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Birding is a way to connect with nature that can be done anytime, anywhere and is available to all of us.

Bird Watching

Every day is a good day for bird watching, according to Monterey Audubon Society’s Amanda Preece. But this weekend might be an especially good time for bird watching, as the four-day Great Backyard Bird Count is underway.

Sara Rubin here, looking out my window for birds. That’s in part because it’s now day two of the four-day Great Backyard Bird Count, hosted by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and partly because looking out the window and checking for birds has become something of a daily routine for me. It’s a chance to experience nature without even having to put on shoes. And while I don’t always see something, consistent looking has begun to reveal patterns; a couple of scrub jays that like a particular fence post in the backyard, hummingbirds that like flowers in the front yard. 

To be clear, I don’t think of myself as a birder; I can identify just a handful of birds. But I do think of myself as an appreciator of birds. Maybe it’s been instilled in me since childhood. My grandfather loved feeding every bird, even pigeons. My dad keeps a whole bunch of feeders outside his office window and watches an entire bird universe play out a few feet away. 

But despite that, I used to think birds were relatively disinteresting. It was the charismatic megafauna that I was more intrigued by. But the more you stop to look at the birds, the more you see. Birds gather and store food, they fight, they sing, they groom. They are always moving and doing something. They make for unlimited entertainment—and then they fly away, and whatever glimmer you caught of their bird lives is a precious moment in time. 

About a week before the Great Backyard Bird Count, I spoke to Amanda Preece, who is an experienced birder (and the volunteer-run Monterey Audubon Society’s lone employee, their environmental advocate). She shared a similar perspective on birding as something that can be done anytime, anywhere—and is available to all of us. No training or special gear required (though a pair of binoculars and a bird book or an app on your phone to ID them can add a dimension). 

“Birds are literally anywhere and everywhere all the time,” Preece told me. “You get out of your car at Safeway and there could be blackbirds—and in the winter there could be red-winged blackbirds mixed in. There’s always a surprise.”

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And stopping to observe that surprise is a gift of its own. “It’s like mindfulness,” Preece says. “I might be stressed and then I see a bird and have a moment connecting with this little creature.”

If you want to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a massive citizen science initiative, you can join the Monterey Audubon Society today, Feb. 19, at 9am at Locke Paddon Park in Marina. You can also make a free eBird account (through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and load your own data from wherever you are. 

Or, you can skip the data gathering part, and just look outside—anywhere, anytime—and take in the birds. They’re pretty cool.

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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