A City Girl’s First Time Birding

Audubon intern Daija Graves recounts the lessons learned on her first journey into the woods with binoculars.

By Audubon North Carolina intern Daija Graves

I never considered myself to be a bird lover, but I always paid close attention to nature. When I was growing up, playing outside was one of my favorite things to do, and sitting inside was a punishment. My grandmother and I would spend warm summer days gardening in her backyard. I would see butterflies, dragonflies, and on one particular day I witnessed my first cardinal.

My grandmother quickly told me, “Blow a kiss at the cardinal for good luck!” This was my very first bird encounter, and 15 years later I still remember the exact moment. On April 17 I had the pleasure of joining New Hope Audubon Society on one of their weekly bird walks. As a Communications Intern for Audubon North Carolina, I’ve covered Lobby Day and written about an upcoming statewide Audubon gathering, but wanted to attend a bird walk before my internship ended.

I was very enthused to be accompanying New Hope Audubon Society on their weekly bird walk, but as the day approached I started to get nervous. I’m a city girl at heart, with an appreciation of nature. My favorite time of year is when the seasons change, because I love watching the leaves change in the fall and flowers bloom in the spring. I was born and raised in Charlotte, a.k.a. the Queen City. I have never been camping overnight or hiking, so I was unsure about what to wear and what to bring. I’m thankful that on this particular day the weather was perfect. The bird walk leader was Jim Capel. Jim was the perfect person to guide a first time birder.

I met the group at Oak Creek Village Shopping Center off of Durham Chapel Hill Blvd. around 7:30 a.m. My nerves eased as I met Jim and other members because he was very knowledgeable, and the group was excited for me as a first-time birder. We carpooled to our destination, on the west side of Durham at 17 Acres and Indian Trail Park.

Jim said 135 bird species have been recorded at 17 Acres and Indian Trail Park. I was shocked by how many birds have been spotted in that area because of its small size. When we arrived at the location, Jim and other members mentioned the importance of wearing long pants. I immediately asked about the purpose of wearing long pants and high socks. Jim explained during this time of year ticks are out, and protective clothing can prevent ticks from getting to your skin. As mentioned before I am a city girl, and I was not aware of that factor. I was wearing skinny jeans, ankle socks, and my play shoes (Vans). Luckily a member brought some bug spray and allowed me to use it. I was very grateful, because I’ve heard ticks can be a pest.

After I covered my legs and ankles with repellent, the group gathered together. Jim asked everyone to introduce themselves, and ensured that everyone signed the release form. Jim guided the group through Indian Trail Park. Members of the group immediately started to call out different bird names. A lot of members were experts at birding, because they were able to recognize birds not only by sight but by sound. One of the first birds on the walk I witnessed was a Carolina Wren, with a small, chunky, round frame. Jim brought an extra pair of binoculars, so I used his to get a closer look.

At first I had trouble adjusting the binoculars, but a sweet lady helped me. I was grateful that all of the members in the group were just as excited about birding as me. Also not once did a question I had go unanswered. Because of my attire I did not feel comfortable hiking through tall grass, so I stayed on the pavement while others bird watched at a hotspot. A calming spirit of sweet chirping occurred while I waited for the group to return. I love nature, and not only did we see birds, we saw wild rabbits, squirrels, and joggers with dogs. Being outdoors brings me happiness and gives me energy. After the group came back together I witnessed a cardinal, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered when I was a child. I know it’s a common bird in North Carolina, but I always get so excited when I see one. It reminds me of hot summer days spent with my grandma.

Jim said he has five years of experience birding, but Kent, another group member, is the expert because he has been birding for almost 58 years.

The group and I crossed the street to 17 Acres, which was by far the best moment there. I stood with a couple of members and we saw a big bird swooosh down from a tree. Immediate chatter began as we determined whether it was an owl or hawk. As we grabbed our binoculars to get a closer look, we decided it was indeed an owl. I was super confused by an owl being out in the open in broad daylight, but I was told that owls can be seen any time of day; they are just well-adapted to catch prey at night.

Overall I enjoyed my first bird walk. I loved meeting Audubon members. Also Jim Chapel was a very helpful guide, and he knew his birds. I joked with the group, “Next time I will be sure to wear long pants and high socks!”

It was hard in the beginning to get a good view of the birds, because they would fly away just as I got my binoculars ready.

Jim said to be a good bird watcher you have to be quick and slow on the feet.

I have a few tips for first-time birders:

  1. Wear LONG pants and HIGH socks.
  2. Bring insect repellent to fight against pesky insects.
  3. Bring water and binoculars to see birds more clearly.
  4. Bring a notebook to record as many birds as you see.
  5. Bring a good spirit.
  6. Be quick and slow on the feet.

I loved my first-time birding experience, and I will be looking for birding hotspots in Dallas, Texas, where I will be joining Teach For America Dallas-Fort Worth Corps after graduation.

Happy birding!

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