House Sparrows hop along the sidewalks of downtown Washington, even on a 20-degree day. There are starlings galore and the occasional mockingbird. But my warblers, buntings and finches flew south months ago.
I find myself craving a forest silence shattered by birdsong and the endorphin rush of spotting a male in full breeding colors. It’s a glorious state of oblivion I can’t seem to get any other way.
How did this “birding thing” become so addictive?
My gardening friends tell me it’s much the same for them, only with dirt, blooms and weeds. To get through the Massachusetts offseason, my sister-in-law studies seed catalogs and salivates.
Birding magazines are a bit like seed catalogs, but they just weren’t doing the trick. Then, on Facebook, I discovered an extremely entertaining way to help fill the void.
It’s a Facebook Group called “What’s This Bird?” where folks post photos of birds they can’t identify. Other birders tell you what it is. (This is a Public Group from the American Birding Association. Sign in to Facebook, and then click here to check it out.)
For starters, you’ll notice that most of the photos are same-day, and all of them say exactly where and when the bird was found. This gives me a sense of “being there” — Armchair Birding in a revved up way.
This Group is also like a quiz to test your own identification skills. Some of these folks are crackerjack birders who take the time to point out subtle details that can be surprisingly enlightening.
For example, there’s a photo hanging in our hallway that Anders took of what I thought was a Little Blue Heron in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area near Crystal River, Fla. I spotted its twin on “What’s This Bird?” – but they had it identified as a Tricolored Heron.
I was dumbfounded. So I hit the “reply” button and asked why the bird was so blue. The response took less than five seconds: “It’s in breeding plumage.”
Duh. I had always assumed Tricolors were brown on the neck and pretty much slate gray everywhere else. I promptly headed over to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of North America website to get myself properly educated.
“What’s This Bird?” is well worth a visit. But be forewarned – Armchair Birding can be addictive, too.
There are many other Facebook Pages and Groups, Bird Cams, and You Tube videos. What are your favorite places for Armchair Birding? We’d love to get your input in the Comments section a few stops below this post.