BIRD WATCHERS: The human side of watching birds

The holidays are a time of year for spending time with family and friends. Bird watching is often thought of a solitary activity where an observer goes out alone into nature, but in reality it is a social activity.

I have been fortunate enough to work seasonal birding jobs in different states throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Each area has a thriving birding community. Local bird clubs have monthly meetings with social time and informational presentations. Experts lead free bird walks to top migration spots.

There are thousands of members on Facebook birding groups where birders can ask questions and share their sightings. Smartphone apps such as eBird allow birders to submit their sightings in a way that makes the data useful to scientists and other birders. Information about rare species spreads over social media and rare bird alert text messaging systems. Beginners meet others with the same interest and become part of the community. When looking for a rare bird that has been reported you will often run into friends who are also looking for it.

A group of birders is putting together a campaign to see if over 200 species of birds can be recorded in Snyder County in 2019 since this is a part of the state that is often overlooked. Similar campaigns have been done in recent years for other counties to promote birding and collect more data.

Thousands of Christmas Bird Counts, a bird counting event run by the National Audubon Society, are conducted each winter. Groups cover sections of each count circle. Often these groups are a mix of experienced birders and beginners so that there is a mentoring aspect. The experienced birders can identify the birds and the beginners can keep the species tally on paper. This same process is common at hawk watches where experts identify the raptors but new observers can help record the totals and weather each hour.

I am always fascinated by the people who visit the hawk watches I work at. Some have a serious interest in raptor identification, but others visit to enjoy the atmosphere. It is a place to hang out with a group and stay socially connected in a comfortable environment. Seeing the hawks seems to be an added bonus.

I am thankful for all the friends I have made because of our common interest in birds. There are many organizations in our local area to get involved with. Whether joining the Lycoming Audubon Society for a bird walk or visiting a local nature center to learn about butterflies you will find a friendly group. The new year is when birders reset their year list and each species is once again exciting to see for the first time. I encourage you to make 2019 the year you spend more time outside enjoying nature and making new friends in the process.

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David Brown is a member of the Lycoming County Audubon Society.

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