Bill Thompson, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, wrote recently that “more people are watching birds today than ever before; its popularity as a pastime has been growing rapidly over the past few years.” And German writer Bernd Brunner states that “bird watching is now North America’s second most popular outdoor activity, second only to gardening.”
Why is this? For one thing, it takes us outside and connects us with nature, often leading to interest in other things as well, including conservation of habitats, wildflowers, butterflies, beekeeping, and protection of other wildlife. It’s convenient; birds are everywhere, so we can watch them anywhere, any time of year. It requires very little “equipment,” just some binoculars and a field guide, and can be enjoyed for a lifetime, regardless of age. And best of all, you can hear the birds sing.
Fortunately, for anyone interested, experienced or novice, the McCoy Farm and Gardens hosts a bird walk twice a year, coinciding with spring and fall migrations.
Linda Collins, who is coordinating the McCoy Spring Walk, explained that the late Dr. Doug Newton, , a well-known resident of Walden who loved nature and the natural world, started the bird and wildflower walks at McCoy. In his memory, the walks are continuing and being led at present by Kevin Calhoon, the assistant curator of Forests at the Tennessee Aquarium and an avid and expert birder. He leads trips all over the world through the Aquarium and is “if not the best birder in the state, certainly one of the best,” said Linda.
Calhoon led the Fall Walk in October last year, helping the largest group ever to attend the walk to identify 34 different species of birds. Some birds were migrating south and others were local species found here year-round. For the novices in attendance, learning the names was a big part of the fun. The tufted titmouse was a favorite - the name comes from Old English words for small and bird - and five of these songbirds were sighted. Six types of warblers were seen - their name reflects their warbling song - and the hooded warbler is quite beautiful. Calhoon reminded us that much of birdwatching is listening because often they are not immediately visible - experienced birders can identify a species by its sound even before it’s seen. A highlight of the day was the release of three broad wing hawks that had been injured and rehabilitated by Alix Parks of Happinest Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue. Watching these splendid birds fly back into the wild was a special thrill for everyone.
Luke Thompson, an extremely knowledgeable 13-year-old birder attending Baylor, assisted Calhoon last year. Together they answered questions and helped everyone locate birds hidden among the branches. April is the best month to see species migrating north and to see our resident birds. “They’re in breeding plumage,” said Collins, “which can be pretty spectacular.”
The Spring Walk will be held April 27 at McCoy Farm and Garden, beginning at 8 a.m. Anyone interested is welcome to attend. No reservation is needed. For more information, contact Linda Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (423) 886-4522. Who knows what surprises nature will have waiting.