For the Birds: Birders: Be Pro-Active, Good-will Builders

Monday, October 24, 2011

Snow Geese in Skagit harvested field.
Photo by Barbara Deihl
By Christine Southwick

Fall has definitely arrived here in the Puget Sound area. This is a time when backyard bird watching is often augmented by birding trips to nearby “hot spots”, like the Skagit Valley, to see flocks of Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans. Prairie Falcon, Gyrfalcon, and Snowy Owls, often winter there too.

Because birds are seen landing in nearby fields while you’re driving much-used rural roads, it is important to review regional-friendly birder rules and etiquette.

1. Don’t block roads. Pull off the road, or drive until you can, and then walk quietly back. Think how irritated you get when drivers all of a sudden throw on their brakes at a garage sale, and leave their cars sticking out in the road or your driveway. Multiply that by every weekend, plus some weekdays, for a four month period.

Geese feeding in field near Bow, Washington.
Photo by Barbara Deihl.
2. Don’t crowd or disturb the birds. Snow Geese are sheltering here from islands in Russia, and most of the other large birds wintering here have flown down from upper northern Alaska. They may be exhausted and hungry. Every time someone causes a flock to go airborne, that puts the newest arrivals, with the least margin of endurance, at risk.

3. If you see a wing-tagged bird, report it. Geese, swans, even some of the raptors may have a colored tag on their wing to help ID them for important scientific studies. Also, if you see an obviously ill swan or goose report that—lots of these large birds get poisoned swallowing lead shot used by hunters, and there are rescue teams waiting.

Winter flock coming in.
Photo by Ray Hamlyn.
4. Assume all land, unless it is a National Wildlife Refuge, or a registered Park, is private land, with no trespassing. No one wants strangers walking on their property, without permission. Always ask before entering; no owner found equals a “No”. View with binoculars, or use a scope if you have one.

5. If you have a scope, offer to let people see what you have found. This is one of the most pro-active, good-will building acts that birders can do. By sharing your enthusiasm with others, you may start people on the path to being birders too. At least they will have an idea why you drive all the way up to their neighborhood, and stand around in the cold with your eyes glued to some far-off object.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she's sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.


Anonymous,  November 3, 2011 at 4:51 PM  

Also, when you are in an area birding, be sure to let local businesses know that you are there to bird and watch wildlife. It's important for us non-consumptive users to let local communities know how much we bring to the local economy. When wildlife refuges and state and federal are shut off from wildlife viewers during the height of migration, to favor hunting interests who are permitted to use the public lands, it's because it's been assumed for years that most of the revenue comes from hunters. But we non-hunters contribute much more than has been recorded. Ask to be acknowledged as a birder when you pay your fees to enter public lands. Let local proprietors know that you are bringing money and goodwill into the community. It will serve birders and other wildlife viewers for a long time to come, to have our interests represented this way.

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