November 4, 2005
Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
My birding addiction, like that of many other birders, began with a life-changing personal encounter with an individual bird.  One summer my future wife and I were canoeing through the water wilderness along the Minnesota/Canadian border and were dive-bombed by a coal black bird with brilliant scarlet epaulettes.  Spooky and spectacular, and we were clueless.  We wanted to put a label on the bird and find out why.

Unlike say, golf or horses, your birding addiction is going to be relatively inexpensive.  You only need two purchases--a field guide and binoculars.  If you’re just beginning, you need Kenn Kaufman’s Birds Of North America.  It is the most user friendly of the dozens of guide books, and it fits easily into your back pocket.

Kaufman is arguably the best field ornithologist in the country, but his writing style is accessible and the birds are arranged by structure and habitat.  His goal is to keep it simple and fun so that you stay involved and begin to appreciate, then care for and protect our environment.

If your introduction to birding was a close encounter, you didn’t need binoculars, but you’re going to want them right away as your curiosity for what’s farther out there quickly outstrips your unaided eyes.  Unless it’s your personality to go for it all right away, a glass that is highly recommended for starters is the Nikon 7x35 Action which retails for around $85.  Later, after you’re hooked and have looked through the bins (binoculars) of experienced birders, the brand names you’ll want to check out are Leica, Zeiss, and Swarovski.

All equipped out now, but nowhere to go?  Access the Maricopa Audubon Society’s website at  Their online newsletter has a schedule of field trips, beginners always and especially welcomed.  If you live on the far west side, the local chapter is the Sonoran Audubon Society.  Sooner or later you will probably want to join one of these and/or the National Audubon Society and begin receiving their publications with information about activities and environmental issues.

I’m going to give you a head start on all this.  Here are two events you should put on your calendar.  At 8AM on the third Saturday of each month through March, Maricopa Audubon hosts Beginner Birdwalks at Gilbert Water Ranch at the southeast corner of Greenfield and Guadalupe Roads.  Loaner binoculars and guide books are available, children encouraged.  And tomorrow, November 5, marks the grand opening of the long-awaited Rio Salado Audubon Center at Central Avenue and the Salt River.  The program begins at 9AM with a Nature Festival to follow from 10-2PM. 

Chances are good that you’ll see, at both these events, some Red-winged Blackbirds, the bird that harassed us on our canoe trip and became the first bird on our “list” (more about “listing” later).  Turns out, it is one of the more common birds in the country, and we had no doubt intruded, inadvertently, too close to its nest.  Addictions usually start that way, unexpectedly and with the commonplace.  Birding is a benign one which will add interest and joy to your life.