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Birdwatching a Fun, Addictive Hobby, say Those Who Do it

Birdwatching is a favorite hobby of many.  But how difficult is it to do?  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky went along on a birding trip to find out.

Bird songs filled the air on a recent cool and sunny morning at Lake Springfield, which was good because that’s why we were here. 

The Greater Ozarks Audubon Society was hosting a beginner bird watch led by member Greg Samuel.

As the group gathered near the Boathouse, Samuel focused his scope on American White Pelicans in the middle of the lake. 

"So, if anybody'd really like to see these pelicans up close I have them here in the scope," said Samuel.

He also zoomed in on an immature bald eagle that was barely visible behind some branches.

A lot of those who showed up for the walk knew each other, but those who didn’t, soon did.

(introductions)

First things first:  make sure you know how to use your binoculars. Samuel explained that a challenge for beginning birders is being able to locate and bring birds into focus.

After a brief lesson on binoculars, he suggested getting some sort of bird identification book.

"Get you a guidebook. The Nature Center sells some real nice birds of Missouri. They're arranged by color, which is nice for beginners," he said.

And he said, once you gain more birding experience, you can move to more scientific books.

"That are arranged more in families, so once you see a bird and realize it's a sparrow you can quickly go to the sparrow section and narrow it down" he said.

As we headed down the paved path along Springfield Lake, Samuel and fellow birder Charley Burwick pointed out vultures that were beginning to make their spiral in the sky.

And Samuel noted some common songbirds that could be clearly heard through the crisp morning air.

"You can hear your cardinal further back a little bit.  There he goes.  He's got a real clear whistle," he said.

Some titmice were singing from a cluster of trees.  We saw some coots and even a large bird that flew away from us that Samuel believes was some sort of night heron, which usually has migrated south by now.  He suspects the milder winter might have kept it here.  And there were pine-billed grebes out on the lake.

When trying to i.d. birds, Samuel suggests picking out three identifying characteristics.  And he said, over time, you will begin to identify birds without any help.

"It's like anything else.  The more you do it the more knowledge you get on it," he said.

Burwick started birding when he was in his mid 40s and was intrigued by the birds that were coming to his new neighbors’ bird feeders.  He said it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when starting out, and that lead some people to give up.  He suggested starting slow.

"Just take them one at a time and learn the common birds that we see everyday," he said.

And Burwick and Samuel suggest joining your local Audubon Society.

Once you get into birding, it’s hard to stop, they say.  According to Samuel, birdwatching eventually will become a part of you.

"It's a lifelong treasure hunt.  You can birdwatch basically all your life and still hope to see new birds.  There's so many of them out there.  It's extremely addictive," he said.

And you can help the environment by birdwatching through citizen-based projects like eBird, an electronic database where you can enter what you’ve seen.  Samuel said that allows you to be part of a bigger organization that’s monitoring the bird population and what’s happening to various species.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.