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Bird watching as a hobby is gaining in popularity, enthusiasts say.

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The hobby of bird watching is gaining popularity for all ages. "Birding" combines learning and spending time outside, with others or alone. It can be an enjoyable pastime, rather than a scientific analysis, but you have the freedom to go into as much detail as you want. Extensive travel to exotic locations is optional. You can travel if you wish, or you can just park the lawn chair in the backyard and watch from there.

According to birdwatchingadvice.com, there are some things to remember. Develop and maintain a calm demeanor, it will go a long way toward seeing more birds, because you won't startle them, and this serene, meditative perspective may very well help you remain calm in a hectic world. Also, try to blend in with your surroundings, wearing neutral or earth-toned clothing.

Birding can be a silent, solitary pursuit or it can be social; you can develop friendships with other enthusiasts and go on outings together. Or you can just relax in the backyard and discover the wonders of the natural world, including the beautiful birds that may stop in for a visit.

A way to get connected is through the Blue Mountain Audubon Society. Mike Denny, board member of the Blue Mountain Audubon Society said, "It's an outstanding hobby that can become a way of life." According to Denny, the local group conducts field trips each month. "Anyone's welcome. Audubon also has speakers on birds, meetings, field trips, lots of things. In the spring, every Tuesday at 8 a.m., there's a walk around Bennington Lake. Just meet in the upper parking lot."

The Web site for the Society, blumtn.org, has a wealth of information including lists of birds sighted and arrival dates for various bird species in the locale. The area hosts plenty of different species because of good habitat in the Blue Mountains and along the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Mike Denny, board member of the Blue Mountain Audubon Society said, "It's an outstanding hobby that can become a way of life." According to Denny, the local group conducts field trips each month. "Anyone's welcome. Audubon also has speakers on birds, meetings, field trips, lots of things. In the spring, every Tuesday at 8 a.m., there's a walk around Bennington Lake. Just meet in the upper parking lot."

If you want to extend your bird watching farther afield, suggested areas for birding include: Fort Walla Walla Park and natural area, Rooks Park, the Walla Walla River Delta, Hood Park and Fish Hook Park.

To learn more, Denny suggested a number of books and magazines directed at the beginner, to learn more identifications. He co-authored a recent book, "Birds of the Inland Northwest and the Northern Rockies."

Once you've got your reading and reference material, Denny suggested making sure you have good binoculars that won't hurt your eyes. "Bi-Mart and Tallman's have some good ones," he said. "You need to be comfortable with them." He said to hold the reversed binoculars at arm's length and check to see if the prisms are aligned properly for you.

You have plenty of species to research. More than 330 species have been sighted here.

"There are loads of birds here," he said. Once you're investigating in the field, he suggested Rooks Park, the Walla Walla River Delta, near Madame Dorian State Park and Hood Park. Denny also will teach a bird identification class in the Quest program at Walla Walla Community College this spring.

He loves birding. "It's even better than golf. You get to learn other things. While you're out there you learn about plants, geologic formations and insects. You increase your observation skills. You move around in areas you never would have gone into. And you meet amazing people while you're birding. These are people that are curious. Most people aren't curious."

So gather up your notebook, binoculars, cold drinks and head outside.

Reach Karlene Ponti by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

At a glance:

The Blue Mountain Audubon Society's meetings are at 7:30 p.m. the third Tuesdayof each month at Gaiser Auditorium at Whitman College, except from June-August. Mike Denny can be reached at 509-529-0080.

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