SILPPERY ROCK, Pa – As our time in Tweetspeak draws near its conclusion, our final fieldtrip took us to the Jennings Environmental Center for the second time this semester. We explored the place’s vast prairie in hopes of seeing different species of birds from our first time out and possibly record some amazing video footage as well. Compared to our first visit to Jennings, I was able to walk into the second this experience with much more insight and newfound knowledge about birds in overall.
At the beginning of the semester, I had little experience with birding. I didn’t know a whole lot about birds and I only knew of a few species outside of the ones I see regularly such as robins, cardinals, house sparrows, and blue jays. I did on the other hand know a few things that were reaffirmed later on in the course. For example, I knew that birds were the only animals that had feathers, that they migrated during the winter seasons, and that they molted. But that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge about avian species.
During our first visit to Jennings, the group as a whole was still getting the hang of birding. We only knew of a few species at that time such as the Black-capped Chickadee and the White-breasted Nuthatch and knew very few helpful tips for identifying a species properly. My eye for identifying species wasn’t sharp at all. It definitely showed when our class went birding through the large glass windows the facility had available. I’m pretty sure my some of my peers noticed me rapidly flipping through my Sibley Guide throughout frequent intervals of the trip. Even after doing so, I still had trouble with bird ID. The first experience showcased a variety of different winter migrants and residents of northeastern Pennsylvania, and there was an abundance of activity that lasted throughout the remainder of our visit.
During our time spent outdoors, multiple people, including myself, encountered a rude awakening from the wintery climate. It was less than 40 degrees, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the outfit I was wearing. I had on a typical hoodie, a pair of sweatpants, and sneakers with no coat, no gloves, no hat, and my hands shrouded in the sleeves of my shirt. You’d think I learn my lesson from this miserable experience, but I didn’t. It actually took me a couple more fieldtrips for me to finally catch on.
The second trip to Jennings was different in many ways, the first being the season. It was springtime with a temperature in between 60 and 70 degrees, which are more accommodating conditions for birding outside. And because birds migrate and breed seasonally, the arrival of spring also signaled the opportunity for the chance to see a variety of new, different species. The major downside to this trip was there wasn’t a whole lot of activity as like on the first trip. We saw a few species here and there but they were mostly ones we had already seen on previous other fieldtrips. It was the same for the vocalizations as well. We didn’t really hear any new species except the ones we already knew about. It was a bit disappointing considering how more knowledgeable us Tweetspeak students had become about identifying birds. We weren’t given much of an opportunity to put our honed skills and knowledge to the test.
The things I did learn however since our first visit to Jennings are to dress according to the weather, be alert at all times while birding, have your Sibley Field Guide with you, and to be patient, because you never know when a bird will pop up.
For the semester in general, It is definitely a night and day difference from the beginning to the end. The culmination of what we learned in the course began to come around full circle for me. As it pertains to identifying birds, I learned a lot. We were taught about the key indicators for identifying different species such as plumage and color patterns, size and shape of bird, eye rings, wing bars, shape and size of bill, habitat, and behavior. All these factors help to identify birds even if you only catch a glimpse of them or only see their silhouette. For example, type of environment, season, and region in a location gives you a rough idea of what birds one you expect to see there. If you don’t know for sure what you saw, you can narrow it down by using these tips. I’ve learned this through the lecture part of the course and it allowed me to further enhance my skills as a birder.
Also, if a birder is unable to identify a species, it is best for them not to guess to avoid risk of misidentification. Identifying a species incorrectly can obscure data and research for scientists if that information were to be entered into a database such as ebird.
My knowledge of identifying birds is something I can definitely take with me even after completing this course. I find myself out of class trying to identify species on my way to the grocery store or when I’m driving home for the weekend. It gives me another potential hobby to pursue as well as further my efforts of becoming a citizen scientist in order to aid researchers and ornithologists in their studies. For example, since birding is very inexpensive, I can still record and identify species report them to ebird as a way of promoting conservation efforts.