Wednesday, 17 August 2011


I love birdwatching. It's a new hobby developed since I retired and moved to our current house in April 2007.  The first winter, I threw out some black oil sunflower seeds and before I knew it I had these robin size birds with red on their heads and chests (Pine Grosbeaks), and smaller birds with red tops and pinkish red streaks on their breasts (Common Redpolls). Then the black cap chickadees and gray jays arrived. That was easy.

Once I knew my winter birds I moved onto the sparrows in the spring. As numerous birds hopped around the yard, I frantically scribbled notes and took photos.  But that yellow bird flittering through the trees wasn't in the sparrow section of my bird guide. Finally found it - in the warbler section. Time to learn about warblers. There are so many pages showing warblers....

Fortunately, there is a bird observatory station in my town and each spring and fall the station nets and bands birds. I volunteered to help and I learned how to take the birds out of the nets without injuring them. I could actually hold the bird and feel the softness and warmth of its body and its tiny heart beating in its chest.

Now my seasons are marked by the bird migration. Spring starts April 23 when the station opens and the nets are put up to band for the spring migration. We may be walking with snowshoes on two feet of frozen snow around the nets, but by golly, it is spring! The pond at the station is still covered by ice, but it's spring!

The bird station opened on July 23 for the fall migration. In my garden, the vegetables are still growing, the tomatoes are green, and many flowers haven't blossomed, but the fall migration has started!  Time to band the parents and juveniles moving south. Birds arrive in my yard with their juveniles and the air is filled with the constant chirping of young wanting to be fed . The pine siskins are flocking in larger groups and invading birch trees to dangle from the catkins as they eat the seed. Waterfowl are arriving on the small lake nearby to rest and feed on their journey south. Birds are moulting and ravens fly overhead missing feathers on their wings and tail.

Bird watching has made me observe nature more closely: the tiny flies that hover around leaves where the ruby crowned kinglet catches and eats them; the tiny squeak that tells me I've surprised a boreal chickadee in the trees; a rustling sound in the brush where a fox sparrow is hopping and pushing leaves with its toes as it lands. Bird watching makes me stop, listen, watch, relax and feel nature.

May we all have a hobby that gives us well-being.

Common Redpoll landing