Winter Birding

I mentioned previously about taking a sparrow class in an attempt to demystify some of the little brown birds that all seem to look alike. Our instructor, Dr. Birdie, has great knowledge about these members of the bird world and did a great job of imparting his knowledge to us. We would meet Wednesday nights  to discuss and view different sparrows common to the Austin area, learning their markings, differences,  and preferred habitats and haunts. The field notes provided were used by me to sketch and paint the different birds in my attempt to help my brain remember some of those characteristics.


On Saturdays, we had our field trips to different popular birding areas in the Austin area to try to actually locate and get up close and personal with some of the birds we studied. Some of the ones we were chasing were obvious…black throated sparrow, rufous crowned sparrow but others are so similar that I am still having difficulty determining the accuracy of my sightings without Dr. Birdie there to help guide me through the identification process.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Small birds move quickly, darting in and out throughout grasses, bushes and shrubs. This rapid movement makes it challenging for my identification skills. We trudged our way through waist-high grasses and tried to surround one La Conte Sparrow for at least 30 minutes. In the end the sparrow won, flying easily away each time we though we had cornered him leaving behind some very tired and frustrated bird searchers. Did I see the bird…yes. Could I identify him again if he sat still long enough for me to study his markings…perhaps. The only thing I “caught” for sure on that particular day were some chiggers.

I have learned over the past few years that improving my bird identification skills is a long-range process. And slowly but surely, I am getting better. But at the rate I am progressing, I will probably expire before I become a super expert. That really doesn’t bother me though because I still get excited with each bird I see, my eyes constantly scanning my surroundings just in case something new and different or old, tried and true appears within my scope of vision. You see, it is the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of the sighting and the satisfaction of making the identification that bring an immeasurable amount of  joy into my life.

Debris on the banks of Lake Somerville

Happy winter bird searching!


Bird Identification and Art


Bird Journal#1

Little did I know when I started my birding journey, that I would ultimately improve my multi-tasking skills.

Loaded with all the equipment that I thought necessary in the beginning, I felt very much like a pack mule. Once we were actually at a spot where we might look for birds, it became a real juggling act to use the binoculars correctly, find the bird, take note of any distinguishing characteristics such as beak size/color, feet, wing markings, overall bird color, chest color, facial markings/bands. Once in my binoculars, I then tried to get the found bird in my camera lens so I could record the find and use my photo to aid me in identification once I was in the cozy confines of my own home or hotel room. And all of the above has to be accomplished very quickly before the bird decides to fly away. That “flying quickly away thing” made me focus on shorebirds in my first year of birding because they tend to stand around and give me time to examine them thoroughly.

In the beginning it was very overwhelming and I found it difficult to remember all the different birds we were seeing. My birding buddy Linda and I had already started keeping a written birding journal so we decided to pick one of our favorite birds from each day’s sighting to draw and paint in our birding journals. I quickly discovered that if I drew and painted the bird de jour then I was more likely to be able to identify it the next time our paths crossed.

Bird Journal #2

My original journal was a gift from BFF Linda, The papers within it were not special art paper or watercolor paper, but this journal is my favorite one. After the bird drawings were watercolored and the paper dried again, it became crinkly. My love of birds is right up there with my love of books. And that love is defined by the texture of the papers, the sound of them, the book jacket graphics and the boards and end papers. True bibliophile I am.

And a crazy thing happened along my birding journey…I found my art skills improving. What joy to discover that two loves can be combined with each enhancing the other. So every birding adventure for me now entails even more paraphernalia…the drawing pencils and watercolors that can capture my bird of the day for eternity in my birding journals.

Happy Bird searching!!