Crosby Arboretum announces “Introduction to Birdwatching” Saturday

Published 3:03 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Crosby Arboretum is offering an “Introduction to Birdwatching” program on Saturday.  This got me thinking about how much I admire the persons who have chosen the study of birds as a hobby or profession.  One of the reasons they’ve earned my respect is that I consider them to possess a great deal of patience and persistence.  Unlike plants – my chosen profession – birds don’t sit still!  When someone points out a bird, inevitably, by the time I’m able to train my binoculars in that area, it is guaranteed to have moved.

Susan Epps, the avid birder and writer who will be presenting this weekend’s program, assures me that bird watching is quickly becoming one of the most popular activities in America not because people like to just sit around and watch birds, but because they enjoy exploring the many habitats in which they are found.

Walking the Arboretum’s pathways, it would not be unusual to observe more than twenty bird species, due to the excellent birding opportunities offered in the variety of habitats, namely the Woodland Exhibit, Savanna Exhibit, and Aquatic Exhibit.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Birds that frequent the Pond Journey include great blue herons and snowy egrets.  On a walk through the Children’s Garden, one might see a ruby-throated hummingbird sipping nectar from the blooms.  Many common birds can be observed in the forested areas, such as woodpeckers, cardinals, doves, titmice, kinglets, chickadees, and nuthatches. 

Among the savanna grasses, common yellow throats, chipping sparrows and swamp sparrows are often seen.  A species that has also been observed in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit is the Henslow’s sparrow, an “uncommon and declining” species which migrates south to this area in the fall, where it overwinters, eating various grasses and insects available in the warmer climate.  In spring, these birds migrate north to breed in the prairies and wet grasslands of New England, and as far south as Virginia and Kentucky.  Henslow’s sparrow has experienced habitat loss in both its breeding and wintering grounds, and there is concern that it may be becoming an endangered species.   

In addition to a good field guide to help with bird identification, one helpful book for those wishing to learn more about birding in our region is the “Guide to Birding Coastal Mississippi and Adjacent Counties” by Toups, Bird and Peterson.  We are fortunate that such a comprehensive guide has been assembled by birders familiar with our area, notably author Judith Toups.  The book highlights birds that have been observed in particular locations, and contains a large list of birding sites, as well as providing a comprehensive list of contacts and useful resources such as study groups and birding organizations. 

An aspect of birding that I find fascinating is that birders will often identify the majority of species in an area through their songs, not by sightings.  If you lack a willing birder to interpret the sounds for you, the Internet abounds with websites where bird songs can be easily learned. There are also inexpensive handheld devices available, containing common bird sounds, that can be carried into the field to aid in identification.

Children will enjoy the challenge of learning a dozen common Mississippi birds and their songs, and getting to know the habitats within which they can be found.  Further study topics might include the difference between migratory and year-round species, the migratory patterns of particular birds, or learning species on endangered lists.  With only a small investment of time, one can quickly learn to identify a number of common bird species, adding a delightful dimension to the outdoor experience.

Susan Epps will discuss the fun aspects of birding, including feeding and identification tips, this Saturday, September 25.  She will discuss our resident birds and the migrants that will be visiting us this fall, as well as providing an overview of books, equipment, materials, and other birding resources.  This program is best suited to ages 7 and up, and is free to Arboretum members. Cost is $5 for adult non-members, and $2 for non-members’ children.  Walk-ins can usually be accommodated, but if possible, please call the office to add your name to the class roster in advance, at 601-799-2311.