FROM DINGLE HILL: The ​A​ccidental ​B​irder – October 2023

By Peg DiBenedetto

​   Growing up on my dad’s farm near Fleischmanns, all I knew about birds was that they flew. Unable to identify anything other than cardinals, crows, and blue jays, I wasn’t interested in knowing more about them and so I stagnated, ornithologically speaking. I enjoyed them, but until I started really paying attention, I can’t say I loved them.

Decades later I began to study eagles, and became interested in other raptors. And now people assume I’m a BIRDER. But songbird identification remains pretty elusive to me. My only “birder cred” is that I once organized an academically serious ornithological expedition in the Dominican Republic. For a week I stumbled behind eight ornithologists through rivers and jungles, trying to absorb just a fraction of their knowledge. That excursion opened many ornithological doors to me, yet I am constantly having to dispel the perception that I am a BIRDER.

With mediocre eyesight and oldish brain cells, my preferred method of “birding” is to hang with a group of real birders: the osmosis effect. If I stand close enough to people who know what they’re doing, some of that knowledge could spill over. Following them with binoculars in hand, I’m a poser, an interloper. When all binoculars rise up, so do mine, but  ​I ​never seem to see what they do.​ I look in the general direction,​ listen​ to the discussion, smile and nod. If fortunate, I see​ the blue flash ​o​f an indigo bunting, the dipping flight of a woodpecker, a brown bird sitting in a tree. But usually not.

Out in the field​, I’m certainly not able to identify most ​birds​​; success ​means pick​ing​ up a​ new​ clue​ o​r two​, so that​ the ​next time out I​ might be able to identify another species. Can I say enough about Merlin? This little App is the biggest thing in birding since Richard Crossley started producing his Guides. Download Merlin onto your phone, hit the record button, and it tells you what birds you are listening to! Brilliant!! Best thing for a beginner or when one of any level is just not quite sure.

   The 10 hummingbirds that flitted between 5 feeders, keeping our yard in frantic chaos this Summer, numbered 2 in mid-September and they were gone shortly thereafter. We keep the sweet water available through the beginning of November for any weary migrants who may swing by.

Nearly devoid of chickadees throughout the Summer, several of the cheerful little rascals are back. One in particular shows up annually and feeds at the hummingbird feeder; others apparently have learned through observation and do the same.

Feeder birds will come to dine on black oil sunflower seed once the weather cools and the bears have gone to bed. Again I’ll feel competent with readily named, obvious species and struggle with the identification of finches and those I’ve dubbed  “little brown twitterers.”  And when the Crossley Guide comes out to help discern the difference for the 15th time between a purple finch and a red finch, so be it. In the end, it’s all about the love I finally got around to feeling for them, served up one seed at a time.~