Bird Friends, Young and Old

Perhaps one of the most unique experiences with birding is it’s ability to cross multiple generations. Most non-birders think of birders, or in this case bird watchers, as old, retired folks who sit in front of their windows watching Cardinals while knitting booties for their grandchildren with episodes of Lawrence Welk airing in the background on PBS. Or maybe they’ve seen a birding tour group dominated by retired people with floppy, wide-brim hats, vests stuffed with books, pens, and paper, and a fanny packed stuffed with “old people” stuff.  While undoubtedly some fit these stereotypical roles, what I’ve come to learn is that birders are not only a much more diverse group of people, but that birding is a common thread which has the ability to transcend generational gaps.

Birding is a sick addiction, one that gouges its teeth in and fails to let go until you’re chasing the proverbial dragon. It wasn’t until recently that I stumbled out of the stupor, still completely addicted mind you, and realized the expansive and diverse circle of friends I’ve gained – all of us truly in need of some birding rehab. At one end of the spectrum are my retired friends with ready to share real world and birding wisdom that only comes from decades of experience in life and nature. In the middle is a group of fellow birding friends within 10-20 years of myself in terms of age. And at the other end are the young birders, to few in numbers, but still represented. Although disparate on the surface, these three loosely defined groups flock together as one; in the field, on the road, at meetings, or out to dinner, we all makeup one group with a common interest in birding where age is of little concern.

It was with these thoughts that I realized on a regular basis I bird, enjoy life, and have friends with 5 generations of birders (Builders, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y, and Z). How many of life’s other pursuits can you say that about?

Here's a Rough-legged Hawk photo to hold you over as I ramble on in my self-indulgent writing.
Here’s a Rough-legged Hawk photo to hold you over as I ramble on in my self-indulgent writing. Found this beauty on my way to Michael & Nancy’s  house on Sunday morning.
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Rough-legged Hawk takes to the air.

This past Sunday I had the chance to do some birding and visit our youngest club members house. Michael may be 11, but he birds with the experience of a seasoned adult and has an obsessive one track mind when it comes to birds. Last year he finished #4 in Wisconsin birding for number of species seen (and although his mom Nancy doesn’t tally she most certainly was in the top 10)*. When I wasn’t birding alone last year, chances are I was with these two.

With continuing Common Redpolls, Purple Finch, and a nearby Northern Shrike in their neighborhood, it was a good opportunity to add some new year birds, checkout their yard, and get some more birding in with the two of them. Although we had flocks of distant Common Redpolls on Saturday, the 22 feeders at their house drew them in close which made for excellent viewing and some photo opportunities.

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Common Redpoll (male).
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Common Redpolls, like the closely related Hoary Redpolls, spend the summer in the boreal forest and Arctic tundra scrub.


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Blue Jay: looking surly with its crest raised.
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Northern Cardinal. Beautiful contrasting colors against the White Birch and gray skies.
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Red Squirrel. I’m really becoming a fan of all things squirrel!

After spending some time watching their feeders and searching for the Northern Shrike (unsuccessfully), we drove over to the Little Wolf River Trail which runs through Manawa. I found out that the land for this trail, the boardwalks, and the 7 different bridges were all donated by a local resident – no state or DNR funds, just a well intentioned citizen looking to share a beautiful tract of land with others.

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After a rather quite hike, we returned to Michael & Nancy’s and went back in search of the Purple Finch. After spending about 15 minutes watching the back yard, I’d all but given up. As we turned to walk into the house, Michael eyed and got me on year bird #41 – two Purple Finches in the birch tree!

CLICK FOR LARGE PHOTO. Purple Finch (female). The female Purple Finch is not extravagant, or purple for that matter. Seen here she is centered on the feeder with the diagnostic white eye strip (also known as supercilium in birding speak).
CLICK FOR LARGE PHOTO. Purple Finch (female). The female Purple Finch is not extravagant, or purple for that matter. Seen here she is centered on the feeder with the diagnostic white eye strip (also known as supercilium in birding speak).
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Their cat Porter enjoying some scratch love from some winter stems.

On the way out I took one more look for the Shrike and while I didn’t find it, I did get a couple flight shots of a Rough-legged Hawk. Getting any kind of useable/decent flight shots with my camera is a victory!

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Rough-legged Hawk. What to look for in flight – long broad wings and white base of tail with broad dark band on the top side.
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Underneath: Dark “elbow” patches and white flight feathers with a dark trailing border.

Another enjoyable day out in the field! I missed on the Shrike, but was perfectly content with picking up a couple Purple Finches and some nice looks at the Common Redpolls. Ten years ago, I would have laughed if you would have told me that at age 41 I would be addicted to birding; and I probably would have keeled over if you’d told me I’d be doing it with people 30 years younger and 30 years older. Yet on Sunday that’s just what I was doing and enjoying every minute of it.

One final note – as good birding friends don’t do nearly enough, Michael and I decided to team up on a birding list goal. Since Michael’s focusing on county birds this year and one of my goals was to spend more time birding Calumet County, we decided on a four county big year. Although we’ll each be birding in all four counties, Michael is closer to and will be spending more time in Waupaca and Outagamie Counties. I on the other hand will be focusing on Winnebago and Calumet. We set our goal for 250 species.

Doable? Yes.

Going to be tough? Oh yeah.

Last year the leader for species seen in Wisconsin, Kay Kavanagh, clocked 304.* We’re going for a combined 250 species in just 4 of the 72 Wisconsin counties.

We’re going to need to Bird It Up!

* Stats based of rankings in Cornell’s Ebird.


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