50 Things #50, Number 25

Number 25-Go Bird Watching

On I go with the list, trying to cross off as many of the ones I can do in the nice fall weather. Number 25-Go Bird Watching was one I was really excited to do. I never paid much attention to birds growing up, but when I worked at a garden center for a number of years in my 20’s and early 30’s I became especially interested in backyard birdfeeders. I had several different kinds designed to attract many varieties of birds and enjoyed watching them up close.

But going bird watching is something different entirely. It involves a fair amount of preparation beforehand-finding the best spots for viewing, the best time to see the most birds, what camera equipment to bring, what field guides to carry. Indeed even what apps to get for your phone to help with bird identifying. I did a little research and discovered that just like with Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is something of a bird watchers mecca. I saw online a place called The Ravine and was immediately intrigued to find it because I don’t know Prospect Park well.

My good and dear friend Carol volunteered to join me last Sunday morning to cross this item off the bucket list. After a mandatory stop for coffee, we set out to find The Ravine. To be honest it was a gray and damp day. One of those days I could have easily said screw it…I want to stay in bed and sleep. But I was really excited to get out there and see what we would find. Unfortunately maybe the birds had the same notion I did, because initially Carol and I were not seeing or hearing too much out there. It took us awhile to find the Ravine as well, because it is well and truly tucked away in the middle of the park. Surprisingly at one point there were people on horses riding right past us.  Eventually we both sensed we were near, and then came the unmistakable sound of running water. Niagara Falls it is not….but it is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of a busy park and an even busier city. We both stopped to take lots of photographs of the falls.

Getting back to the birds, other than a few flying high above us, we were not really seeing or hearing anything much, even though our binoculars and zoom lenses were primed and ready. At one point we saw several medium size birds hopping around and searching for food near a little stream. The combination of the cloudy day and the limits of the zoom on my lens meant I really did not get great, clear photos of them. I also did not recognize them initially. I had a suspicion but wanted to consult the bird guides after we were done. We moved on and Carol observed one spot where the birds were flying back and forth high above us in the trees. From high above the occasional acorn fell to the ground below. Various calls were going on all around us. Though there was not much actual bird watching going on, but there was a lot of bird listening.

And that’s when it kind of hit me. Being a photographer, and having Carol (also an awesome photographer) there with me, I might have made a rookie mistake in thinking that we were going to see dozens of varieties all there in front of us, ready to have their photo taken. I wanted to go bird watching because I wanted to experience those moments of stillness-of watching, waiting, listening that sadly seems to be missing so much these days. As we sat there, necks craned high above us, desperate for something, anything to come within view to get a photograph, I lost sight of that fact. That bird watching is in fact nature watching, and observing. And when I realized that, I was not disappointed that I had not taken good photos. I was not disappointed that I had not seeing rare and exciting species. I was out with a good friend enjoying the treasures of nature that surround us even in the big city. That was what made the experience enjoyable. And it was also only a first of course. Of all the activities I added to this bucket list, I already knew that once I went bird watching once, I would want to do it again. Later on, sitting in a bar having a well deserved beer and a burger I realized why.

Those birds hopping around by the stream that I thought I recognized but was unsure of? Well my instinct from the color of the breast was that they were robins…but something about the coloring of the head and their size did not seem right at first. Eagerly Carol and I looked at the bird guide I had, and also at an app on my phone where it was confirmed that they were in fact robins. But what I realized is that even though it was not a rare bird sighting I had accomplished what I had wanted. First, I actually got out and did it on a lazy Sunday morning. Second, I had observed the terrain, watched the movement of birds high above. I had listened to birdsong chirping all around me. But mostly when I consulted the book, I realized that I was actually bird watching. It did not matter that it was a robin-a bird I have seen plenty of. I don’t ever recall having seen them in such a deep wooded setting.  But checking the book out revealed to me the habits of the bird, as well, and explained why I was seeing what I was seeing. Just like the observing, the research is part of  it too. So mission accomplished! Thanks again to my buddy Carol for joining me!


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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle



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