My Birding Backstory

  Lesser Goldfinch (female)

Lesser Goldfinch (female)

I spent many years creeping up on birding. I grew up trout fishing and hiking in the Sierra, spent a decade as a fly fishing instructor, tour guide, and shop manager, then went into the environmental consulting business. Through all of it I was always aware of birds, always had an eye and ear out for them, but never quite made the transition from causal observer to active birder. Then one Valentine's Day my wife bought me a little bird feeder for the backyard. I filled it up with sunflower hearts and instantly fell in love with a flock of Goldfinches. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today I'm still mostly a backyard birder. I have a life list, but for now I don't have the burning desire to fill it up that some people seem to possess (I fully realize the bug could bite at any time). What I personally find most interesting is observing and interacting with the regulars in my yard which include Lesser and American Goldfinches, House Finches, Scrub Jays, Mourning Doves, White-Crowned Sparrows, Bushtits, Oak Titmice, Anna's Hummingbirds, Black Phoebes, and on occasion, Cedar Waxwings. The full Yard List is up to around 20, but these are the current regulars.

The Goldfinches provide the most consistent entertainment. They've become quite accustomed to having me in the yard, and pay only slightly more attention to me than they do to the picnic table. This allows me to get extremely close to them, and with my 400mm lens I'm able to watch their subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) interactions up close and personal. It's to the point now that I recognize some individuals in the group, and some even seem to have their own personalities and mannerisms. I spend about an hour a day out back with them and they provide me with copious amounts of entertainment and stress relief.

Second only to the Goldfinches is our resident Scrub Jay (we call him "Bub"). He comes and goes all day, checking on his personal peanut feeder to make sure no other birds are touching it. He's a bit of a bully, but not to the point that any harm is done. The Goldfinches retreat to the top of the plum tree when he comes barreling in, but they don't really seem to take him very seriously. It's almost as if they're rolling their eyes and tapping their feet as they impatiently watch him strutting around the yard, flexing his muscles and taking stock of the situation. The minute he leaves, they're right back at the feeders. It's all quite hilarious. 

What delights me most about birding is that it's made me aware of the invisible, secret world of tiny songbirds. It's as if another sense was turned on and now I'm able to see this incredible beauty to which I was previously blind. What a gift!