The unofficial 'birder'

Some folks might call me a birdwatcher or a "birder," but I stop well short of pinning that label on myself. Not because I'm ashamed of it; in fact, I enjoy pointing out certain species or bird calls to my hunting buddies in the spring woods. But I don't consider myself a serious birder, reserving that title to those who can sort out the various warblers by either sight or sound. Or both.

Still, I enjoy bird watching, even during the spring turkey season when I'm dialed in to hear even the faintest, distant gobble.

I'm not sure how I reached this point, where I hit the brakes upon hearing the unique sound of a veery, a tiny bird that sounds as if it's getting washed down a drainpipe. Or how I thoroughly enjoy seeing a bobolink, which has a call not unlike a cheap transistor radio (you younger readers might have to Google "transistor radio") and makes a mind-boggling annual migration trip from South America.

But it has, over the years, happened. And today I marvel at the sights and sounds offered up by the avian world, unashamedly blurting out with excitement to some hunting or fishing buddies when I spy a scarlet tanager or an indigo bunting, even feeling a bit sorry for those who are oblivious to all that's out there to see and hear.

The list is a long one, from the obvious breathtaking sighting of a bald eagle to the simple pleasures of migrating geese honking their way south high in a darkened fall sky.

But there's so much in between. How about a rose-breasted grosbeak? The varied call of the wood thrush? The simplistic beauty of a cardinal, always the last bird to slip into the feeder in the evening? A Baltimore oriole flitting through the top of an apple tree? Throw in the flying cigars known as chimney swifts; the pileated woodpecker; the cedar waxwing's striking beauty, and my head is on a swivel any time I'm in the field or on the water.

And I'm not even touching on the laundry list of waterfowl viewing possibilities. A bufflehead is always a great sighting, and we don't see common loons – I've always felt the "common" tag was a misnomer – here in the Southern Tier except during their migratory movements. One of the reasons we miss the Adirondacks, our home of 16 years until last fall.

Even today, one of my most memorable spring gobbler hunts involves not a tagged longbeard but the sound of migrating sandhill cranes flying high overhead, out of sight. It's a rarity in the Northeast, and I duly noted the moment.

Still, I don't consider myself a true "birder." I'd take it as a compliment if I was considered as such, but right now I'd label myself as simply a sportsman who enjoys everything out there and is aware of my surroundings perhaps a bit more than most.  

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