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This I Believe: I Believe In Birding

Susan Smith with binoculars
Emily Reddy

I believe in birding.

I am a fledgling birder. I joined an early morning group that meets on the boardwalk at Millbrook Marsh. Those undulating flashes of light are goldfinches. The barn swallow likes to perch on the wire, showing off his orange and blue colors. Look, there, along the creek bank, is a pair of wood ducks: see the drooping green crest of the male. The two are glorious in their bright geometric plumage.

Listening is a big part of bird watching. The leader of our birding group hears the song of the blue-gray gnatcatcher and looks for him in the trees. He is a tiny, puffy, darting charmer.

Like flocking birds, birders benefit from grouping together. Lots of eyes scanning 360 degrees means we will all see more birds. The shared knowledge is better than any field guide: the leader looks for the ruby-crowned kinglet in the bushes where she saw him the other day.

And what I like best is the shared experience of birding. Did you see the white-throated sparrow? Look, down there on the ground, through this opening in the brush-- yes-- it has yellow at the sides of its head.

I am there for the birds, but I often glimpse other creatures. A trio of deer approaches the creek. Someone spots small, perfect five-fingered prints in the mud next to duck prints. OK, raccoons, I know you’re there.

Birders are democratic in their approach; they note and count all birds, the common as well as the rare. I practice my binocular skills in my yard. I observe the robin twisting around on her nest. What is she doing? Later, I marvel at her thin stick legs as she pecks at the ground. A pair of cardinals likes to forage under the forsythia at the edge the yard. A pair of hummingbirds comes to the bee balm. A goldfinch frames himself in the rhododendron.

Now, when I walk the dog, I am looking for birds. In my neighborhood over the past year, I have seen bluebirds, a hairy woodpecker, goldfinches, house sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, lots of robins, crows, grackles, cedar waxwings and black-capped chickadees. One morning, as I was tracking the goldfinches in the front yard, the little girl across the street wanted to know if they are my pets. I like her question, and I like that they are wild, and I do feel a fondness for the finches that grace my yard.

I like to get up early, grab my binoculars and head out. I may see a green heron lurking in the shadows at the edge of a lake or be surprised to find a porcupine napping in a tree. Whatever I see, I feel lucky to be there.

I believe in birding.

Susan Smith lives in State College.

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