I sat at the kitchen table, working on paperwork and occasionally glancing out the picture window, hoping against hope that we would see a. . . . .
“Mike!” I yelled breathlessly to my husband. He hurried to the kitchen and we both saw it – a rose-breasted grosbeak eating sun- flower seeds at our feeder. This is a beautiful black and white bird with a deep pink triangle under its throat, potentially sighted at feeders here for only about a week in April as they migrate. From reports on eBird and from friends, I knew they had been spotted in our area, and our sighting that day was a life list bird for us.
That moment five years ago remains one of the highlights of our 30+ years of watching birds. We didn’t see that grosbeak in some exotic location like Costa Rica, or south Texas, or even a South Carolina beach. We saw it from inside our home in west Anderson.
Birdwatching used to conjure up images of little old ladies wearing pith helmets and khaki shorts carrying ten-pound binoculars. No more. Birdwatching is now one of the fast- est growing hobbies in North America, and for good reason. It’s easy to start. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s fun for both beginners and for old-timers. It can be done anywhere. It’s beautiful. And it’s hugely rewarding. Anyone, young or old, can do this. Here are a few ideas from an everyday bird lover for anyone interested in getting started.
1. Just begin observing!! Anytime you see movement in your yard or as you are traveling (the beach is a great place for bird- watching), study what you see. Notice what are called field marks – shape, size, coloration, beak size. Then, to continue, you need to . . . .
2. Get a field guide in book form. Even with phone apps, a book is imperative for studying field marks. My favorite is my old faithful Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds of North America; however, many other solid guides exist. Start reading and identifying!
3. Purchase a good pair of binoculars.
4. Put up a feeder if possible. Fill it with black oil sunflower seed (not mixed seed). Feeders work best around bushes and trees where birds have a place to escape if a raptor comes close. Suet feeders are also helpful and inexpensive, and suet is easily purchased at hardware and other stores.
5. Start a list!! The more birds you find, and the longer your lists get, the more motivated you will be to continue. Start a life list, a year list, a yard list – anything to track your observations.
6. Learn the local hot spots where birds are often seen. In Anderson County, this would include the Rocky River Nature Preserve, the Townville area, and the Clemson Research stations. Lake Hartwell often has an abundance of birds. But anywhere where the habitat is trees, fields, or water (which qualifies most of Anderson County) is a good possibility.
7.Familiarize yourself with eBird.org and Carolinabirdclub.org. These give great information and also alert you to rare bird sightings in our area. Consider downloading apps such as Merlin or Audubon that identify birds from your phone.
8. Recognize up front that sometimes you will see and identify plenty of new birds, and other times will seem very lean. Don’t quit! The breakthrough moments always come.
And when those breathtaking opportunities come—when you see your own rose-breasted grosbeak, or whatever bird it happens to be--you will find yourself hooked. Probably for life!