Year of the Bird celebrates Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Painted Bunting.

This Painted Bunting was Jack Rogers’ Audubon Photography Awards entry in 2015. Photo courtesy National Audubon Society.

Year of the Bird celebrates 100th anniversary of Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By Barb Gorges

This is the Year of the Bird. It’s been declared by four august organizations: the National Audubon Society, the National Geographic Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and BirdLife International. A hundred other organizations have joined them.

My husband Mark and I have been members for years of the first three, and I’m on the email list for the fourth so I’ve heard the message four times since the first of the year.

The Year of the Bird celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that protects birds. Read the act at https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php (remember “take” is a euphemism for “kill”).

The Year of the Bird is also about advocating for birds. Today you can go to the National Geographic website, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/, and sign the Year of the Bird pledge. You’ll receive monthly instructions for simple actions you can take on behalf of birds. The official Year of the Bird website, www.birdyourworld.org, will take you to the National Geographic page, and the other sponsors’ websites will get you there as well.

You may not be aware of National Geographic’s bird credentials. When the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America came out in the 1980s, it was a must-have sensation. You can find the latest edition at local bookstores and online.

The National Audubon Society, http://www.audubon.org/yearofthebird, is your portal to these articles so far: How Birds Bind Us, The History and Evolution of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, The United States of Birding and Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report. My favorite–Why Do Birds Matter? – quotes dozens of well-known authors and ornithologists.

BirdLife International, http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/flyway, offers ways to think about birds. When you see your next robin, think about where it’s been, what it’s flown over. Think about the people in other countries who may have seen the bird too. Think about the work being done to protect its migratory flyways.

On the other hand, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology begins the year addressing bird appreciation. At one of their websites, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/6-resolutions-to-help-you-birdyourworld-in-2018/, Hugh Powell recommends getting a decent pair of affordable binoculars after reading this guide on how to shop for them, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/six-steps-to-choosing-a-pair-of-binoculars-youll-love/.

Powell also recommends CLO’s free Merlin Bird ID app to get to know your local birds better (or see http://www.AllAboutBirds.org). Then you can keep daily bird lists through CLO’s free eBird program, including photos and sound recordings.

While you watch birds from your kitchen window, drink bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee. There’s an in-depth article at https://www.allaboutbirds.org.

Or play CLO’s new Bird Song Hero game to help you learn how to match what you hear with the visual spectrograph, https://academy.allaboutbirds.org.

Finally, Powell suggests “pay it forward”—take someone birding and join a bird club or Audubon chapter (locally, I’d recommend my chapter, https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/).

Here in Wyoming our lone U.S. Representative, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, has attempted to take the teeth out of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with H.R. 4239. She thinks protecting birds should not come at the expense of business.

Earlier threats to birds caused conservationist Aldo Leopold to write in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanack, “We face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasqueflower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”

I would say that people who appreciate birds are not a minority. And many of us agree with biologist and biodiversity definer Thomas Lovejoy, “If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.”

If it is too cold for you to appreciate the birds while outside, check out National Geographic’s January issue with photos by Joel Sartore. More of his bird photos for National Geographic’s Photo Ark project, studio portraits of the world’s animals, will be in a book coming out this spring written by Noah Strycker, “Birds of the Photo Ark.” Strycker will be speaking in Cheyenne May 14.

Now go to www.BirdYourWorld.org and take the pledge and find out each month what simple action you can take on behalf of birds.

Addendum: Because the paragraph about Liz Cheney was omitted from the column when it was published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, I submitted a letter to the editor that was published four days later:

Migratory Bird Treaty Act under attack

Dear Editor,

2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S., along with co-signers Mexico, Canada, Japan and Russia, agree to protect birds that cross our borders and theirs.

A hundred years ago there was a battle between conservationists and industrialists and the birds won. Industry is now held accountable for “incidental take” – birds killed unintentionally during the course of business. That has included birds hooked by long-line ocean fishing, birds attracted to oily evaporation ponds in oil and gas fields and birds hit by wind turbines.

