Learning to Bird

With autumn here, a billion (!) birds are migrating along the Pacific Flyway, stopping to feed and refuel as they make their way south. San Francisco Bay estuary, with its miles of wetlands and abundance of sea life, is a popular stopover for our avian friends, and bay area birders are gearing up for another great season.

As a reptile enthusiast, this time of year always meant slim pickings - many snakes and lizards hibernate/brumate as the weather turns cold. Yeah, I'd heard about the awesome birds during fall and winter, but they were for "birders" - folks who woke up at the crack of dawn, spoke in hushed tones, memorized birdly minutiae, and kept a respectful distance from their quarry. Clearly the opposite of myself, who chases snakes on hot afternoons and enjoys the reward of a nice squirt of snake musk when I grab one. But with the encouragement and gentle tutelage of some birding friends, I've grown to love birdwatching. I was thrilled when I made my first correct identifications (yes, really), and I love the intimacy of watching their behavior (through binoculars) from afar. It's now a hobby I turn to often, and it always yields great returns.

Last week, for instance, I was able to observe a recently-fledged Red-tailed Hawk at the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline as it tentatively made one of its first kills (RIP, Pocket gopher!), and then warily enjoy the fruits of its labor. I would have never noticed this if I hadn't learned to bird, and I felt privileged to witness it.

If you're curious about birding but don't know where to begin, the California Center for Natural History and Wild Oakland will be holding two easy and fun birding programs in Oakland this month to help you get prepped for the winter birding season.

  • Bikes, Birds and Beers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, led by Luanne Wilson (one of my birding mentors) and Jorge Dominguez. October 11th, 12:00 - 4:00 pm.
  • Beginning Birding and Sunset Walk at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, led by myself and Taj Allen. October 24th, 4:30 - 6:30 pm.

To entice you further, I've posted a gallery of bird photos from these locations - check them out here, then see some birds in the field with us this month!