I started birding in earnest after I had a stroke. Instead of going to therapy, I went outside and paid attention to the world around me. I tried to run, but I found that I just kept thinking inwardly, going to dark places. It wasn’t fun. When I went birding, however, I was looking outward rather than inward. I was focused on sights and sounds, on the wind and the river under the bridge, on finding something new wherever I was. I returned feeling better, feeling more perspective on my place in the world.
Getting out in nature can have this impact for many people. It is hard not to notice what is around when you are hiking a mountain trail or canoeing a river. Birding for me gave me more of a focus. I had to pay attention. If my goal was to find as many different birds as possible, I had to be aware. Being passive was not an option. So I got out there and I paid attention and it healed my mind. Having a task, a focus, was key. I stopped paying attention to me when I paid attention to what I heard and saw.
Yesterday morning I visited the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston to go birding. This was part of a bird walk sponsored by Green Mountain Audubon. There were quite a few people there, maybe 20 or so. I meant to count the people but I was too focused on counting birds. We walked the trails for over two hours and, despite the hundreds of mosquitoes, found 45 species of birds. Two highlights were the flock of Blue Jays mobbing a Barred Owl and a Red-Winged Blackbird chasing a Green Heron. We also heard, however, a Brown Creeper, a shy bird who looks like tree bark and whose song is high and hard to hear. Finding that bird means really paying attention so it is rewarding to discover it.
The photo above has a Cedar Waxwing in it. It is perched at the top of a fir. It is hard to see, but I heard its high trilling song, then narrowed down its location and saw it well with binoculars. Birding is not about seeing the birds that make themselves obvious. It is about seeking out the birds that are there, finding them even when they are not obvious. That is the therapy for me in birding.
I will keep at it for now. There are multiple levels of challenge. How many birds can I find with each outing? How many birds can I find each year? How many birds can I find this year in my county? What might I find new today? Can I finally learn the song of the Blackburnian Warlber? There is the life list to consider as well: how many birds can I find ever? I won’t get bored. I will continue to learn and to discover new things. I will keep my mind healthy. And while I’m at it, I will have fun. That’s some good therapy right there.