These kinds of hazards can add up and make a population-threatening dent. Instead, the MBTA has forced industries to pay fines or come up with ingenious solutions that save a lot of birds.

However, Wyoming’s Congresswoman Liz Cheney is backing U.S. House Resolution 4239 which would remove the requirement to take responsibility for incidental take. Here we are, 100 years later, fighting the battle again.

If you would like to speak up for the birds, please call Cheney’s office, 202-225-2311. The polite person who answers the phone only wants to know your name, address and your opinion, so they know which column to check, anti-bird, or pro-bird and the MBTA.

Barb Gorges

Cheyenne

Birdwatching with a camera

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is popular with birders. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 3, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “New camera technology can help birders get perfect shot.”

By Barb Gorges

I have often wished the view through my binoculars could be a photograph of that colorful warbler high in the tree, the distant hawk or the swimming phalarope.

Then digiscoping was invented—a digital version of trying to take a photo through a scope. The idea is that you don’t need a camera with a big lens if you can use your scope instead.

But who wants to carry around the heavy tripod and scope, plus a camera to attach to it? Not me.

But a couple years ago the Cheyenne Audubon chapter had members Greg Johnson and Robin Kepple give a talk on their birding trip to Australia. The bird photos were fabulous. What camera was used? Canon PowerShot SX50 HS.

The PowerShot series of cameras is really a collection of point and shoots—I have an early one, but it doesn’t zoom like the SX50. They all have lots of manual and partially manual ways to adjust speed, aperture and color. You can do a surprising number of things, including macro and video. Some will even connect to your smart phone to transmit photos.

The SX50 (and now there is an SX60 and rumors of an SX70, not to mention Nikon’s cameras in this class) is moderately priced, between $300 and $600. That price might get you another lens for a digital single lens reflex camera, the type the professionals use.

And the SX50 weighs only 1 pound 6 ounces, whereas my Brunton 8 x 42 binocs weigh 4 ounces more. A recent publication of the American Birding Association, “Birder’s Guide to Gear,” features four men who did a photographic Big Day. They could only count bird species they photographed. All of them carried multiple camera bodies and lenses. Imagine the weight.

Among our birding friends, my husband, Mark, was the first to follow Greg and Robin’s lead by buying an SX50 in the fall of 2014. By spring of 2015, there were three or four people carrying these cameras on a local field trip. Even our friend, ABA magazine editor Ted Floyd, has one now. It makes his Facebook posts even more entertaining.

Ted mentioned that young birders seem to be forsaking binoculars for these “compact ultra-zooms” as they’ve been referred to. They have one big advantage over binocs. If you snap a photo of an unusual bird, you can then show it to your birding companions using the 2.8-inch screen on the back, beginning a good half hour or more’s discussion of the finer points of feathers.

And it is really handy to have a photo when you submit your field trip checklist to the eBird database, where the experts want proof of the rare bird you saw.

Are Mark and his friends practicing the art of photography? I’m not sure. They all seem to be using the camera on the automatic setting. Their goal is to get the bird. They don’t worry about whether the background contrasts nicely.

Often the camera’s automatic setting determination is matched by the location’s lighting for a really nice shot. Fixing the framing of the subject can be accomplished back on the computer with cropping. Putting the camera on a tripod would probably improve the number of well-focused shots. Though these cameras come with image stabilization technology, it is sorely tested by flighty birds.

Mark has taken 7,500 photos so far. I asked him if he thought about bringing just the camera on birding trips, since it zooms farther than our scope. It’s kind of a pain carrying camera, scope and binocs.

No, he said, the camera lacks a wide field of view. It makes it difficult to re-find that speck of distant movement you saw with your naked eye.

With the steady advancement of technology in my lifetime alone, computers have gone from room-sized to hand-sized. Cameras have gone from the wooden box my grandmother used in 1916 to who-knows-what in the next 10 years.

Equally amazing is how birders take the latest technology and use it for learning more about birds. We’ve learned so much from eBird, for instance–all those observations from birdwatchers being sent in via Internet from all over the world.

And how about geolocators? Attached to birds, they allow scientists to track them during migration.

