We’re on vacation! This week, enjoy Daily Nutmeg editions past, including this fine-feathered story from last July, updated for 2014.
Birdwatching isn’t just for the birds.
More often called “birding” by those who actually do it, the hobby carries many benefits for people, too, including getting them outdoors and physically active. Bill Batsford, President of the New Haven Bird Club, which was established in 1907 and has around 500 members today, says he often walks two to five miles in the course of a birding expedition.
Meanwhile, he says, “I’m always learning, and always getting better.” The learning curve may be long, but it’s not steep. Equipped with the essential tools of the trade—a pair of binoculars and a field guide identifying different species—even a newbie can pick out, say, American goldfinches, common backyard birds with bright yellow coloring and a happy, chirping song.
Like many things, chasing barn swallows through an open meadow and stalking a short-billed dowitcher as it probes for bugs at the marshy edge of a pond are better with like-minded company. Batsford and Larry Bausher, the club’s publicity chairman (both pictured above in East Shore Park), have forged a serious bond over their passion for birding. The enthusiasts and their spouses have traveled together to birdwatch, including taking a 2006 trip to Colorado where they’d wake up at 3 a.m. to catch male grouse performing their elaborate mating dances.
Back here in Connecticut, small membership fees allow the club to hire speakers and plan events, although the club’s monthly meetings from September to May, held at the Whitney Center in Hamden, and its nearly 50 field excursions throughout the year are free to the public.
In other words, checking out the club’s activities firsthand is as easy as showing up. For those who decide to become full-fledged members, applications are available online or at meetings, and membership is a mere $15 a year for individuals (a “family membership” is $20, a “supporting membership” is $50, and a “student membership” for those under 18 is free).
As you can surmise from the affordable membership fees and openness to non-members, the Bird Club is no old boy’s club. Batsford urges anyone interested—all ages and experience levels—to take advantage of the free trips and club meetings, which feature talks from well-known ornithologists and naturalists on birding and conservation, often showcasing photography from exotic bird trips.
Non-meeting events range from species-specific day trips to organized participation in statewide festivals. Tomorrow morning, members of the group will be walking through Westbrook’s Menunketesuck Flats hoping to glimpse “shorebirds, terns and other water birds” that hang out there. Closer to home, on the morning of Aug. 23, there’s a birding excursion at Lighthouse Point Park, which is the sight of a “daily hawk watch” from September through November. The hope is to spot migrating raptors and songbirds, for “as long as the hawks keep flying.” The park is also hosting an associated “Migration Festival” on Sept. 21.
Although most events are meant for all levels, a “Beginner’s Bird Walk,” on Oct. 4 at Griswold Point in Old Lyme, is tailor-made for fledgling birders. Advanced ones are welcome, too, especially as they might provide expertise and inspiration to newer folks.
The biggest event of each birding season is “The BIG SIT!” (as it’s excitedly penned on the NHBC website), which issues the challenge of identifying as many species as possible, viewed from within a 17-foot diameter circle in the span of 24 hours. Scheduled for Oct. 11 and 12 this year, participants may join one of many circles all over the state or create their own. Originally conceived by the New Haven Bird Club, the event is now so big that it’s co-sponsored by Bird Watcher’s Digest and occurs on four continents. There are even prizes.
“It ranges from completely non-competitive to… competitive,” Batsford says of The BIG SIT! and birding in general. The hobby is unexpectedly high-flying—a rare bird sighting really gets the adrenaline going—but it also brings people closer to the land.
Even when they’re viewing it through binoculars.
New Haven Bird Club
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.