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Going Green on Whidbey Island

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Red Breasted What?

January 4th, 2014 at Sat, 4th, 2014 at 2:46 pm by maribeth crandell

Yesterday I was waiting for the bus on a rural road.  A man approached looking up at the tree tops.  “I just saw a beautiful Red Breasted …”  If he had said Sapsucker I would have been impressed.  But he said Hawk which told me he didn’t know his birds.  I assumed he saw a Red Tailed Hawk, which truly are beautiful.  He got that right.

I mentioned how much fun I’d had going out on the Christmas Bird Count.   As we got on the bus he said he had a hard time telling a Great Blue Heron from a Great Grey Heron.  I said it was because they’re the same bird.  I told him one of the big events of my recent bird watching outings was seeing a Shrike near Crockett Lake, but even after studying the book I didn’t know if it was a Northern Shrike or a Loggerhead Shrike.

On the Bird Count I was the designated driver for my team, because I was one of the worst birders. In general good birders make poor drivers. But I had a great time trying to find birds, any birds, and counting them. I learned a lot from the better birders and was inspired to become a better birder myself.

This year I joined the Audubon Society.  It was sort of a New Year’s resolution to keep working on it.   I keep my binoculars by the window and started keeping a notebook tracking who is coming and going in my yard, Dark Eyed Junco’s, Chestnut Backed Chickadees, Varied Thrush and Rufus Sided Towhees are residents.  I hear the Great Horned Owls at night and at dawn and the Red Winged Blackbirds.  On a walk on the beach this morning there were dozens of Wigeons, a few Harlequin Ducks and a Loon of some kind.

My mother was the first to teach me about birds.  She taught me how to tell a thrush from a thrasher, a wren from a warbler and all the various jays and woodpeckers.  As an adult I worked as a naturalist in many wonderful wilderness areas, but birds weren’t my specialty.  I concentrated on plants, they don’t move around much, change from a summer to a winter wardrobe, sing different songs depending on their neighborhood or dress differently according to gender.  Birding is tricky!

Why would anyone take the time and trouble to study birds?  For me birds are beautiful and fascinating creatures, so varied, colorful and accessible wherever you go.  There are falcons nesting among skyscrapers and under bridges in Seattle and Bellevue.  There are little songbirds that fly for thousands of miles from one continent to another.  Flightless birds that swim, or run, or kick or dance.  They’re related to dinosaurs!  How cool is that?  No matter where you go you’ll encounter birds.

Because they’re everywhere, on every continent, they’re tied to all environments.  They need habitat and keeping track of bird populations, like on the Christmas Bird Count, will help alert us to environmental degradation that effects birds and hundreds of other species.  The “canary in the mine shaft” is true of more than mine shafts.

But mostly I wanted to join Whidbey Audubon because I think it will make me a better person.  There are good people who are members.  I’ll be able to learn from them and get to know them better as friends.  I’ll go on field trips that will get me outside  and into interesting new places.  I’m looking forward to the interesting evening programs and speakers they have scheduled.  And it will keep my mind active and sharpen my skills of observation.

Charles Lindberg said, “If I had to chose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”  I’d have to agree.

Maribeth Crandell has a green thumb. Most of the rest of her is "green", as well. She's worked in city, state and national parks as a naturalist, educator and guide, on ships and on shore from the Columbia River to Southeast Alaska. She offers presentations for 6 year olds to seniors. She publishes articles, sings songs, plays the banjo and hikes trails. In fact, in 2006 she hiked the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. She's been an educator for the Whidbey Institute, Fort Casey State Park, the Whidbey Watershed Stewards Outdoor Classroom, Island County Recycling, Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve and for 5 years worked as the Environmental Educator for the City of Oak Harbor. She's been a consistent voice on Whidbey Island leading the way toward sustainability. Because Maribeth has a green thumb, along with the rest of her.

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