But let’s not forget the thrill of photography itself. Like artist John James Audubon, you can see the bird you shot today displayed for posterity on your computer screen.

Maven builds binoculars

Maven binoculars

Maven’s model B3 compact binoculars are perfect for birders: wide field of view and light weight. This pair has gotten a lot of use in the last six months. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 26, 2015, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “High-end binoculars, mid-level prices from Wyoming’s Maven.”

By Barb Gorges

There’s a new Wyoming company making binoculars.

You may have seen Maven binoculars mentioned in hunting and birding circles last fall when they came on the market. So far, reviews are good. I’ll add to that, six months after I bought a pair of my own.

The Maven Outdoor Equipment Company, located in Lander, offers three models, each in two sizes of magnification:

–There’s the B1: 8×42, 10×42 ($900);

–B2: 9×45, 11×45 ($1000);

–B3: 8×30, 10×30 ($500).

I went for the B3 8×30 not only because it is in my price range, but also because it only weighs 16 ounces (compared to the larger pairs at 26 ounces or more). Binoculars classified as compacts usually have a narrower field of view, but not these: you get a 430-foot view at 1,000 yards.

The B3s are making a hit with birdwatchers, as well as archers, who want to travel light, said Mike Lilygren, the one of the three co-owners.

Ironically, back in January, I was only sort of in the market for new binoculars as I was growing increasingly unhappy with my Bruntons binoculars.

Lilygren and the other Maven co-owners, Brendon Weaver and Cade Maestas, used to work for Brunton’s optic division before forming their own company. (Brunton is no longer in the optics business.)

Maven was mentioned to me by someone at a store that caters to birders–very generous, considering Maven binocs are not sold through retail outlets. They are only available online, unless you happen to actually be in Lander, or are at an outdoor or birding equipment show Maven is attending.

Without the middleman, consumers can pretty much double the quality of optics they can buy for their money.

Suddenly, $900 for the favorite of many birders, 8×42, looks like a bargain compared to the top of the line Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss models that cost over $2000.

But do the optics compare? For someone like me who has never paid more than $200, the B3 is a big improvement. I notice the difference in distinguishing details on birds, especially in low light situations. (If you want an extended technical discussion and comparison, check out www.BirdForum.com.)

Ergonomically, the B3 suits my short fingers and it doesn’t take much to change the focus from close to far—two quibbles I’ve had with other binoculars I’ve owned.

But the adjustable eye cups do have a tendency to collapse a bit after an hour. I bird without glasses and have the eyecups pulled all the way out. People with glasses leave them all the way down. Lilygren said they’ve noticed the problem in-house, but I’m the first customer to mention it. Possibly, most people use them with glasses or sunglasses.

Standard advice has always been not to order binoculars sight unseen, but Maven will mail you a demo that’s easy to return. So far, only one person has returned theirs—but not because of dissatisfaction, Lilygren said.

Ordering online, www.mavenbuilt.com, allows for customizing the look of the binoculars beyond standard black and gray. Try camo-print bodies and your choice of various pieces of orange, silver, red or pink trim, plus up to 30 characters of engraving—adding as little as $10 or as much as $250 to the price.

Pink trim? There were many requests, and purple may be coming soon.

Lilygren said 75 percent of online customers chose some customization, but the people buying at shows do not. Overall, half are buying custom.

While the glass is ground in Japan by the famed Kamakura Company, the binoculars are assembled in the U.S., then shipped to Lander where they have to pass inspection by the company owners. Lilygren said he was going through a stack of 25 pairs when I called.

A customized pair can take three weeks to arrive, but a stock pair, like mine, can arrive practically overnight with Wyoming’s typical one-day in-state postal delivery.

Besides adding purple, what’s next for Maven? Next year, it will offer a 10×56 and 15×56. Not something birders would tote around. But a spotting scope will also come out.

Maven logo

The Maven Outdoor Equipment Company is proud to be a Wyoming business. Photo by Barb Gorges.

