When one thinks of going out on an outing to look for magnificent birds, the imagination may conjure images of green fields, trees full of leaves, with beautiful songbirds chirping among the grasses and branches. Would you be surprised to learn that one of the best times to learn about birding might be the depths of winter? When I first started birding many years ago, it was a cold December day that I joined some friends to drive around the countryside looking for a snowy owl that was spotted the day before. Although I might not have been dressed quite warm enough for the occasion, it was one of the best introductions to a hobby that I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a reason to stay active this winter, you too may want to consider birding as a new hobby.
Learning to identify birds during the winter may help you quickly build confidence in your skills. During the winter months, fewer bird species make it much easier to learn the common local species. Phone applications such as “Merlin” can help you learn the ropes by helping you identify birds by colour, size, behavior, and body shape. Joining a Christmas Bird Count can be another great way to partner up with an experienced birdwatcher to help you into the hobby. You also can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned field guide to birds such as the ones produced by the Audubon Society.
With guide in hand, you’ll find Peterborough is a delightful playground for the aspiring birdwatcher. Within the city, places such as Jackson Park, Beavermead Park, Rotary Trail, the Otonabee River, or the Fleming College Campus will all provide ample opportunities for observation. You might be surprised at the abundance of different bird species that you can find. Woodpeckers, birds of prey, ducks, or songbirds might all make an appearance on any given winter day. When paying attention, you’ll likely discover new birds that may have previously gone unnoticed.
Some of the more common winter species such as black capped chickadees, cardinals, hairy woodpeckers, or nuthatches often will forage through the forest in groups. If you see one, be sure to keep looking, as the others may also make an appearance. One of the added benefits of winter birding is the absence of leaves and greenery on trees and shrubs. The ease of spotting birds at this time of year will give you plenty of opportunities to identify a tricky bird, or really commit your sightings to memory. Once you learn a few of the common species, I’m sure you’ll start to spot them often.
If you’re looking for a reason to get out and about this winter, enjoying the company of winter birds in a local park can be a great motivator. You don’t need to be an expert, but perhaps given some time you will be!
This was originally published as a column in Peterborough This Week.