How to Know the Birds

The dawn chorus on a bright June morning in the foothills of the Appalachians… southbound Sandhill Cranes bugling against a gray sky over the shortgrass prairie… the desert come alive with thrasher song on a still afternoon in late winter… Everywhere in the ABA Area we delight in birdsong. Especially at this time of year. Practically all of you reading this blog post are within easy walking distance of at least one exceedingly cool sounding bird right now. For many of you, I suspect, an awesome songster is within earshot of you this very instant

That’s a western meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, one of the commonest and most conspicuous songbirds around my home in eastern Boulder County, Colorado. Listen carefully, and you can even hear the reverb immediately following the bird’s song. I made the recording by firing up the Voice Memos app on my iPhone and pressing the big red button at the bottom of the screen.

An eventful Year of the Bird

Could it be that birding gets more interesting, and more exciting, the longer we do it? Dedicated watchers know the answer is yes.
The 2018 birding year, officially The Year of the Bird, only escalated our curiosity and passion for the hobby.  It was remarkably newsy and birdy, filled with feathery surprises, the latter including a plucky little plover, long out of season, lingering on a frigid Chicago beach.
A major anniversary hovered over 2018, inspiring the Year of the Bird celebration and calling attention to bird conservation at a critical time. Ironically, just as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act turned 100, it came under attack in Washington. A bill in Congress, HR 4239, would pull some key enforcement teeth from MBTA, our country’s most important bird protection law. National Audubon Society sued the Department of the Interior, with similar suits filed by Attorneys General in eight states, including Illinois.
“State of the World’s Birds,” released in April, reported that 40 percent of bird species worldwide are in decline, with one of every eight threatened with extinction. BirdLife International issues the report every five years.

One of those potentially doomed species is the blue-throated hillstar, an Ecuadorian hummingbird revealed to the world in September. An estimated 750 individuals exist. Yes, amazingly, new birds are still being discovered.
Northwestern University earned kudos in March for making its glassy buildings along the lakefront less deadly for migrating birds. To reduce collisions, the college applied patterned film to many existing windows and chose glass with patterns visible to birds in some new construction. Chicago Bird Collision Monitors advised.
Notes and scribblings
Bird Watcher’s Digest celebrated 40 years of publishing and launched Redstart Birding, a gear company out to fill the void left by Eagle Optics.
Julie Zickefoose, artist and author, spoke at Morton Arboretum on back-to-back nights in June. Always the birder and keeping a trip list, Zick observed a nesting killdeer at the Hyatt Regency Lisle—on the roof!
The gray jay is now the Canada jay. Remember that when you visit the North Woods.
A yellow (not red) northern cardinal, spotted in Alabama, went viral on Facebook. So did several hilarious photos of a high school golfer in Michigan being attacked by a goose. Only his pride was hurt.

In March, I happened to be on the Wheaton College campus 90 minutes before the memorial service for Billy Graham. Hearing a mourning dove calling, I looked around. The bird was on top of Graham’s namesake building. Too perfect.
A white-tailed kite visited Porter County, Indiana, during the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival in May. Found by Mark Welter, it was the third state record of the species, the last being in 1994. Many festival attendees scored a highly improbable lifer.
An out-of-range blue-footed booby sent birders scrambling to Kane County in September. The Kane County in Utah, unfortunately.
But the Chicago region offered its own excitement for birders in 2018, and plenty of it.
The year began with a mega rarity when Amar Ayyash bagged an ivory gull at the Lake County Fairgrounds. Also in January, birders beat a trail to Palos Park for a varied thrush in the yard of a birder-friendly homeowner. Big Rock, Kane County, our Kane County, would host a varied thrush in November.
Notable: Greater white-fronted geese were widespread in late February; common loons were unusually prolific in March and April; numbers of pine siskins were still around in late May; and black-bellied whistling ducks turned up throughout the state from May to October.

Bird Watching Health Benefits

Bird watching is a popular hobby – according to the RSPB, some three million adults do it every year

Great exercise

When you consider the distance you could potentially hike in order to spot a bird, is will come as no surprise that bird watching is good exercise – which is obviously good for our health. Plus, a healthy body equals a healthy mind! When we exercise, levels of serotonin and dopamine (that make us feel good) rise, and levels of cortisol (that make us feel stressed) are lowered.

Plenty of fresh air

Since the rise in technology we have started to spend more and more time sat inside – whether we’re watching a box set on TV, playing a game on our tablets or scrolling through social media on our phones. Bird watching gets you outside where you will spend plenty of time breathing fresh air into your lungs and soaking up vitamin D from the sun.

Lifts your spirits

Bird watching can be exciting, you never know what you will see next and what type of bird you might discover that day. It can help to restore your optimism and self-esteem leaving you feeling exhilarated with a renewed sense of purpose.

Lowers stress levels

Everyday life tends to be fast and frantic. This can cause stress, which can increase the risk of many illnesses. Watching birds, on the other hand, is calming and relaxing – it is the epitome of peace and tranquility. You stop thinking about all those things that were causing you stress, instead focusing on the moment.

Time to reflect

Bird watching also allows you time to reflect – and when watching birds with their delicate wings flying from branch to branch and taking food to their young – you will feel at one with nature. It provides you with the time to take in the world around you and focus your attention as you look out for the rustle of leaves. This will remind you of the simpler things in life and realise that those big things you worry about aren’t as important as they once seemed.

If you weren’t bird watching before, you probably will be now!

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