So, what’s with the name “Maven”? The word means “trusted expert” or “one with knowledge based on accumulation of experience.” And that is their forte, compared to other outdoor gear companies, said Lilygren. He and Weaver and Maestas are passionate hunters. The company is based in Lander, the center of the outdoor recreation universe, because that’s where they want to live.

The three know what they want in optics, yet they were humble enough to ask Kamakura about the latest technology they had to offer.

And the three have so much faith in their products, they offer a lifetime warranty. They expect Maven binoculars to last a lifetime.

Find gifts for birders

Charley Harper puzzle

Environment for the Americas, the folks who organize International Migratory Bird Day, are offering this Charlie Harper puzzle titled, “Mystery of the Missing Migrants.”

Published Dec. 6, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Get creative with gifts for birders.”

2014 Update: The websites listed at the end of this column have been updated. There are now newer editions of the field guides mentioned. Bird-friendly coffee and chocolate are more widely available now at natural food stores.

By Barb Gorges

A good gift is useful, educational or edible, if not homemade. If someone on your gift list truly cares about wild birds, they don’t want energy and resources harvested from sensitive bird habitats wasted on making junk.

Here’s my list, sorted somewhat by a recipient’s degree of interest in birds.

First, for anyone, armchair bird watcher to ornithologist, Houghton Mifflin has three new illustrated books.

“Letters from Eden, A Year at Home, in the Woods” by Julie Zickefoose ($26) includes her watercolor sketches. A frequent contributor to Bird Watcher’s Digest, her bird and nature observations are often made in the company of her young children on their 80-acre farm in Ohio or from the 40-foot tower atop her house.

Zickefoose’s tower may have been her husband’s idea. He is Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and editor of “All Things Reconsidered, My Birding Adventures,” Roger Tory Peterson ($30).

Peterson was the originator of the modern field guide. From 1984 until his death in 1996, he wrote a regular column for the Digest. Peterson had the gift of writing about birds, bird places and bird people so anyone could enjoy his choice of topics. Anyone can enjoy this photo-illustrated book.

The third book, “The Songs of Wild Birds.” ($20) is a treat for eyes and ears. Author Lang Elliott chose his favorite stories about 50 bird species from his years of recording their songs. Each short essay faces a full page photo portrait of the bird. The accompanying CD has their songs and more commentary. My favorite is the puffin recording.

The field guide is the essential tool for someone moving up from armchair status. National Geographic’s fifth edition of its Field Guide to the Birds of North America ($24) came out this fall.

New are the thumb tabs for major bird groups, like old dictionaries have for each letter. It has more birds and more pages plus the bird names and range maps are updated.

Binoculars are the second most essential tool. If you are shopping for someone who hasn’t any or has a pair more than 20 years old, you can’t go wrong with 7 x 35 or 8 x 42 in one of the under $100 brands at sporting goods stores. You can also find an x-back-style harness ($20) there, an improvement over the regular strap.

Past the introductory level, a gift certificate would be better because fitting binoculars is as individual as each person’s eyes.

Spotting scopes don’t need fitting. However, if you find a good, low-end model, don’t settle for a low-end tripod because it won’t last in the field.

For extensive information on optics, see the Bird Watcher’s Digest Web site.

Bird feeders, bird seed, bird houses and bird baths are great gifts if the recipient or you are able to clean and maintain them. To match them with the local birds at the recipient’s house, call the local Audubon chapter or check the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch and Birdhouse Network sites.

You can make a gift of a Lab membership ($35), which includes several publications, and of course, there’s Audubon and its magazine ($20 introductory offer). Bird Watcher’s Digest ($20 per year), mentioned above, makes learning about birds fun, as does Birder’s World magazine ($25 per year).

For someone who wants to discuss identifying obscure sparrows and other topics of interest to listers, they might be ready for membership in the American Birding Association ($40). The ABA also has a great catalog available to everyone online. It’s filled with optics, gear and every bird book and field guide available in English for the most obscure places in the world.

The ABA tempts members with mailings for trips to exotic birding hotspots, as well as its annual meetings held in different parts of the country. Also check Bird Watcher’s Digest for nationwide bird festival listings.

