The upcoming Hagerman Birding Festival, scheduled for Feb. 12-14, is a perfect event to learn how to get started. Pre-registration is open for the event, which is limited to the first 150 people who sign up. There are classroom sessions where you learn how to identify different kinds of birds and field trips with birding experts. That’s where the rubber hits the road. The multi-day event costs $80 for adults and $25 for children 16 and younger, including food and field trips.
Usually, a person’s interest in birding starts with an inspirational moment. For me, it was watching bald eagles swoop down and catch crimson-colored kokanee with their talons in West Glacier, Montana. Ever since then, I’ve always been interested in birds of prey in particular. I must have taken 300 photos of eagles catching fish on that snowy day in December.
Closer to home, we learn in the Twin Falls Times-News that Burley High School senior Joseph DeTemple is a budding birder after earning a Boy Scout merit badge through identifying eight species of birds. He’s working with veteran birder Wallace Keck, superintendent of City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park, to learn about birding. DeTemple already has identified more than 130 species. He’s off and running!
Keck, whose life list hovers near 460 species, was inspired by taking an ornithology class in college at Arkansas State University. Campus was near a number of mountains and rivers that made birding fun and exciting for Keck, who frequently blogs about his birding adventures. Keck recently blogged about “The Big Year” in which he hopes to add more species to his life list and surpass 500 species.
So how about making 2016 a year in which you start birding? The greater Southern Idaho region is a wonderful place to see birds — from lots of waterfowl, bald eagles, and great blue herons in the Hagerman area along the Snake River, to more waterfowl at Lake Walcott State Park and Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, songbirds at City of Rocks National Reserve and a variety of songbirds and hawks at The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve near Picabo. With every stop, you’ll pick up more species.
At City of Rocks, you can see a variety of songbirds such as pinyon jays and scrub jays and a variety of other birds surrounding the feeders they have at the Visitor Center, plus Keck photographed a beautiful sharp-shinned hawk perched in a tree nearby, looking for a morning meal. The City of Rocks Visitor Center also has a birding guide.
Christine Gertschen, the organizer of the Hagerman Bird Festival this year, lives in Hagerman and enjoys seeing all the birds in that area. “The birds come here because of the open water on the Snake River,” she says. “Last night, I was watching a pair of great-horned owls. Birding is just crazy around here in the winter … it’s definitely a hot spot.”
How to get started?According to an article in Audubon, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a basic field guide to birds. Perhaps a small pocket notebook would be handy for noting species. My partner Wendy Wilson is an expert birder, and she likes to use the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America for identifying birds. That guide is very well-done and very detailed. But there are quite a few available.
Audubon suggests thinking about a particular species that you’d like to identify, and then go out and find it. The Hagerman Birding Festival would be a perfect way to learn how to get started birding from the experts and go out in the field and start your own bird list.
If you plan to be visiting from out of town, look for lodging deals here at the Southern Idaho Tourism web site. Make your plans early and don’t miss the Hagerman Birding Festival!
Steve Stuebner is a widely published outdoor writer based in Boise. Read more at http://stuebysoutdoorjournal.blogspot.com.
Feature image credit: Southern Idaho Tourism Association