The Accidental Birder

Reader Contribution by Andrew Weidman
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I cant say I set out to be a birder; I fell into it by accident. For all I know, that’s what every birder says.

That lead in makes birding sound like something shameful. It’s not, and that’s not what I meant. Bear with me.

Nature and biology have always fascinated me. As a kid I spent my summers in the woods or the marsh, ducking farm chores, net in hand, mud to my knees if not higher.

In high school, aquaria and terraria dominated my bedroom, seashell and insect collections lining the walls. My goal on graduation was to “Save the Bay,” before life got in the way and changed everything.

Years later, I discovered a used book store with an impressive selection of Peterson and Audubon field guides. Talk about kryptonite! Something about the smell and feel of an old book in my hand takes hold of my soul, refusing to let go.

Need proof?I bought the “Peterson Guide to Western Bird Nests.” I live in Pennsylvania.

The final factor, the camel straw if you will, the one that pushed me fully into birding, was photography. In a plan to improve my meager photography skills, last January I resolved to take at least five pictures each week. I still practice the “spaghetti method” of photography — throw everything against the wall; something’s bound to stick.

It turns out that not only are birds a lot more fun to photograph than flowers or old buildings, but it’s also incredibly easy to burn through a lot more than five pictures over a chickadee or a heron. That being said, I have gotten a few nice plant shots: interesting tree roots, seed pod encased in ice, even a mushroom or two.

So when do you know you’re a birder? I doubt it involves dropping big money on new binoculars; at least, I haven’t done that. Then again, I did drop big money (at least to me) on a 100-400 “monster” zoom lens.

Is it when you carry your camera bag everywhere? Check.

Or maybe when you drive half an hour out of your way home after work, on the off chance of spotting a new duck? Check.

Maybe it’s when you start scanning the utility lines for raptors, or farm ponds for herons as you drive. Check. Facebook feed taken over with bird photos? Check (They’re far better than partisan political memes by a long shot!).

When you not only know what a “lifer” is, you start using it in conversation. Check (It’s a new bird you’ve never seen before, one you add to your “life list,” in case you were wondering).

I think I knew there was no going back the day I nearly dropped the camera (thank God for neck straps!) when an oriole dropped into the water for a quick bath 15 feet in front of me.

Or maybe that mass takeoff of snow geese, wings rumbling like a storm front.

Then there was the tern that surprised me with the mid-range lens mid dive. I did get a shot, by the way.

Let’s not forget the osprey eating lunch, or the kestrel looking for lunch, or… Yeah, I’ve got it bad.

Next week I’ll put up a gallery of photos for you. There’s more on my Facebook profile, too. Have a few of your own to share? I’d love to see them! In the meantime, if you get the chance to watch it, “The Big Year,” starring Jack Black and Steve Martin, is a great birder movie.

Until next time!

Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

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