One subscription valuable to an academic type who doesn’t already have access, is the Birds of North America Online ($40). Every species has as many as 50 pages of information and hundreds of references to studies.

For the computer literate, Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America, version 3.5 ($75), includes photos, songs, videos, life histories, quizzes and search functions.

After the useful and educational, there’s the edible. Look for organically grown products because they don’t poison bird habitat. The ABA sells bird friendly, shade grown coffee and organic chocolate through its Web site.

Coffee and other items are available also at the International Migratory Bird Day web site, and support migratory bird awareness and education.

If the person on your list is truly committed to the welfare of wild birds and wildlife in general, skip the trinkets such as the plush bird toys that sing and don’t add to their collection of birdy t-shirts.

Look for products that are good for the environment. These are items that are energy efficient, solar-powered, rechargeable, refillable, fixable, recyclable, made from recycled or organic materials, or are locally grown or manufactured.

Or make a donation in their name to an organization like Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy or The Nature Conservancy which work to protect bird habitat.

Presents along these lines would be great gifts for your friend or family member, and for birds and other wildlife, any time of year.

American Bird Conservancy: membership, research, advocacy, publications, gear, www.abcbirds.org.

American Birding Association: membership, publications, books, optics, gear, travel www.aba.org.

Birder’s World: magazine, http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com.

Bird Watcher’s Digest: magazine, bird info, bird festival listings and gear for sale, www.BirdWatchersDigest.com.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: membership, bird info, Citizen Science projects, www.birds.cornell.edu.

International Migratory Bird Day (Environment for the Americas): education, online store, www.birdday.org.

National Audubon Society: membership, magazine, research, advocacy, directory of chapters www.audubon.org.

North American Birds Online: Internet data base, http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna.

Thayer Birding: software, www.thayerbirding.com.

The Nature Conservancy: membership, publications, gear, www.nature.org.

Choosing binoculars

Binoculars

Binoculars have two numbers. The first is the magnification and the second is the size of the objective lens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 8, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Binocular Considerations.”

2014 Update: Binoculars keep improving. A $40 pair today has the optics of $300 binoculars from 10 years ago–or better.

By Barb Gorges

Following are some factors to bear in mind when choosing binoculars for bird watching.

–Magnification: Binoculars have numbers stamped on them such as “7 x 35.” The first number indicates how many times they magnify what you’re looking at. Magnification of 7, 8 or 9 can be held reasonably steady by hand. For anything over 10, you should consider getting a spotting scope and tripod.

 –Brightness: The second number – the “35” in “7 x 35” – refers to the size of the objective lens in millimeters. The bigger the number, the bigger the lens, the brighter image and the easier to see your bird. For normal daylight conditions, 35 mm is just fine. You would benefit from 40 or 50 mm if you frequently look at birds in poor light conditions such as dawn and dusk, cloudy climates or dense brush.

–Field of view: Somewhere on the binoculars or in the literature packed with them should be information such as “487 ft. at 1000 yds.” That means, if you are looking at a bird 1000 yards away, you will be able to see more than 240 feet to each side of it. You’ll be able to watch a whole flock or more easily track a bird that flies away. The lower the magnification, the greater the field of view.

–Depth of field: This refers to how much area in front of and behind of the object you’re focused on also will be in focus. The lower the magnification, the greater the depth of field.

–Focus: Binoculars meant for birding have a center focus wheel or lever that focuses both barrels at the same time. However, one barrel should be adjustable independently for a one-time adjustment to your eyes’ differences in ability.

–Coated lenses: Coatings on all the lenses increases the brightness and contrast of bird images, making them easier to see. Look for advertisements saying “fully coated” or “fully multi-coated” optics.

–Eye relief: The measurement from the surface of your eye to the eye piece should be about 10 mm. Less than that, and you’ll blink excessively. If you’ll be wearing glasses, make sure you can fold back the eyecups and maintain the optimum distance.

–Fit: There’s nothing like trying binoculars in person. Can you adjust the distance between the barrels to match the distance between your eyes? Can you easily reach the focus wheel with your forefingers without changing your entire grip? Are the binocs a weight you won’t mind having hanging around your neck for hours?

