Winter Birding at Lake Bardwell
Kitty Smith, Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Did you know the perfect weather for bird watching is a cool, overcast day? Or that birds migrate at night by the hundreds of thousands using wind as their superhighway? Or that the most important way to identify a species of bird is not by their color but by their song? I recently learned all this during two fascinating outings. One was a birding basics class at the Trinity River Audubon Center (TRAC) in Dallas. The second was going birding with an advanced birder.
The TRAC offers a basic birding class that is led by the Audubon Center Director, Ben Jones. He explained that birding is one of the fastest growing leisure sports in America. It only requires binoculars, field guides and bird song recognition. It’s completely portable, can be done anywhere from ocean, to prairie, to urban centers.
The TRAC class included about 20 people of all ages from grade school kids to retired folks. Ben led us on a guided bird hike and let everyone use TRAC binoculars and peek through his high-powered scope. Our first bird was a Great Egret perched regally in a tree. Ben urged that we focus on shapes and that you probably know more than you think. For example, think of the shape of a duck versus a heron, or a Blue Jay versus a Cardinal. He taught us to look at the overall shape, then notice the size, look at the markings, the color of the feet, the bill, then notice its behavior and vocalization.
Basic Birding was a great class for orientation and getting started. I was very fortunate, then, to be able to apply my newly acquired knowledge on an actual birding experience the very next week, with an advanced birder and a few friends. I am a new member of the Indian Trail Master Naturalists, a non-profit , volunteer organization sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife and the AgriLife Extension Agency. A member of our group reached out to local birder Ted Drozdowski after being asked by the Corps of Engineers at Lake Bardwell, Ennis, TX to help with a bird count. Some research revealed that Ted was listing and counting birds at Lake Bardwell and posting his results on the eBird website. We soon had a bird walk arranged with Ted leading.
Ted has been birding for almost 20 years. He grew up in the woods of southeastern Pennsylvania. As he puts it, “the first 12 years or so I birded was on the mid-Atlantic seaboard (in the eastern forests) in which I was able to learn bird calls. It was a good place to learn to bird.” He led me and three other Indian Trail Master Naturalists on a very profitable bird walk. The day was cool and overcast. He explained that is perfect weather because the birds will be more active, flitting around to stay warm. “Birding is a fascinating and worthwhile pursuit. It is much like hunting and fishing in many ways, except that nothing is captured or collected,” he said. Ted led us along several miles of the beautiful and wild trails at Lake Bardwell, pointing out shore birds, raptors, woodpeckers, etc. Ultimately, he identified 53 species and a total of 893 birds! It was a fascinating, relaxing, back-to-nature day.
So, are you a birder in the making? Next time you are out and about, take a closer look at the birds around you. Try keeping track of how many kinds of birds you see in one day. How many were in trees? How many were on the ground? Were they calling or singing? Take a closer look and this activity may just get you hooked into birding!
For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact Joanne at 972-825-5175 or visit the website: https://txmn.org/indiantrail/