The first time I ever “birded,” I was studying abroad in Costa Rica camping on a stranded island at 5am with the sun barely rising. The night before, one of our professors asked “Who likes birds and wants to go birding tomorrow?” I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but I like birds, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. Birding or bird watching is considered a wildlife observational recreational activity. I believe everyone has birded to some extent in their lifetime, but we just do not know it. If one has paid attention to the songs of birds, you have, to some extent, birded. If one has seen them flying in the air and attempted to see where it landed, that is also birding. If you can identify a bird, even if it is the pigeon or gull or crow, that is also birding. Within this context, I birded way before I went to Costa Rica, I just did not have any idea that people specifically set aside time to watch birds or that people went hiking specifically to see birds. That was really strange to me.
Growing up as a Latina, my family never said, “Let’s go bird.” In fact the first time I suggested “Let’s go bird,” they looked at me confused and asked “Que es eso? (What is that?)” I explained that birding was simply walking around a trail or even outside and just paying attention to birds; analyzing what they do, listening to what they sing, seeing how they look like, and identifying them in a book. They looked at me like I was crazy, a little too crazy about birds.
This last friday was my first official shorebird count survey in Ballona Creek, and it was really amazing. There is something about birding that puts my mind at ease. Within the shorebird count surveys, I have to identify shorebird and raptor species within a 3 mile creek bike path and count the number of each shorebird and raptor species. I have been really detail oriented since a very early age, but ever since I started birding, I have become even more. Every time I bird, I notice something new each time, even if I see the same birds over and over again. For example, let’s take the Marbled Godwit for example, when I first saw this bird, the first thing I noticed was its long, up curved, two toned beak. On Friday however, I realized that the Marbled Godwit has very golden plumage compared to a Whimbrel and it slightly shimmers with the glare of the sun. Birding reminds me that learning is a continual process. It’s a humble reminder that there is room for growth even within areas we think we already know. That if we keep an open mind to continue observing, each time we will notice something different and see a new perspective. I would like to encourage everyone not only to bird, but bird with an open mind in noticing the little things whether it is the thin dark eye stripe on a Whimbrel, the red eye of the Killdeer, the droopy beak of the Western Sandpiper, or the goofy walk of the Surfbird. There is still so much to learn out there.