–Durability: Consider cushioning “armor” and water resistance options to protect your investment.

–Availability: Local discount and sporting goods stores sell binoculars, although some of what they have to offer may not fall within the 7-9 power or 35-50 mm range preferred by birders. Birding magazines and birding Internet sites are rife with binocular ads. If you decide to mail order, find out the details of trial periods and return policies in advance. Uncomfortable binoculars are as big a waste of money as shoes that don’t fit.

Bird-watching basics: Jane Dorn and Gloria Lawrence interviewed

Birdwatchers

Attending a bird class or a field trip is a good way to learn more about birdwatching. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published June 8, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Go Birding! Mastering bird-watching basics will enhance your time in the outdoors.”

2014 Update: Binoculars continue to improve and new field guides keep coming out. Both the Casper and Cheyenne Audubon chapters continue to offer bird classes, field trips and programs.

By Barb Gorges

Bird watching is an all-inclusive hobby that has grown immensely in popularity in recent years.

From young children to the elderly or disabled, almost anyone can pick up a pair of binoculars and a field guide and begin to enjoy watching and learning about birds.

Southeast Wyoming lies along the migratory paths of a wide array of bird species and is the year-round home to many birds that are as beautiful as they are fascinating.

From identifying birds at the backyard feeder to becoming a full-blown amateur ornithologist, bird watching can be as simple or as all-consuming as you choose to make it.

So what steps do experienced birders recommend to the casual backyard observer who wants to fan that initial spark of interest in birds into a bigger flame?

“I would suggest you take a class” said Gloria Lawrence. “Or go birding with a group. Go birding every chance you can with people who know birds or fumble through the field guide.”

The spark

Lawrence, who lives near Casper, keeps the Wyoming Birding Hotline up to date. Her interest in birds was sparked by a northern mockingbird that spent a summer singing from the yard light pole when she was a child growing up on a ranch near Chugwater.

She and her husband, Jim, began feeding backyard birds, and they learned to identify them, along with those they saw on outdoor trips.

“The spark turned into a roaring fire when Jim and I took a class from Oliver Scott in 1984,” Lawrence said. “The fire is burning out of control. I realize in a lifetime I’ll barely scratch the surface of what there is to know about birds.”

Cheyenne birder Jane Dorn got the tinder for her “spark”—as birders refer to the beginning passion for birds—as a small child growing up near Rawlins, part-time on a ranch, with a family that hunted and fished.

Dorn could identify game birds and the songbirds her mother fed before she was old enough to go to school.

“I’ve always watched birds; it’s something I grew up doing. I wasn’t intensely interested until after taking a college ornithology class,” she said.

Jane and her husband, Robert, are co-authors of “Wyoming Birds,” a book documenting the occurrence of bird species throughout the state.

“The more you do, the better you get,” she said. “Taking a class or going out with a birder is a huge boost to your bird-watching knowledge and shows you what’s what locally.”

Can one be too old or too young to take up bird watching?

No, said Lawrence, Gloria, who helps teach the annual 12-week bird class offered by the Murie Audubon Society at Casper College.

“Many students are middle-aged or older, and many are retired,” she said.

“It’s a hobby you can pursue for a lifetime,” said Dorn, who helped teach a birding class at Laramie County Community College this year.

Birding is ideal for the disabled, and it’s easy to add to other outdoor family activities.

One example Lawrence gave of the spark flaming at a young age is Joe Scott, whose grandfather, Oliver Scott, wrote the American Birding Association’s “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming.” The young Scott, now in high school, and his father, Stacey, like to make the trek from Casper for the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society chapter’s annual spring bird count.

Scott recently received a grant from the Governor’s Youth Initiative for Wildlife. It and other funds he raised will help him build a new flight cage for Casper bird rehabilitators Lois and Frank Layton.

There are just two pieces of equipment needed to enjoy bird watching: A pair of binoculars and a field guide.

