By Nick Varvel
Many of the readers of this blog have been birding for years, and finding cool and rare birds has become second nature. But does anybody remember what it was like when they were starting out? As I have only been at it for six months now, I most certainly remember my various failures and excitement over birds like Canvasbacks, Eastern Phoebes, and Barred Owls. I've learned a lot from my first birding trip to the present day.
Looking back on my first outing specifically looking for birds, my naivety was rather astonishing. I picked up about twenty lifers on that day, and it was just a simple trip to some nearby lakes with my local Kansas City Audubon Society. I doubt I'll ever hyperventilate over prairie-chickens again! After this I took another trip to an eagle hotspot and got another 15 lifers, including Greater White-fronted Geese that almost caused a car crash.
I've had a series of funny events happen over the months looking for birds, whether it be mistaking a squirrel for a Ring-necked Duck or running across four lanes of traffic for what turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk. But as much as my failures have been the subject of ridicule, I've also learned a lot from them. I can now tell by sound when the ruckus in the underbrush is a squirrel or not, or what Red-tailed Hawks look like from the road.
Recently, I realized how frequent birding helps a person get into more of a routine. On a cold, rainy day, I woke up at 6:00 A.M., got dressed, grabbed binoculars, a notebook, a camera, and a spotting scope, and headed out into the storm. I picked up a friend and met up with two of the best birders in the state to see how many species we could find on this dreary March day. We drove a few hundred miles all around the back roads of eastern Kansas. Then, the minute I got home, I spat out 29 eBird checklists to complete the trip. We picked up a great 82 species, including some rare Neotropic Cormorants, on a day that would seal my fate as a true birder.
These past six months very well may have been the best of my life thus far. I've discovered a passion for birds that is unmatched by anything else in my life. I discovered that listing, especially county listing, satisfies my innate need to compete. And I have met some really great people along the way. Kansas is a surprising treasure trove of birding spots, and hopefully my new-found passion will continue as the obsession many birders have. I just cannot wait until this spring, where lifers will be around every corner.
About the author: Nick Varvel is a 16 year old who recently discovered birding after a lifelong interest in nature and animals. He loves traveling all over his home state of Kansas finding whatever birds he can. He spends his free time studying birds, hopeing someday to travel the world finding exotic species.