by Will Beyer

How a person becomes interested enough to want to recognize each bird species by sight or sound and then make this a hobby is anybody’s guess.

For me this happened years ago while working a summer job irrigating and cutting hay on a ranch in Central Montana. Never having spent so much time in flooded hay bottoms before, my co-workers and I started to compare odd bird sightings, then this soon developed into thumbing through a bird guide with complex nomenclature to see what was what. In time a new language was being spoken at the breakfast table.

Words like  plumage, phalarope, godwit, curlew, whimbrel, buteo, ferruginous, and scapulars would crop up. Winter and summer range was no longer just where the cows went. Primaries and secondaries weren’t only the jets in a carburetor, but feathers on a wing! One of us mentioned seeing a black bird with a yellow head, what could that be?  Now, merlin was a bird of prey and the medieval Welsh wizard. The ranch owner, (also at the breakfast table) seemed to be entertained by all of this. Moving on.

Later, I needed to break out of some difficult times and I signed up for a bird identification class, this led to field trips, Audubon membership and bird counts. Next, better binoculars, better field guides and new acquaintances, many having remarkable birding skills that I could never match, yet they are quite humble about their abilities and freely share their knowledge.

Now, whenever or wherever I travel in strange or familiar land the binoculars and field guide are close at hand. If I see birds and can take a moment then I can hopefully see something new. There are plenty of opportunities by having a well maintained bird feeder too.