Binoculars

“Get the very best equipment you can afford,” Lawrence suggested. “I started out with 7 x 35 Tasco binoculars. When I got my Bausch and Lombs, it opened up a whole new world. Good optics just make birding more enjoyable.”

Dorn recommends a minimum power of 7. Go with 8 or 9 if you can afford it. (See the accompanying article on binoculars for a discussion of magnification.)

“Ideally you want to try as many kinds of binoculars as you can,” Dorn said.

Choosing binoculars that fit your style of bird watching is as important as fitting them to your hands and eyes.

“If you’ll be doing little walking, you can afford heavier binocs with a wider field of view,” Dorn said.

She estimated that $200 would buy an acceptable pair of birding binoculars.

Top birders spend as much as $1000. With improvements in quality in recent years, such as lens coatings that improve the brightness of the image, you can get more capability for the same money now.

As a hobby, bird watching doesn’t have to be expensive. “You don’t need as much (equipment) as golf,” Lawrence said.

And, said Dorn, bigger is not always better. “More magnification is not necessarily better. Anything above a 10 you cannot hold steady enough. You buy a scope with a tripod when you get serious about shorebirds and waterfowl.”

The most important thing about binoculars is to use them, Lawrence said. “Once you get binoculars, use them and use them,” until focusing is fast and automatic. And learn how to use the individual eye focus to adjust for differences between your eyes.

Dorn advises testing binoculars for alignment as well. If the two barrels aren’t lined up, you may have a headache by the end of a day of birding.

Field guides

Field guides are a less expensive tool, running from $15 to $25 apiece

But, said Dorn, “You’ll find you’ll want to own more than one.”

Lawrence will attest to that. “Jim and I have six bookcases. One is entirely filled with bird reference books, floor to ceiling, probably 250 books,” she said.

Both women recommend the newest edition of the National Geographic guide because it’s the most up to date and it covers bird species for the whole United States as well exotic species that may show up accidently.

“Peterson’s (guides) are still excellent, but you need both the Eastern and the Western guides,” said Dorn. “The old Golden (guide) is good but the nomenclature is sort of out of date.”

After the initial investment in binoculars and field guides, you can enjoy bird watching from home.

“You don’t have to live any place special to bird watch,” Dorn said.

You may enhance home bird watching by making your yard attractive to birds, providing food, water and shelter. On a day too rainy to go out last month, just before the peak of spring migration, Lawrence and her husband counted 38 species from their window.

It is possible to spend a lot of money on the hobby. Birding magazines advertise birding eco-tours to all kinds of international, bird-rich destinations. And the number of bird festivals around the country, usually celebrating particular species, continues to grow.

There’s always more to learn about birds, even when you’re the teacher. “I learned as much as the students,” Lawrence said of her experience. “When you try to describe (an ordinary bird) for someone else, you become more aware of what really looks unique about it.”

And there’s no limit to how much time some people put into bird watching. Lawrence, who goes birding all the time, related a typical story. “It’s a habit. I was coming up the stairs with a load of laundry when I saw a painted bunting.”

This type of bunting shows up accidentally in Wyoming, with only three documented sightings listed in the Dorns’ book. After documenting it with photographs, Lawrence added it to the bird hot line report.

[The bird hot line has given way to the Wyobirds elist. See information for Wyobirds, local bird classes and field trips at Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society’s website: http://home.lonetree.com/audubon/.%5D

Bird Watching Stats (circa 2000)

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., the number of birders in the United States is now estimated at 60 million. No one seems to have kept track of the statistics over the decades, but it’s generally accepted that number has grown exponentially in recent years.

According to the lab:

–Bird watching is the fastest-growing form of outdoor recreation in America, second in overall popularity only to gardening.

–By 2050, birding is the only major outdoor recreation that will have grown faster than the national population: It’s expected to increase in participation by 53.9 percent.

Birding naked

binoculars

Can birders enjoy birding without binoculars? Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published May 28, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birding naked: It’s not nearly as fun as it sounds.”

2014 Update: Better fitting binoculars mean more comfortable birding, I’ve found.

By Barb Gorges

Birding naked is all the rage in southeastern Arizona. That’s what Gloria Lawrence of Casper told me May 17 while she and five other Casper birders helped local Audubon members with the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count.

