The Bible tells us in Genesis that God blessed the creatures of the sea and the air and said, “let the birds increase on the earth” (NIV)… and so they have. According to the most recent count there are 764 different bird species in the United States, and nearly 10,000 in the world. Like any other thing that is counted the results vary somewhat according to who is counting, but the figures are close enough to be awe inspiring.
It is the hope and ambition of many people to see some specific number of birds in their lifetime. They keep a careful “life list” and there are specific rules about what birds can be added to it. They may locate and record birds in their own county, state, or region, or even travel the globe to add to their life list. Others are in search of a specific, elusive bird such as the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker or the Inyo California Towhee, both endangered and rarely seen by humans. Some are treated to the sighting of an unusual bird because of changes in migration patterns or other events. The appearance of a bird off its usual migration path, such as the Friday sighting of a Forked Tail Fly Catcher in Austin, can cause quite a stir in the bird watching community.
Some of you are now thinking things like “nerds”, “blah, blah, blah” or “so what?” I’m not a true bird watcher either. I don’t keep a list. I seldom participate in bird walks or the annual bird counts. I don’t know many bird calls and I have to keep a book handy to identify even the most common birds. I just like to photograph nature and birds are easier to find than bears! However, I have learned from reading about birders and their activities that their life lists and the annual bird counts benefit all of us. There is a balance to nature that must be maintained and birds are a key part of that balance.
Bird counts are great indicators of changes in global climate and predictors of changes in our local weather patterns. Birds change their migration paths because of drought and the resulting loss of major food sources. Counts may alert local game rangers to the presence of a new predator or environmental change in a region. For example, an invasion of feral hogs can destroy so much vegetation that it causes birds and other animals to go elsewhere for food. Counts also help scientists keep track of species that are becoming endangered.
We went to see the birds at Hagerman yesterday. Our visitations have become much more numerous over the past few years, and we have learned to appreciate the differences in the seasons by visiting in the winter as well as the spring. Yesterday we met with our son, who is much more serious about bird watching than we are, and has a wonderful device called a “spotting scope”. One of the refuge’s guides was also there with a group and he had a spotting scope. Definitely handy for identifying birds! We already have two pairs of binoculars but may have to add this piece of equipment to our arsenal. As usual, I digress…we went to Hagerman and were amazed by the increase in bird activity since our last visit. There were ducks and hawks and vultures and herons and gulls and geese. It is amazing to watch as thousands of geese fly overhead!
At Robert’s suggestion we also stopped by Loy Lake Park on our way home. The lake was covered with ducks that quickly retreated deep into the shadows of the vegetation on the other shore. So I didn’t get many pictures of them, but we did enjoy watching them for a while.
We will probably visit the Tishomingo Wildlife Refuge again soon. If you have any suggestions for another good bird watching area, please let me know. Of course I often see the best birds in my own back yard!