Janice Zepko, with help from Bill and Carol Platenik, Jim Wang, and Andrea Bugbee, had the enviable pleasure of introducing new birders to the pleasant pastime that’s been bringing Allen Bird Club members together for 111 years. This was the club’s first Family Bird Walk. Thankfully, our merry band of leaders was outnumbered by the field trip’s eight participants, most of whom were non-members simply curious about birding.
Our guests’ initiation began in Forest Park’s Longmeadow/Route 5 parking lot, where leaders shared tips for successful binocular use. As if on cue, a Brown-headed Cowbird lit atop the highest feather on the park’s Whispering Giant statue so participants could practice finding him in their borrowed optics. This was the first Cowbird some had seen.
Binoculars now adjusted and ready, the group headed into the park.
A damp chill chased most birds under cover, but we did spot 22 species on this two-hour field trip, and our new birding friends made satisfying discoveries. For instance, they delighted at the male Red-winged Blackbirds’ bravado in declaring parts of the park their own. They praised Phoebes’ skill in nabbing insects midair, and they paused to watch a pair of tree swallows who had claimed a nesting box as their summer home. Guests also admired the grackles’ easily overlooked iridescence, a cardinal, brilliant against spring’s golden-green backdrop and a male Wood Duck, showing off his colorful plumage as he paddled across the pond.
Needless to say, the day’s highlights didn’t come from spotting a parade of unusual birds. Instead, the best moments rose from watching new birders experience common birds for the first time. For example, a twelve-year-old boy described a Tufted Titmouse as having a “backward mohawk,” and he grinned as he identified his first Canada Goose.
Upon learning we had passed a turtle, two grown participants said, “Wait. There was a turtle? We want to see the turtle!” The group pointed excitedly when a pair of mallards braked feet-first on the pond in front of us. They listened attentively for American Goldfinches to call, “Potato chip, potato chip” as they flew nearby.
Then a dad, enjoying a morning at the park with his kids, wandered over to peek at the tree swallows in our spotting scope.
“Oh, I’m not a birder, I just love birds,” this father said. “Any time I see something like an eagle or a hawk I have to stop and watch.”
“Then you’re a birder!” our leaders laughed - because we know.
“Having” to stop and watch a bird is where this wonderous hobby begins.