Gloria was not enthusiastic about the birding naked field trips. Actually, going au natural is what most people do when they look at birds without optics. Birding without binoculars and scopes means using your naked eye—eye glasses and contacts excepted.

The morning of the count I put on my binoculars. With the elastic strap harness so many of us birders use, it really is like getting dressed.

And getting dressed the last two weeks has been complicated by having my right hand in a splint. After 23 years, I opted to have pregnancy-induced carpel tunnel syndrome repairs.

You know what? Binoculars, in addition to being made for two eyes, are made for two hands. While my left hand is pretty adept at many things, it couldn’t hold the binocs up and focus them too. I’d like to find a skinnier and lighter pair anyway.

When there was a blackpoll warbler directly overhead in a willow at Lions Park, I was able to lay the binocs on my face and use the focus barrel more easily. But every time the bird flitted, I had to lift them off and locate the bird again.

My usual technique of staring at the bird and then putting the binocs between me and the bird didn’t seem to be working.

At least the western tanager was close enough to be identifiable naked. Bright yellow body, black wings and red-orange head, there’s no mistaking it for anything else. But I soon gave up on any birds that had to be differentiated by spots and streaks. I just couldn’t get my binocs focused on them fast enough.

Finally, I found my useful niche and pointed out bird shapes to other people in the group, “I saw a flash of orange head up into that tree.” “Oh yes,” someone replied, “a Bullock’s oriole.”

I said, “A sparrow went into those reeds.” “Ah, a Savannah sparrow,” they said. Of course, I’ve never been able to tell that species apart from any of the other obscure sparrows anyway, so no loss.

A boss I had years ago was blind in one eye and bought himself a monocular. Imagine—you could afford twice the optical quality if you were buying only half a pair of binocs.

I looked forward to our stop at Wyoming Hereford Ranch Reservoir #1 where we’d set up spotting scopes to look for water birds. Once they are set up, it takes only one hand to use them though often the focus knob is on the right side.

For years Mark and I didn’t own a scope and pretty much bypassed checking out reservoirs on our own. The birds are always on the far side and it takes more imagination than I have to make blurs into birds. But the cheap scope (now selling for $300) we finally bought really made a difference. I can see the field marks and appreciate the variety of species.

There are still many birds to be enjoyed even if you are birding naked. As long as your ears are working, a spring morning is full of different birds, starting with robins at 3 a.m.

Many birds are large and unique. I can tell a turkey vulture (leading edge of the underside of wing is black, trailing edge is silver) from a Swainson’s hawk (trailing edge is dark, leading edge is light) from a red-tailed hawk (tail is “red”, reddish brown) even at 75 mph with sunglasses on providing the birds aren’t soaring too high.

Then there was the red-winged blackbird strolling toward me on the walk around Sloan’s Lake the morning of the count. I’d fallen behind the rest of the group and decided I might as well enjoy a bird close up if I could.

We stopped about two feet from each other, our eyes locking as if we were characters in a Harlequin romance. His black feathers were glossy and his fire-engine red epaulets were puffed out. His black eyes glinted in the sunshine. I hated to break our rapport, but I knew there was a female in stripy plumage who would appreciate him even more.

By evening Mark and I hit the lakes at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. I was tired of not really seeing birds and having to depend on everyone else to identify the blurs. It was such a good birding day otherwise—little wind, warm, sunny, trees hardly leafed out, the crabapples at their peak and the appearance of a mourning warbler that almost everyone else saw.

And then I saw them, a whole raft of sleeping white pelicans. The lake was small enough that they were close enough to enjoy.

All together I’d say birding naked is just about as frustrating as birding without clothes would be uncomfortable—imagine sunburn, bugs, and thorns. What I didn’t miss was my usual role as note taker for the group. But I missed having a close look at all my favorite little migrating feather balls and leaning to identify new ones.

Remind me to avoid scheduling surgery on my left hand too close to the Christmas Bird Count. It would be kind of cold for birding naked.