For the Birds Radio Program: Memorial Day (And Ogden Nash's "Up from the Egg: The Confessions of a Nuthatch Avoider"
Aarh–For the Birds! For the Birds!
Happy Memorial Day.
Today marks the beginning of the last week in May–which is usually the very best time of the whole spring for bird watching in Duluth. Last week’s high pressure system and beautiful weather held back a lot of migrants, but a few of those wonderfully drizzly, foggy days from a low pressure system always bring the birds flocking again.
The favorite hotspots in town include Park Point, Chester Bowl, the Western Waterfront Trail, mudflats in the harbor at 40th Avenue West, and Stony Point, up the shore across from Tom’s Logging Cabin.
If you want the latest bird news, you can call Duluth Audubon’s hotline for a recorded message. The number is 525-5952. But you don’t have to go on a special outing to find interesting birds. Warbler flocks can be enjoyed in just about every neighborhood in town. Rarities often turn up in backyards.
The trick to spring birding in the northland isn’t finding birds– it’s figuring out what they are once you see them. Among the trickiest groups are shorebirds and warblers. You need a reasonably good pair of binoculars–seven power is about as powerful as you want unless you’ve got a very steady hand.
Then you need a field guide. Most birders recommend the Golden Guide to Field Identification, titled Birds of North America, or Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, or the National Geographic Society’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. All three include every species you are likely to encounter in Minnesota.
Become familiar with your field guide. That way, it’ll be easier to thumb through it quickly when you discover a new bird. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t figure out most of the birds you see at first. It takes years of experience to get really good at field identification. But the more birds you identify, the better you’ll get at figuring out new ones.
On days when it’s especially frustrating figuring out those ones that got away, you might take heart in Ogden Nash’s poem:
UP FROM THE EGG: THE CONFESSIONS OF A NUTHATCH AVOIDER
Bird watchers top my honors list,
I aimed to be one, but I missed.
Since I’m both myopic and astigmatic,
My aim turned out to be erratic,
And I, bespectacled and binocular,
Exposed myself to comment jocular.
We don’t need too much birdlore, do we,
To tell a flamingo from a towhee;
Yet I cannot, and never will,
Unless the silly birds stand still.
And there’s no enlightenment so obscure
As ornithological literature.
Is yon strange creature a common chickadee,
Or a migrant alouette from Picardy?
You rush to consult your nature guide
And inspect the gallery inside,
But a bird in the open never looks
Like its picture in the birdy books.
Or if it once did, it has changed its plumage,
And plunges you back into ignorant gloomage.
That is why I sit here growing old by inches,
Watching the clock instead of finches,
But I sometimes visualize in my gin
The Audubon that I audubin.
That was Ogden Nash, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been, “For the Birds.”