Scott and the Stokes walked along, when I had just heard those same species myself on my walk, about 1100 miles away! Scott was witty as always on the recording, but he didn’t make light of the birding, and his spontaneous enjoyment shone through when he got a good look at the iridescent masterpiece that is to be found on that most ordinary of ducks, a drake mallard. Scott’s voice conveyed the wonder of discovery when he described how, once you tune out the traffic, you find that you can hear all sorts of birds around you. I should add too that the Stokes were terrific ambassadors for birding.
I want more people to discover birding, much like it’s fun to introduce your friends to a great new restaurant, or – in the olden days – an album of really great music. But birding is also important as a powerful “gateway drug” into the importance of habitat conservation for native wildlife. Yes, birding can get us excited about wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico or the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but it’s also one of the best ways to uncover the significance of that little park at the end of the street, or that old farm down the road – you know the one. It’s starting not to feel so far out of town as more and more houses pop up along that road . . . Go birding. It’s fun, and it’s important.