Learning the Art of Birding at Scanlon Creek
When it comes to hiking or just out walking enjoying nature one of my most favourite things to do is watch for wildlife and especially birds. So when I heard about the Scanlon Creek Birding Workshop through the Friends of Scanlon Creek, located 20 minutes from my home I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the art of birding while exploring nature on a morning hike. With a wildlife background it’s just natural for me to always be on the lookout for a new bird species to mark off my checklist, whether I’m across the globe in the Swiss Alps, vacationing in Mexico or in my own backyard.
I abandoned my need for rest Saturday morning by rising early and heading south to Scanlon Creek Conservation Area. I’ve been to Scanlon Creek a few time now and love visiting this little gem in Simcoe County. I was met there by a lovely couple, the husband – Ken – a naturalist passionate about birding. Ken would be our small group’s guide, leading us through the art of birding from how to use binoculars (turns out you don’t just look through them) to how to learn to recognize bird songs and how to identify families through beak shapes to what books, websites and smart phone apps to use to aid in your birding experiences. I find learning from someone who is passionate about a subject and still thrives on learning more quite easy and exciting. My novice birding knowledge was fed by Ken’s master skills and deep love for it.
Our first task for the day was to learn how to use binoculars properly to help maximize our bird seeking efforts. First we had to focus the lens’ to be able to see our intended target, then we learned to keep our eyes locked on our target and bring the binoculars up to our eyes to ensure we’d be looking at what we were intending to focus on. This is tricky, though simple as it seems, it’s natural to look down and away from your target and at the binoculars while you bring them up, but with practice and forethought it’s easy to break.
Then it was off to the trails. One thing to note is that Scanlon Creek is always active with insect life like mosquitos and black flies so repellent is a necessity for those with sweet blood like myself. On our hike we explored hardwood forests, marshy wetlands and open areas to maximize our chances at seeing a variety of species. Immediately upon entering the woods we were welcomed by bird song. Ken was able to isolate and identify each song and tell us which species we were hearing and looking for. He also helped us to try and learn to identify each species song on our own. Of course this takes a lot of practice but I was utterly impressed and astounded by this ability to seemingly speak the language of birds. There were so many we could hear, and thankfully able to see some like the red-eyed vireo, a broad-wing hawk and a scarlet tanager to name a few. From the forest we made our way to the marsh where we saw the always present red-wing blackbird perched on the cattails but also had the exciting chance to see great crested flycatchers. Back into the woods afforded us an encounter with an oven bird – a small bird that makes its nest on the ground in what looks like an oven – and heard a red-breasted grosbeak and a red-breasted nuthatch.
After a great hike and seeing and hearing numerous bird species we headed back to the Nature Centre to go over what we’d learned and saw and a power point presentation that included some key websites and smart phone apps to learn more and aid in our bird watching. (key websites and apps are listed below)
Set on almost 300 hectares of environmentally protected forests, streams and wetlands Scanlon Creek Conservation Area has over 10 kilometres of trails to hike and stroll in search of an amazing diversity of birds. And a Scanlon Creek birding workshop is a great way to explore the area and learn about some beautiful birds.
To learn more about Scanlon Creek birding workshops and more, check out their site for upcoming events.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology – http://www.allaboutbirds.org
Project Feeder Watch – http://feederwatch.org
Smart Phone Apps
National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America
Merlin Bird ID