APRIL FIELD TRIPS
By Libby Mills
How to take yourself on a field trip, Part 1.
Seeking resident nesting birds and watching winter birds before they depart for the north
- Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. At the same sink, look at your binoculars and note if they are waterproof. If they are, give them a bath too. Twenty seconds sounds about right. Dry the lenses carefully, mindful that if you scratch the coatings that’s it. You can’t re-coat them. If your bins are not waterproof, clean the lenses only, with proper lens fluid. Don’t soak them in running water.
- Grab a ball cap for the sun and find a place where you can put the sun at your back so that you get great light on the bushes where you want to see birds.
- Be still for five minutes as you look and listen attentively. Bird song is most noticeable before 10 am, but now that spring is coming on strong, the birds are preparing to breed. That means they are singing on territories to tell other birds they have claimed this area. Always look at or listen to the bird as long as you can before turning away to look up either its looks or song. If you look down at a book or an app on your phone that may be the last contact with that bird for a while. If you are using binoculars, try to see the bird singing. Where does it like to sing? From a high perch? Or deep in a hidden place. If you are seeing an old familiar bird, watch its activities and see if you can see it do something new.
- If you can’t find the bird with your binoculars, look with the unaided eye to get a broader field of view. Listen carefully. This shouldn’t be too hard if you are on a walk alone. When I lead groups of fifteen learners, I often think how much more they might find, being quiet and alone.
- If you are home from work or school for a long time, this is a perfect time to start recording notes in a field journal. Take out that notebook you’ve been saving. You have been saving it for now. Be thoughtful, be brave, take notes, and make visual notes too. You can trace the path a swallow makes in the air. You can make an alphabet down the side of the page and try to find something that goes with each letter, in your surroundings. You can turn the page and start over in a different habitat. There are a thousand directions for any of us to go on the page.
- Make a list of every plant you see hummingbirds visit. Or make a list of every plant that’s in bloom. Or find pussy willows and note which birds and insects are visiting it! Try making a drawing, in ANY style, to remember the moment, the day, the time that you are living in. A journal is filled with your own ideas and reflections as well as your observations. I will try to keep part of my book just about nature. One page at a time. One moment at a time. Take this opportunity to go deep into attentiveness and “enjoy the peace of wild things”.
When I want to know more about a bird and I’m near a computer I look up birdweb.org from Seattle Audubon. I always have bird apps on my phone, or a field guide tucked in a big pocket. Back indoors, look up skagitaudubon.org and touch the pull down tabs for Birding, which will suggest many places to go birding near home, as well as Resources, that will help you find many learning resources on line. Use some of your time at home to look at our conservation notes and be active to protect the birds and wild places we love. Skagit Audubon is here to help you learn about and love birds. Together we will protect what we care about, even if we aren’t closer than six feet, or more apart.