Ornithologists r us
“Ornithology is for the birds,” I remarked to my friends early this winter while waiting for my daily latte at the local coffee shop. You should have heard the not-so-subtle groans and seen the exaggerated eye-rolling when I uttered those words. I thought I was being clever. I guess I was the only one.
Better back up. Over the last few months I have become increasingly interested in the raptors, songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl and other birds who have the great fortune to experience Cody Yellowstone from the sky. My wildlife watching interests had previously been primarily focused on the four-legged kind. Especially the glam species, like bison, elk, wolves and bears.
Then one day last December, in what I estimate was a four-second span, I watched a Golden Eagle soar from the sky and pluck a Goldeneye from a stream, causing this common duck to drop its own dinner of still-flopping trout before it became the eagle’s dinner. A brutal moment. But beautiful too.
And just like that, I became a birdwatcher. I began pointing my binoculars skyward more regularly. If you’re looking for wildlife action, I found, that’s where it is consistently. You can almost always find something interesting happening in the sky, on tree branches, in wet marshes and along the rivers. It has also become my habit to shut my eyes and tune in to the constant birdsong. It’s amazing to me how much of nature’s music I have missed by failing to simply listen for it.
Yellowstone Country is home to nearly 300 species of birds. And because of the diversity of elevation and habitat in and around the park, birding opportunities vary from place to place. They also vary seasonally. In the spring, for example, you can see American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ruffled Grouse, Red-Tailed Hawk, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Black-billed Magpie, Pine Siskin, Pied-billed Grebe, Bald Eagles, Clark’s Nutcracker and so many more.
As a budding birder, I find it difficult to tell the difference between, say, a Song Sparrow and a Savannah Sparrow. So I bought a good field guide, and I take lots of photos to help me correctly identify the species. I also keep notes on what I see, time of day, weather conditions and location.
After sharing my notes and photos with some of my java-loving friends, a few have been joining me on my early-morning excursion into the wild to watch and listen for the winged creatures of Yellowstone. Sometimes we see something spectacular, like a hungry Golden Eagle in action. Even if it is just a so-so day in the field, though, we are happy. We are, after all, in Yellowstone on an early morning listening to an ever-changing symphony of birdsong. They’re singing to all of us. And they’ll sing to you too. If you let them.
Until next time, I’m loving life and watching the skies here in Cody Yellowstone.