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My Column: Birding Courses & More

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My latest column for The Record and other USA Today newspapers is about online birding courses, some excellent (non-field guide) birding books and more. Plus a photo by Barbara Dilger!

You can read it here:

By Jim Wright
Special to The Record

  With several weeks of winter remaining and birding conditions unpredictable, now’s a great time to improve your birding skills.

   In conjunction with a book project, I recently enrolled in “The Wonderful World of Owls,” an online video course presented by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The course is from the folks that brought you the excellent eBird and Merlin app, and it provides an informative overview of these elusive nocturnal predators.

   Other tantalizing three-hour courses include “Feeder Birds: Identification and Behavior,” “Bird Song Basics: Getting Started with Birding by TheRecordBergenEdition_20220203_LF03_0-page-001Ear,” and a pair of two-hour-plus courses on being a better birder.

   If you’re getting started with the amazing eBird app, you can watch a free three-hour course called “eBird Essentials.” I wish I’d watched it when I started using the app over a decade ago, though I am not sure the course existed back then. 

   When the weather improves, be sure to sign up for Bergen County Audubon Society's free birding for beginners course at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 24. Don Torino, the group’s leader, will present an introduction to birding that includes bird identification, field guides and optics.  Weather permitting, a walk will follow.  Bring binoculars if you have them.  Meet at the Carriage House, N.J. Botanical Garden, Ringwood. RSVP to Don: [email protected]

     Just before year’s end, I asked readers to name their favorite birding books in hopes that they offer some advice for 2022. I found these three responses most intriguing.

     “One of my personal favorites is ‘Ravens in Winter,’ by Bernd Heinrich,” writes Arlene Aughey of  Saddle Brook.  “It’s a non-fiction book about these fascinating – especially in how comparable male teenage crows are to our species! –  and intelligent birds.”

    To Arlene’s advice, I would add that almost any book by Heinrich provides a good read. Especially relevant this time of year is “Winter World.” Heinrich discusses everything from how many sunflower seeds a chipmunk can fit into one cheek pouch (60) to how chickadees’ denser plumage helps them survive cold winters.

   Wayne Ross of River Edge writes that hardly a day goes by without he and his 2½-year-old granddaughter reading “Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson.       

    “It’s a beautifully illustrated children's book with lessons of sibling closeness while momma is away providing for her babies,” writes Wayne. “This helps her understand that mommy and daddy need to work, but always come back when the day is done. I enjoy it as much as she does!”

    Pat Walsh recommends Jennifer Ackerman's “The Genius of Birds,” explaining  that she enjoys “reading books that engender a sense of wonder and awe at the natural world.” Me, too.

Here’s another question for you, possible grist for a future column. On a podcast many weeks ago, ace birder Noah Strycker discussed his “spark bird” – the bird that sparked his interest in birding. What’s yours? Please email me.

The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at [email protected].