To find birds, step out of your “circle of light”

By volunteer

Water Thrush

Jimmy was on his way home one night when he saw his friend Mike searching the ground in the circle of light provided by the glowing street lamp. He stopped and asked Mike, “What are you looking for?”

Mike replied, “I’ve dropped my silver dollars and I can’t find them. I found a nickel and a couple pennies but not my silver dollars.”

“I don’t see them either. How did you lose them?”

“I tripped on the curb in front of the park and lost them when I fell.”

Jimmy looked down the street to the park and, scratching his head, asked, “Why are you looking here? The park is all the way over there.”

Mike answered “The light is better here.”

This joke was old when I first heard it, over forty years ago, but the lesson within still rings true. I was reminded of it recently while talking with a co-worker. I had taken some photos the previous weekend of birds I had encountered in my wanderings. As I was sharing some of the better ones, my fellow employee said “Man, Jim, you see the coolest birds. I never see birds like that. How do you always see them?”  I asked him where he was looking.

Like a lot of people, he was watching feeders in his back yard or looking from his car on his way to the grocery.

I enjoy observing birds at my feeders also. In fact, I see a pretty good variety of birds from the comfort of home. But, I’m only seeing the birds that venture into my own ‘circle of light’ when I do.  To find other birds I have to step out of the ‘circle’.  This requires some preparation.

First, I study my field guides to determine where a particular bird might be found. Does it like streams? If so, fast moving or slow? Maybe it prefers the underbrush of a dense forest, or the uncut grasses of the open prairie. Let’s face it a Great Egret probably won’t be found in the forest.  A Water-Thrush will likewise not be found swimming in a lake. And neither is likely to be seen visiting a back yard bird bath.

Once I have figured out where to look, I then listen to recordings of the bird or birds I want to find. That way, if I hear it, I’ll know what it is. This is particularly helpful when seeking birds that are new

Great Egret

to me.

Once I am prepared, I can begin my search for a particular bird. I don’t always find what I look for, but I do always find some piece of nature that makes the effort rewarding. It could be a butterfly, a frog, or maybe a species of insect that I’ve never seen before. There is no limit to what may be found.

The lesson I alluded to earlier is this. If something is not there to be found, it doesn’t matter how good the light is.  Don’t be afraid to step outside the ‘circle of light’. Get out and explore.  If you want to find the ‘silver dollars’ you have to look where they are most likely to be.

-Jim Scout, Volunteer Naturalist

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