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  Birdwatching in Western PA

Bird watching, like wine tasting, is an acquired taste that adds flavor to common camping, hiking, and hunting.

It's practiced by true connoisseurs who appreciate the finer sights and sounds of nature. My son became a bird watcher (properly known as a "birder") after a science lesson showed the variety among bird beaks and bird feet. A nearby nature center had a display of local birds where we could look at beaks and feet of sparrows and hawks and ducks at our leisure—and then we got hooked. But you can also get hooked by what you hear. "Who is singing?" I thought every spring for years. "Who is it who goes twee-twee-twee every March morning at 5:30 a.m.?" I was thrilled when I joined a birding group and finally connected a face to that singing menace.

Birds are hard to see, so if I were you, I wouldn’t really bother looking for them. Start easily by waiting to see who lands on your shrubs, flies onto your deck—or into your windshield. Get acquainted with them. Find out their names. Look them up in a bird guide.

Most of the time, you will see the rarest and most colorful birds completely by accident. In order to increase your chances of seeing one of these birds and be able to appreciate it, you need two things: binoculars and an easy reference bird guide. When you stumble upon a bird, binoculars are essential in order to get a closer look at it, so that its distinguishing features may be observed. If it helps, write down the features in a notebook so that it will be easier to recall the bird when you try to identify it in a book. The book you purchase should have a very easy to use table of contents. This will allow you to look up a bird quickly in order to identify its species before it moves. In order to increase your speed at identifying birds, it would be helpful to study the bird guide before going on a trip in order to familiarize yourself with common identifying marks of birds, and well as bird body types. After frequent trips and studying a field guide, you will soon be able to identify most common birds in your area from memory.

Or if you'd rather use your ears, you can buy tapes or CDs of bird calls. Listen to them in your car as you drive to the woods. You'll expand your awareness of the life around you, and add a new dimension to your enjoyment of the environment.

Here are common woodland birds in western Pennsylvania to listen and look for:

  • Common Yellowthroat – sparrow size with black mask, yellow throat, olive body color. Habitat: bushy undergrowth by streams. Says “wichity-wichity.” Link to sound file.
  • Woodthrush – Robin size with rust red body color and spots on white breast. Habitat: sapling infested hillsides. Gorgeous burbling song that says “ee-oh-lay.” Link to sound file.
  • Rufous-sided Towhee – Robin size. Males are black on top, white breast, rusty side patches; females the same but brown on top. Habitat: mature woods with undergrowth. Says “drink your tea.” Link to sound file.

Whitetailed Deer
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