Being brand new to the Texas environment, culture, and heat I’ve been at awe with the beauty of the natural world. It’s far different from my quiet mountains in Vermont or the the calm Long Island Sound. The Texas landscape is vast, diverse, and quiet.
You can often find me hiking, or climbing trees, but one outdoor activity I had never considered trying until now was birding. I actually thought I was quite terrified of birds, up close and from afar, I never gave them a second look and as many times as I have wandered through the woods, I never really took the time to listen to the birds, to seek out their figures in the branches of my favorite trees that I undoubtedly had swung from. That is, until, today, when I experienced my first birding venture.
I had travelled down to the coast of Texas for a meeting and on my way back, a co-worker of mine decided to show me what it meant to “bird”. I had heard the term before but I didn’t quite understand what it entailed. It sounded to me, that “birding” could be a competitive activity, but how could you win, wasn’t it just about looking?
These thoughts that I had been having succeeded in proving how much I still had to learn about the wilderness. I could tell you about trees, and dirt, and rocks. I could tell you about the basic forest animal and what to do it you ran into a bear on the trail. What I couldn’t tell you was anything significant about the native birds in the region that I grew up in. I couldn’t tell you where the birds migrated to and from. My lack of bird knowledge was actually quite embarrassing.
Never the less, I took this as a challenge, to embrace the birding experience and figure out just what made it so unique.
What I discovered may not be what you would expect. My first time birding, I didn’t just learn about native Texas birds. I learned about the art of birding, the behavior behind it, and why so many people were drawn to it.
Birding, I figured out, meant slowing things down. As I walked along the designated trail I followed suit, walking heel to toe, each step deliberate in making as little sound as possible. The binoculars I was borrowing, hung around my neck and clunked against my chest, so I cradled them in my arms. I watched my co-worker as she listened for the bird calls, stopping when she spotted a bird, deep in the branches, that even with my binoculars I had trouble finding. We would stop, lift our heads, and stare for only a few minutes, my co-worker snapping photos, while my eyes darted back and forth, scanning the branches for any kind of movement. Many of the times we stopped, I’d hear the camera click its’ shutter faster than I could lift the binoculars to my face and adjust the lenses.
While I was birding, it was as if I was going by a different clock entirely. My movements felt fast, the snap of the camera, the flitting of a birds wings, the jostling of branches, all happening within seconds. But in reality, time slowed down. I was in slow motion, walking and quietly talking, waiting for the next bird to make its appearance.
And that’s why I became so fascinated with birding. Birding in Texas as it is anywhere I’m sure, is a time to slow down your pace, to look closely at your natural surroundings and simply enjoy what you find. We weren’t hunting the birds, or trying to catch them, we were simply there to watch and to learn. Following a bird’s movements, listening to its call, can teach you patience and persistence, reverence and responsibility. Birds are our indicator species. They are aware of the suffering of our natural systems. When they begin to struggle so shall we. Therefore, after I realized how important birds are to our ecosystem, I also realized my responsibility to protect them, as I would protect myself.
Paying attention to and caring for our birds I think will prove to be beneficial to us all and so I now challenge myself to pay a little but more attention to the sounds of the world around me each time I step outside and I hope that it never goes quiet.