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Sunday
Feb212016

My Life as a Baby Birder

I was warned that bird watching can suck you in, that what begins as an innocent desire to identify backyard birds can become an obsession that sends people on excessive quests to to find illusive species to add to their lists. There is no chance of that happening to me, but after participating in an excursion to view the overwintering cranes who descend by thousands on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, I was intrigued enough to join a group of birders on a morning walk around Aldridge Gardens

Everyone met in the parking lot, and when I arrived, people already were pointing and scanning nearby trees with their binoculars. Even I could see the flock of cedar waxwings perched amidst the branches of a tree a few feet away. I am a baby to bird watching, and that was as good as it got.

"Look at the Pine Warbler!"

These people know their birds. Everyone swung their binoculars upward and nodded in agreement. I was busy trying to focus in with my binoculars, and by the time I found the right tree, never mind the right branch, the Pine Warbler was long gone. I had similar results with the Eastern Phoebe, the Carolina Wren, and about twenty other birds. I did a little better with the birds gathered around a large feeding station. If a bird was big and brightly colored, it helped. I let out a whoop when I found the Red-headed Woodpecker perched high up in a snag. Canadian Geese are easy! They are huge and easily recognizable.

Turtles are also easy. Of course, they don't don't count as birds, but I enjoyed the sight anyway.

The Camellia Garden at Aldridge Gardens is home to bluebirds. We heard them, but no one caught sight of one. We all admired the Camellia japonicas in bloom.

I spent a pleasant morning strolling through beautiful surroundings, and I enjoyed the enthusiasm of my fellow birders. I think I will have more success with my birding efforts at home. Red-shouldered Hawks have built a nest on a large branch that arches over the front lawn.I can see them easily from several rooms inside the house. And Bluebirds have chosen the new red birdhouse only steps from the kitchen. Front row seats!

This morning I saw a flock of birds flying over the house. I immediately wanted to grab the binoculars to confirm my suspicion that these were American Robins. Was that a sucking sound I heard?

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Reader Comments (24)

LOL. I'm a casual birder, but my dad is an expert! I find them incredibly entertaining. Great shot of the Cooper's Hawk! Lucky you to have them nesting on your property! I know this isn't the subject of this post, but wow--those Camellias are fabulous! I'm so jealous; they aren't hardy here.

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ Plantpostings

I'll echo Beth's praise of the camellia photos.

(I have one C. sasanqua, which had a great bloom in late 2015, and a C. japonica that has just started blooming -- but here in Tennessee, a lot of C. japonica's buds get damaged by winter cold, so the flowers themselves are somewhat marred...)

Question -- If I wanted to take a roadtrip down to Alabama to see some gardens this year, when would you suggest as the ideal time? I was thinking of trying to visit Huntsville, Birmingham and perhaps even Mobile...

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

Hi Aaron, I would say April to early May is the best time to see gardens in Alabama. this year a lot of camellia flowers have been ruined by the weather, but mature plants seem to keep pumping out new ones. Best wishes for your road trip! Deb

February 21, 2016 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Thanks for the advice on the timing of garden visits, Deb!

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

Hi Deb, I was more into bird watching a few years ago, but then I have to admit my interest faded somewhat. Your post has inspired me though, to at least look more closely at the birds in my own garden. But going on a bird watching event? I guess I am not there, yet. I did enjoy your bird photos though, especially the hawk you captured perfectly.
Oooh, I almost forgot to say that your camellia bloom photos are stunning!
Warm regards,
Christina

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchristina

You got a great photo of the hawk! My mother-in-law was an experienced birder. She could identify birds that were nearby from just their song. But it was skill that was years - or decades actually - in the making. I used to send her photos of any bird I photographed that I couldn't identify. I do miss her (and not only for her bird identification skills).

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I am as rabid about bird watching as I am gardening. A great combination. Gardening is what drew me to birds. You can't go wrong here. I have more pictures of wildflowers than I do of birds. It is because being out birding in all times of the year I get to see wildflowers that I would never have seen if I didn't bird. Even when traveling to bird I get to tour gardens and habitats I would never have thought to go see. Enjoy!

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLisa at Greenbow

Very fun, and how cool to be able to watch a hawk so closely! Great photo! My kids and husband gave me a bird feeder as a present one year, and that started my step into bird watching. I enjoy watching the birds in my yard so much, especially during winter when not much else is going on here!

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

one of my nieces is an avid birder - so it's her I ask, what's this one??

Much appreciate when birds are gracious about being near a window for us!

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

Being addicted to the beautiful things in this world is good, and it's special. It is one of the best things a human being can be, it transforms how you relate to all the rest of the world.

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie@Seattle Trekker

I recognise that whole trying to find the branch with the bird on it business. Actually, I'm often still trying to find the binoculars/lens/camera by the time the bird has moved on to pastures new (no, I don't mean migrated!)
You must be doing something very right to have birds making their homes so close to you. I look forward to seeing bluebird photos!

February 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Shoesmith

You would think I'd be a birder with a name like Robin, but I only feed hummingbirds and goldfinches. I'm admiring your camellias today, because I may end up moving to Charleston SC, and I think they might grow there. Very pretty! I'll have to learn gardening all over again if I move south.

February 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

My husband is very keen on birdwatching but at present has little time but I think (fear) that when he has more time he'll be off at every opportunity! I enjoy a pleasant walk as you did, but sitting in an inevitably cold hide isn't my idea of a good day out. Fantastic shot of the hawk!

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

There is no way back, Deb! You are hooked!
I wish all the birds, and trees too, had a label with their name on it!
Nice pictures!!!

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

I am a casual birder here...love knowing who visits....but I can see myself getting a bit more hooked easily.

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Love these wildlife pics. Birders often amaze me with the depth of their knowledge and their dedication.

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

That's so awesome!

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

A red-headed woodpecker and a flock of cedar waxwings? That sounds like a great outing!

I am a casual birder, ever since I worked in an ornithology lab and did some field work with a graduate student who was very knowledgeable about birds. It's so much fun! I recommend the Birding by Ear CD (Peterson Field Guides are the very best IMO).

That's exciting that a Cooper's hawk is nesting in your front yard. We have a pair of red-shouldered hawks that usually nest within sight of the house. Beautiful picture!

February 25, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

Your issues with getting your binoculars focused in time made me smile, I always have the same problem! Much easier to bird watch in the comfort of your own garden.

February 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

So true Deb, they really know their birds. You will enjoy your time with them. Lovely image of the hawk.

February 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I hope you can show us baby Cooper's Hawks later this year.

February 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Really admire your hawk photo.

February 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Very cool! It's always awesome to learn something new. :o)

February 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

Such a great post Deb and you have some wonderful photos too. I hear you on getting a little obsessed about bird watching. I spend so much time outside trying to photograph just the common ones that come to the garden - I can't imagine what I would be like if I went on a birding excursion! How lovely to have the Coopers Hawk in your yard - It really is beautiful and your photo of it was fantastic. Always a pleasure to visit your blog!
- Kate

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

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