Thursday, July 5, 2018

Introduction to Birdwatching

             First of all, you don’t call it “birdwatching.” That’s something old people used to do. Old people doing it now call it “birding.” Even if you don’t like turning a simple noun into a hybrid called a “verbal noun,” birding is what those serious people with spotting scopes and checklists are doing.

            Let’s keep it simple. On Saturday, after a couple of hours of moving rocks, dirt and weeds as we landscaped a path from our cottage to the lake in 98 degree heat, Kim and I went birding. (She was actually butterflying, and no, this did not involve competitive swimming.) Here are two things we saw.
Indigo Bunting

Blue Angel

Only one of them is a bird. The other is part of the Blue Angels team entertaining the National Cherry Festival crowd here in Traverse City. Here’s how to tell the difference:

·     Sound: The airplane is much louder than the bird. Loudness may be a big part of the appeal of the Blue Angels, and I agree that the roar is impressive. The sound of the Indigo Bunting is a big part of its appeal, too, and it’s relatively loud for a bird, but not even close to a Blue Angel. My field guide describes the Indigo Bunting’s song thus: “Song a high, sharp urgent warble with most phrases repeated ti ti whee whee zeere zeere.” I don’t have a guide to Blue Angels, so the best I can do is “RRRROOOOOOAAAARRR!!!!”

·     Markings: If it has numbers and letters on it, most likely it’s not a bird – unless it has been tagged so birders and researchers can track its movements.

·     Color: Both are blue. Actually, only the male Indigo Buntings are blue – females are brownish. I’m not sure there are any female Blue Angels – it seems like a stereotypical male phenomenon, though times, as the poet says, they are a-changin’. In the Middle Ages, angels were thought to be gender neutral.

·     Flight: Blue Angels fly much faster than Indigo Buntings, which also tend to flap their wings – unlike their airplane counterparts. Also – Indigo Buntings do not leave a visible vapor trail, though Starlings poop on my car from time to time.

Flock of Blue Angels with Vapor Trail
·     Size: Airplanes are typically larger than birds – unless you count drones as airplanes. If drones confuse you, use the other criteria above.

·     Range: Indigo Buntings are found east of the Rockies. Blue Angles are found all across the country, and they have a website where you can find their schedule. Indigo Buntings, being low-tech, don’t have a website. It’s unclear whether they Twitter.

·     DietIndigo Buntings consume small seeds, berries, buds, and insects. Blue Angels consume jet fuel.

            That’s about it. For our next lesson we will help you compare one bird with another. Here’s a preview of one of the birds:

Kim did not take this photo.

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