urban birding

with 2 comments

By Lauren Bingham

[from left to right: navy hoodie, bird paintings, bag, black sweater, bird graffiti, wooden birds, wellingtons]

It is always entertaining explaining the concept of ‘birdwatching’ or ‘birding’ to a non-birder.  People unfamiliar with the practice often have one of three responses: utter confusion, delight in the novelty, or suppression of laughter.

Bird watching is a hobby/sport/obsession practiced the world over.  Patrons of the hobby vary in level of dedication, ranging from casual enthusiasts to hardcore extremists.  Hardcore birders are referred to as ‘twitchers’ (particularly in the UK); I like to think of twichers as ‘extreme birders.’  Twitchers keep extensive lists of birds observed over time, and will travel great distances to see a rare bird.  Twitchers can be highly secretive about rare bird sightings, but once the location is leaked to the twitching community a mad rush will often result.  For instance, a group of twitchers 5,000 strong once flocked to Kent, England to see a rare golden-winged warbler; if you don’t believe me, check out this article from Daily Mail.

During early birding expeditions with my ornithologist (= bird professional) friend, I was surprised to learn that expert birders often get all hot and bothered by little brown jobs (LBJ’s).  While I was excitedly spotting big badass hawks and owls, my friend would shout things like, ‘look in the thicket, it’s a golden-crowned kinglet!’  FYI: golden-crowned kinglets are small and mostly brown.  My friend explained that little birds are harder to identify and differentiate (i.e., they all look the same); this means that for true bird enthusiasts, the best stuff comes in little, nondescript, brownish packages.

As California’s statewide migratory waterfowl (a.k.a. DUCK) hunting season opened in October, I realized it was necessary to dust off the old binacs, grab my field guide, and find the nearest marsh or wetland.  My reward: an opportunity to observe the plethora of winter migratory birds cruzing through San Francisco right now.  Though odd bedfellows, birders and hunters both hit the marshes armed with guns and binoculars to celebrate the annual arrival of ducks and geese from northern latitudes.

When I moved to San Francisco two years ago I worried that my birding days were over.  I figured the term urban birdwatching was an oxymoron.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Many species of birds (even those you would least expect) actually seem to thrive in urban environments. Golden Gate Park is full of nesting red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks, Cooper’s hawks hunt amongst apartment buildings, and ocean/marsh areas ringing the city are a constant source of shorebirds and waterfowl.  Like Manhattan’s Pale Male red-tailed hawk saga, San Francisco has had Peregrine Falcons nesting in the Bay Bridge and other buildings in the city for years.  The PG&E building in downtown SF is the location of a Peregrine nesting box used annually.

Urban birdwatcher that I am, I have a favorite spot in the city to practice my craft.  With views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Marin, the Crissy Field salt marsh is the Cadillac of urban birdwatching locations.  Armed with my binoculars and field guide on foggy winter mornings, I’ve seen countless migrating waterfowl and native birds in this urban bird sanctuary.  Exciting finds like hooded mergansers, goldeneyes, scaups, great blue herons, long-billed curlews… my list could go on forever.

1) Make the birds come to you by putting feeders in your yard or window!  Check out the bungee bird feeder or the modern Perch feeder, Disc feeder21L bird shelter.  Also, Martha Stewart has several fun DIY birdfeeder projects.

2) Beautiful and accurate bird calls.

3) Zeiss Victory FL binoculars; these are the binoculars of my dreams

4) Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (a must have for any urban bird watcher)!  How else will you know what in the hell you are looking at?

5) Amazing hand care cream from the Portland General Store, wood scented!

6) For indoor inspiration Chris Elsasser’s lightbox

7) And this pin: From the Urban Bird Watcher’s Society!


2 Responses

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  1. i go with choice 3: suppression of laughter!


    December 14, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    • lauren, you are awesome!


      December 16, 2009 at 3:38 am

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