Bringing out your inner birder

How being raised by proud bird nerd parents gave me an appreciation for the natural world

Credit: E. Winick

My love for nature has always been a major part of my life. Before I could even walk my parents were taking me out on the hiking trails in their backpack and showing me around the base of waterfalls. All of our family vacations were to beautiful parts of nature and were based around hiking destinations, giving me a great appreciation for the natural world.

However, my parents were not ordinary hikers. They were birders.

Me taking photos at Amicolola Falls in Georgia Credit: J. Winick

Now when you picture birders, you probably imagine people walking around with giant cameras, 3 pairs of binoculars and stacks of birding books. Well, you are pretty spot on in the case of my parents. With backpacks stocked with cameras, lenses, books, binoculars, and sunscreen, my family was a full-fledged birding squad ready to listen, spot and identify.

Growing up my perception of hiking was not walking 12 miles to make it to a scenic overlook. It was taking all day for a 3 mile trail and stopping every few feet when we heard a bird call to try to identify, spot and take a picture of it. Sure we appreciated the great destinations, but the majority of our trip was spent looking up into the trees, not looking out over moutnain vistas. We would all hear a sound and our gaze would shoot up into the trees until we could spot its source. We would use binoculars to carefully identify primary features of the bird and pull out our Peterson’s bird books that had survived many a drop in the dirt and the river. Finally my dad and I would work to get the perfect lighting for our photographs. Thank goodness we moved from film to digital photography so we did not have lug around tons of rolls of film on all of our hikes any more and worry about saving that last set of photos for a potential Bald Eagle we might come across.

Credit: E. Winick

I think that part of my interest in and appreciation of science beyond the field of engineering, which I studied in college, is rooted in my adventures in nature as a child. I gained an appreciation for observing and recording the natural world around me, as well as the joy of discovery when we spotted a bird we had never seen before. Birding definitely teaches you a unique patience, love of nature, and appreciation for data collection and recording keeping.

My mom and I going for a hike when I wa in middle school Credit: E. Winick

If you are not a birder yourself, I would recommend going hiking with a loud and proud birder. You will get a lot of excitement added to your hikes because of all the wildlife you will see. Instead of seeing one deer and a few squirrels, you will come away from you hike with a long list of wildlife sightings you would have otherwise walked past! Don’t be afraid to bird nerd out over spotting a Rufous-Sided Towhee in the brush or a Swallow-Tailed Kite flying overhead.

You might not cover as much distance on your hike, but for me distance has never been what hiking is about. My birder parents instilled in me that hiking is about getting out in nature and appreciating everything is has to offer, even its small feathered friends flying overhead.

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