Bird Watching

While I've spent a lot of time enjoying the Sierra wilderness and know the names of most of the trees and wildflowers, when it comes to bird knowledge, I've been a Top 20 Biggest Hits Celebrity Bird kinda guy. I only knew the usual suspects: the Steller's Jay, Robins, Clark Nutcrackers, Hawks and Chickadees of the world, but as I recently was reminded, there are a whole lot of other interesting birds out there. To learn about those birdies, you have to spend some time wondering around in the woods with a bird expert.


Recently I did just that, when Will Richardson from the Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences led a bird watching hike around Page Meadows as part of the Alpenglow Mountain Festival. First off, bird watching is a misnomer, as it's really about bird finding, as the beautiful sounds of birds singing are easier for the experts to identify then those buff colored bodies that look like other buff colored bodies quickly flying through the trees, or landing on a-you guessed it-buff colored tree trunk.


Once you listen to an expert like Will talk about the fascinating flying machines that flit around in the trees, you start to understand why strange people wear funny hats and stand in meadows looking into the sky with binoculars. Because it's fun. We were learning about flycatchers, and juncos, vireos and peewees, nuthatches, warblers and the prettiest of all, western tanagers. Each species has found it's own niche by developing some sort of interesting method of feeding and reproducing itself. For example, Richardson talked about various types of creeper birds. One type creeps up from the bottom of the lodgepole pine, and finds tasty spiders and other delicacies on the underside of the bark flakes which have gaps pointed down. Another totally different species creeps down from the top of the trunk, and searches out food on those trunk flakes that have gaps on the upper side. Why one species couldn't figure out how to do both I have no idea. Or how about that crazy Snipe that likes to fly around in huge circles making a loud, creepy sound right out of Tarzan's jungle? There are as many interesting bird adaptations as there are birds.


Looking for an excuse to get out into nature, and don't mind very slowly walking with a pair of binoculars? Learn about birds. Contact the Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences for information on upcoming events: www.tinsweb.org.