I believe in the revelatory power of the experience of watching birds, especially through a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Whether it’s the brilliant black and orange of a Blackburnian Warbler seen in early morning sun on Prince Edward Island, or a cardinal in my back yard feeding one of its young at the feeder, birds never cease to amaze me. I first became interested in bird watching over 30 years ago when I was sitting in a truck at work. As a small flock of sparrows flew over the ground in front of us, another bird, slightly larger than the sparrows but not a hawk, raced down and killed one of them. It was at this point that I learned that the guy sitting next to me was a member of Audubon and a bird watcher. As he raced toward his car to grab his camera, he told me that the attacking bird was a Loggerhead Shrike. Over the next 20 minutes we watched as the shrike empaled the sparrow on a strand of barbed wire, shared the feast with her mate and proceeded to tear off strips of flesh and carry them 8 feet over to her nest where she fed her 3 hungry babies. I bought my first Petersen field guide the very next day.
Over the years I’ve worked to increase my knowledge of birds and in the process learned that seeing them for the first time through a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can change a person’s perspective of their surroundings. At various events in state and local parks our Audubon chapter sets up a spotting scope for people to look through. The looks of amazement and questions these people have after that first experience are testimony to the fact that they’ve had a revelation.
Recently, while having lunch with a group of elementary school teachers I’d just been introducing to bird watching, I spotted a pair of American Oystercatchers in the water some distance away. This is a bird that has been described as appearing to wear a tuxedo and smoking a carrot. It’s a knock out. I excused myself and went to the car for the spotting scope. We were eating on an outside deck and I set the scope up and asked the teachers to take a look. Their startled comments sparked the curiosity of other diners and soon a line had formed of people, from 5 to 65, waiting to see what the others had found so interesting. Everyone finished their lunch with a greater appreciation for the world around them. There are little dramas and miracles that play out around us every day. Having a pair of binoculars at hand makes it easier to see them. Something that you were barely aware of suddenly seems close enough to touch and its beauty, if only for a short time, changes your perspective of the world. I believe that watching birds can be a life altering experience.
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