I have an old notebook of my grandfather’s, the fruit farmer. It contains some ramblings about the neighbors, a lot of details about different varieties of apples and how they did from season to season, but in the margins and on the odd page, he writes about birds and wildlife he saw in the orchards or near the creek. Reading, it quickly becomes apparent that he was not just making side notes, but had a real interest in birding, he just never had the time to devote to anything besides farming.
There are bird watchers who belong to clubs and spend many hours of the week at a stand behind their spotting scopes with field guides dog-eared and open. They compare notes and photos at the Audubon Club meeting, and their back yards are veritable havens for visiting finches and jays. I envy those lucky few and I wish them well until the year comes that I can join them in my retirement. Until then my busy life of work and travel and raising a family jars me from lane to lane on the superhighway of life with only a moment to go, “Oh hey, that was a Warbler, wasn’t it?”
As an outdoorsman, I have to admit, I have many more opportunities than most to do some bird watching, although it usually comes while I’m actively doing something else like fishing, hunting, or canoeing. I get so many terrific and kind emails and calls from readers about how they live my adventures vicariously through the Outdoors Page that I feel guilty for the blessed life I have. If you’re not an outdoors writer, farmer, lumberjack, surveyor, or in some other line of work that puts you often in the wilds, cheer up. It’s not that hard to get “birdy” close to home.
The restoration of Lorain County Metro Parks Sandy Ridge Reservation as a wildlife rich wetland is a terrific conservation success story. Much of Lorain County was historically marshy but was drained for use as farmland. In the 1990’s the Metroparks worked to restore this 310 acre area to an accessible wetland. Like the saying from the movies, “If you build it they will come!” and indeed they did. Since its opening, well over 200 bird species have been recorded by park staff, with about half that number listed as mated or probably nesting.
I just used the word “accessible”, which means a lot of things to different people, so let me just clarify; whenever the weather permits, I’m able to take my mother in her wheelchair and my two (extremely well-behaved) small children to Sandy Ridge without ever getting stuck. The path is hard, and extremely well maintained. In addition to the wetland birds we always see deer, often turtles, frogs, the occasional snake, owls in the evening, and beautiful grassland birds like meadowlarks or the Northern Oriole that greeted us right out of the car last week.
In an extraordinary step to increase the accessibility of the park, they now offer birding by tram, co-sponsored by the Lorain County Audubon Society. To get to the larger wetland area at Sandy Ridge it’s a little bit of a hike through the woods, so this is a fantastic service offered (free of charge) and a great chance to mingle with other birders in the flock. Call the Metroparks (1-800-LCM-PARK) for a current schedule and reserve your spot.
So, as you see, there’s really no excuse to wait to begin a bird-watching adventure. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, you don’t have to call a travel agent, you can start today! Get Outdoors!