Featuring Laura Whittemore
I watch birds because birds are always doing something worth watching. Observing and listening to birds is an opportunity to spend time outside and increase my awareness of creatures living around me, not only in my own backyard but in countless wild areas of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Each season offers something unique and wondrous for bird watchers. Late Summer is filled with young birds recently out of the nest—fledglings from eagles to chickadees have a distinct teenagery look: a little scruffy and a bit bewildered. By Fall, neotropical migrants like swallows, hummingbirds, swifts, and warblers, who raised their young here, have departed North America and flown to Central or South America for the nonbreeding season. In November and December, waterfowl arrive from northern latitudes to winter on the open water of our bays and lakes, and even the ocean. And just when we think winter will never end, those warblers, swallows, hummingbirds, and more arrive back to our skies and woodlands to raise another brood and keep our insect populations in check. Birds make these migrations year after year, flying hundreds or thousands of miles under their own power, guided by stars and instinct.I made my own far less spectacular migration this week when I moved into a new home just two miles from the old one. I’m interested in meeting my new human neighbors, but more intriguing are the voices coming from the small woods behind the house. I hear Western Tanagers saying a farewell pid-er-ick before starting their southbound migration; Cedar Waxwings are flocking by the dozens as they search for trees and shrubs laden with tasty berries; Barn Swallows zip over the local school’s playing field, filling up on bugs to fuel their long migration; and every day I’ve heard a White-breasted Nuthatch calling, so different from the Red-breasted I’m used to. What transitions will we observe over the next twelve months? Will we have the Golden-crowned Sparrows and Varied Thrushes that spend their winters at lower elevation? Will a young Cooper’s Hawk stake out our bird feeders as it learns to efficiently catch songbirds? Will an owl start hooting and courting a mate this winter? Which warblers will wander through our woods next spring?