Monday, June 4, 2007

A Bird Hike

On the first Saturday of every month, our local Zumbro Valley Audubon Society sponsors a bird hike. The hikes are led by members of ZVAS and this past Saturday, Joyce and Terry (the friends who went with me to the SW MN Birding Festival in April) were going to be the hike leaders. Since I had never been on any of their trips before and the weather was supposed to be very nice, I decided to go, making this my first bird hike with a group.

The location of the hike was Quarry Hill Nature Center, a very nice area close to the heart of downtown Rochester. I got there right at 9:00 and there was quite a large group of about 20 people (Joyce said it was one of the biggest they had led this year). There were several moms and grandmoms who had little ones with them, so the ages of the group ranged from about 3 to several people who appeared to be in their mid- to late-70's (a pretty diverse bunch).

We spent quite a few minutes around the nature center as there are some bird feeders and blooming honeysuckle plants, so people got to see wrens, hummingbirds, and nuthatches.

We moved on to the trail that runs alongside the little pond. I was excited to see turtles basking on the logs sticking out of the water. I almost never see turtles anywhere. There were also barn swallows making a nest in the picnic shelter. We heard a common yellowthroat singing quite loudly and finally located him in the top of a box elder tree. That was neat too, as I hear them much more often than I see them.

By this time, having been with the group about 30 minutes, I was beginning to notice several things: the littlest kids had almost no interest in this hike (they mostly wanted to play in the grass or go down by the water--causing Mom to panic a couple times!) I also noticed that many of the people seemed to be having a really hard time locating the specific bird we were looking at. Joyce and Terry are awesome hike leaders - they have so much patience and are so good at explaining where people should look to see the birds. They're also very calm even when people are bunching up and some group members are getting a little anxious.

One of the other things I noticed was what kind of bincoulars people were using. Now I don't want you to think I'm some kind of binocular snob, and I don't even think of myself as a really "hardcore" birder, but for when I really want to see birds, I have a nice pair of 8 x 42 Denali's from Eagle Optics. I would say out of the whole group (excluding Joyce, Terry, and myself), there were only 3 or 4 other people who had the higher power binoculars. The majority of people had little 10 X 25's (which I keep in the car as emergency binoculars, in case I'm out driving around and have forgotten to bring my big binocs along). My advice for anyone who wants to get into birding even half-heartedly: save your money and invest in some really nice binoculars. Talk to people who can explain the features of the binocs and who will let you try them out in the store. They have to be comfortable in your hands, and you have to feel comfortable using them (especially if you wear eyeglasses, as I do). The smaller bincos work well if they're good quality, but if you really want to get out and see birds, you owe it to yourself to have good binocs that make the entire birdwatching experience so much more enjoyable (and don't forget a good binocular strap to hang them from).

OK, that's enough of my binocular sermon..... After we were about halfway through the 2-hour trip, all of the little children had gone back to the nature center (those little bladders fill up fast!) We hiked up a fairly steep muddy/rocky portion of the trail to the oak savanna area. Joyce told us this area had been cleared of buckthorn several years ago and it now looked completely different from what it had been. We saw lots of birds up here: olive-sided flycatcher, gray catbird, cardinal pairs, hummingbirds, indigo bunting, cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds, and even a brown-headed cowbird (I heard one lady tell her friend in a hushed voice, "that's the first brown-headed cowbird I've ever seen!") I had to chuckle to myself at that, since most of us would probably not be too sad if we never saw a cowbird again.

We gradually made our way back to the nature center through a quarry area and down the bike trail that was totally wooded. We took a look at a wren nest in a Gilbertson PVC bluebird house--she had 7 eggs.

It was an enjoyable hike, the weather was perfect, and there weren't too many bugs. I was thankful for all the time I've spent listening to my bird call CDs because I knew what many of the birds were and had an easier time locating them by their song. This was a nice group because most of the birders seemed to be novice, so there was no competition and everyone was happy to see even the birds a lot of us have as common feeder visitors.

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When I got home on Saturday afternoon, the rain was still holding off, so I got my lawn mowing started. In a check of the mourning dove nest, here's what I found:

These little guys look like they just hatched. Aren't they cute?


Body Soul Spirit said...

I wish we had some bird hikes around here. There were a couple of warbler walks in May out of town, but nothing really close by. I got a call today that my binoculars I ordered are in. I got Bushnell 8X42. I know next to nothing about binoculars, but these felt comfortable.

Lynne said...

Cute dove babies and it sounds like a fun day. I really need to work on bird songs. Which CD's do you have?

RuthieJ said...

Hi Ruth,
I hope you will like your new binocs. I have a pair of Nikon 10 X 36 that I keep by the kitchen window to watch birds outside at the feeder, but they're not as nice as my 8 X 42's. Good luck!

Hi Lynne,
I only have 2 bird call CDs: Bird Song Ear Training Guide by John Feith (sorted by species) and Stan Tekiela's companion CD set to his Birds of Minnesota book. I use the John Feith one most often. There are several other good ones, but these are what I've used and they serve the purpose well for my upper Midwest birding.

Larry said...

Trips are always interesting-There is a lot more to observe than just the birds.-nice insight to make this a more interesting read.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Larry,
Reading your posts about birding with groups really inspired me to make an effort to go birding with a group. It was fun and I always enjoy observing the other participants in addition to observing nature.