A year ago I was at a men’s retreat with the guys from church when I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker while visiting with my friend Allen. Seeing the bird, I started talking about this new hobby of birding and the neat experiences I had with Evan. Then it hit me. Some of these stories were compelling and worth sharing. Thus, the blog was born.
Little did I know how that decision would impact our lives nor could I envision the incredible year ahead. Looking back at the year, the word “memorable” does not adequately describe it. What could be viewed as just a hobby became a source of enrichment in ways I never could have imagined. While this blog may seem to be all about birds, the birds were merely a vehicle to much greater discoveries. In this anniversary post I will do my best to capture those discoveries. And, yes, there will still be birds.
Spending Time With My Son
I think I’m lucky that my son’s hobby also became my own. Sharing this passion has given us countless hours together in the car, the field, and campgrounds all over the place. I place a high value on spending time with my kids, and the birds have just been a good excuse to get us out doing something together.
Taking the Family on Adventures
From the prairies of southwestern Minnesota to the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior, the birds have been a reason to visit some of Minnesota’s most scenic places and spend time together as a family. We have had a lot of fun together and been on some amazing adventures all over the state. Sometimes the adventures are spur of the moment, like when we headed to Aitkin to chase a Painted Bunting, and sometimes they are more deliberate, like when we spent some time birding in the Sax-Zim Bog and Duluth area.
Making New Friendships and Renewing Old Ones
Perhaps one of the greatest dividends from this past year of birding has been the numerous friendships I have made with individuals who share this hobby. New hobbies get us into different circles of people, and it’s been a pleasure birding with and getting to know Steve, Randy, and Joel.
Interestingly through my online birding communities I discovered that two people whom I already knew were also into birding. After sending out an email on MOU-net, I got a call from Steve whom I had known as a fellow Knowledge Bowl coach. Ever since then, we have been birding together and trading tips on where to find the next bird.
Besides connecting with Steve through online birding resources, I also”bumped” into Malcolm, a college roommate with whom I had lost touch for over a decade. Through birding we reconnected, and we were even fortunate enough to go birding with him when we chased the Yellow-throated Warbler at Whitewater State Park.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have met many great people through birding blogs and other online birding communities. I have corresponded with many birders across this country. There is a sense of comraderie and friendliness amongst birders who usually help other birders find good birds and offer sincere congratulations on a good sighting.
Experiencing Real Adventure and Making Life-long Memories
I can’t adequately describe the sheer excitement of taking a sudden, unplanned trip across the state in the hopes of seeing some bird that appeared out of nowhere. It is an absolute rush and has created some phenomenal memories. From the agony of making the decision to chase a bird to the gut-churning, heart-thumping car ride to that bird, there is always the big question of whether or not the bird will be there. Then to see that bird is a thrill beyond thrills. It is a fist-pumping, buddy-texting victory.
Sometimes a chase doesn’t work out, but the hunt is no less exciting. I don’t know what the next chase will be, but I can’t wait to hop in the car and take off.
Surely Evan will remember many of these wild adventures. In particular, I know that he’ll never forget the day I surpised him at his school to take him up north that night to go find the Great Gray Owl. Seeing that great bird with his dad and his grandpa is something he will likely remember all his life.
Finding Excitement on the “Ordinary” Days
It has been so fun to look out our window this past year and be surprised by a new visitor. Sometimes the best days to look for these new birds have been during those nasty blizzards that force us inside.
Being Introduced to the World of Beautiful Birds
It is really difficult to comprehend the number of bird species out in this world. Evan and I have seen over 200 birds, and I am overwhelmed by the amazing birds we have seen. Yet there are over 700 species in North America and nearly 10,000 species worldwide! Wow. I could put up lots of pictures to attempt to show this diversity, but even with my limited collection this blog post would be extraordinarly long. Nevertheless, here is a sample of what you can see outdoors.
One of my goals in doing this blog has been to showcase the extraordinary beauty that overflows in our natural world. Pause once in awhile and look around. You might see a bird or something else that takes your breath away.
People have commented to me that they now pay attention to birds because of the blog. I love hearing that because the avian world is truly remarkable and worth getting excited about. One of my summer highlights was taking Jeff and his two kids, Emily and Brady, out birding and showing them birds like the Sedge Wren.
I have also heard from some men I know that they want to take their families on more trips because of what I have done with my family through this birding hobby. This is the best feedback I’ve received on this blog. Being a husband and father are the two titles I cherish the most, and I love to see other guys get enthusiastic about their families and spending time with them. And it doesn’t even have to be about birds.
Becoming Aware of our Fragile Ecosystem
We have seen a lot of great birds. The truth is that many, many species are facing sharp declines in their populations in just the last half century. That is really scary. Potentially my grandchildren may not see some of the species I have seen. Many species are listed in the field guides as “threatened,” “endangered,” or “declining.” Birds that were once common are hard to find and now a cause for concern, like the Red-headed Woodpecker.
The loss of prairie habitat over the years has drastically reduced bird populations like the Western Meadowlark and Grasshopper Sparrow.
Some birds, like the Cerulean Warbler, are facing environmental pressures on two continents. From clearing large trees in the Appalachians for coal mining to clearing large, shady forests in South America to more efficiently grow varieties of coffee plants that can withstand more sun, these warblers are getting squeezed in both their summer and winter homes.
Some birds, like the Golden-winged Warbler, are mysteriously declining at a precipitous rate. Global partnerships between wildlife departments in Costa Rica and some of our states are working jointly to solve the problem.
I am not a full-fledged enviornmentalist, but I am much more aware of the fragility of the life around us. It is worth paying attention to so that birds don’t become extinct or greatly diminished.
Participating in Citizen Science
One fun thing about being a birder is that you can contribute to the scientific community by reporting your sightings and bird counts to various organizations. Like many birders I have started filing regular reports with ebird.org. It’s incredibly easy and doing so helps ornithologists study populations, ranges, and trends. Plus by recording my sightings, it helps other birders find great birds!
I had no idea how birding and blogging would create such fun memories and expose us to new people and new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Sometimes it has taken up too much time and energy (and money!). But with proper balance, it is a rewarding and energizing activity. This past year has been a fun journey. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one and telling you all about it.