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All eyes on the birds

By Keegan Prosser on May 2, 2013 – No Comment

BY SETH TRUSCOTT

There they were, winging and diving above a secluded meadow at Lake Sammamish State Park — the first tree swallows of the season.

“It’s really nice to see the swallows,” says Andy McCormick, who’s come here with fellow Eastside Audubon members to show me the ropes of birdwatching. “It’s a sure sign of spring.”

Local birdwatchers, or birders for short, know that places like this Eastside park hold secrets — living jewels like the Rufous hummingbird, and amazing sights like a merganser courting display — that anyone can discover with a little patience.

With spring here, it’s prime season for birding on the Eastside. Right now, winter birds still linger, but spring migrants like hummingbirds or tree swallows are just arriving from South America.

Wetlands and parks are stopping places for wrens, warblers, tanagers and orioles. Year-round, there’s a great variety to see, if you just open your eyes.

Off the beaten path

It was a brand new camera that got Bellevue resident Amit Kulkarni started in birding.

“I went out taking pictures of birds,” he says. “Then I had to figure out what they were.” His first bird was a robin. It was unlike any bird he’d seen in his native city of Mumbai.”

Every week, Amit hits a park or greenbelt before work to spot the birds.

“I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t birding,” he says,”

“It’s a good change from being at your desk,” adds Andy. “You get to experience nature, hear birdsong. Birdwatching takes you to places many people never go…. You get a little off the beaten path.”

Two years into the hobby, Amit often brings his 4-year-old nephew, Kabir, along. This morning, Kabir excitedly heads in the direction of a large flock of coots, funny-looking water birds.

“He is always with us,” says Priya Chavan, Amit’s wife. “We really believe that if we get him into it now, he will be interested as an adult. This is a good chance to get him involved, and make him feel good at it.”

Saving local habitat

A minute out of the parking lot, Amit and Andy are spotting birds left and right. There’s a Golden-crowned Kinglet, with its blazon of yellow and white-feathered mask. Then a female Downy woodpecker. It’s the time of day for both birds to be feeding.

It’s a busy life for a bird, says Andy.

“Migrants travel thousands of miles,” he says. “They have to fight bad weather, avoid predators, constantly look for food, support a nest.”

When Andy, president of Eastside Audubon, started watching birds in 1972, there were about half as many more of them to watch.

The Eastside chapter works to improve habitat, adding a bird loop trail at Redmond’s Marymoor Park, and has plans for Lake Sammamish park.

For someone interested in trying out birding, Eastside Audubon’s family bird walks are a great place to start.

It’s a slow walk, with birders of every skill level learning and sharing. Newcomers are welcome.

“They’ll see some things they’ve never seen before,” promises Andy.

Up close and personal

I did not dip on the Rufous.

There he was, ruby throat flashing, as he flitted among early spring blooms. It was the first hummingbird of the year for me.

In birding lingo, a bust is called “dipping.”

“You never have a day when you see no birds,” says Audubon member Mary Brisson. “But if you don’t find the species you’re looking for, you say you ‘Dipped on the Rufous,’” to use my hummingbird as an example.

There’s little competition to birding. Andy puts it succinctly: “We want everybody to see the birds,” he says.

Field guides and books have their uses, Mary says, but “If you’re with somebody who points out that detail in the field, you know it forever.”

This morning, with Andy and Amit, Mary listens to a Pacific wren calling in a close-by tree.

“I’ve never heard one singing that close for so long,” she says. “I’ll never forget it.”

HOW TO GET STARTED IN BIRDING:

This month is a great time to get started as a birder, and Eastside Audubon makes it easy. May is the club’s major Birdathon campaign. Lots of special events are planned, including:

International Migratory Bird Day Celebration: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at Juanita Bay Park, 2201 Market St., Kirkland. Welcome winged spring visitors with nature walks and children’s activities.

Introduction to Bird Photography: 10 a.m. to noon May 5 at Omega Photo, 210 105th Ave. NE., Bellevue. Eastside Audubon photographers Larry Engles and Dan Streiffert teach a practical, inspiring class on how to get great birds shots.

Dawn Chorus Walk: 5 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at Lake Sammamish State Park, Issaquah. Hear birds at daybreak at the height of the spring breeding season. Bring binoculars and dress for weather. A Discover Pass is needed to park.

Family birding walk: 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at Lake Sammamish State Park. This easy walk is perfect for families and children. A Discover Pass is required to park.

A Kid’s Guide to Birding: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18 at Issaquah Valley Elementary School, 555 N.W. Holly St., Issaquah. Lorenzo Rohani, age 13, has traveled thousands of miles with his dad, Michael, birding and photographing feathered friends. Their book is full of tips for kids about how to get started, and shared projects you can do to bring birds to your backyard.

Audubon’s website and online calendar are a good resource for people who’d like to get started or connect with fellow birdwatchers. Check it out HERE.

Seth Truscott is editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Record. He can be contacted at 425-888-2311 or editor@valleyrecord.com.