Birding is a popular pastime in America and one that people of all ages can enjoy.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service there are more than 51 million birders in this country, and the number continues to grow.
"It is a joy. A lot of people say the joy of watching birds is infectious. It is thrilling when you see a Carolina wren in the dead of winter. It is fun to watch a Baltimore oriole weave her pendulous nest while her mate sings to her; not helping with the work, just singing," birder Tish Swam of Shrewsbury Township said.
It is easy to get started. Swam recommends a good field guide, binoculars and a spotting scope on a tripod for a closer look. You may also want to carry a notebook and a camera, she said.
"It is always helpful to have a camera. I have a little digital camera I carry in my purse. A lot of people keep journals, a list of birds they see, some daily, some lifetime," Swam said.
It is important to read the books, observe and learn, and because birders are excited to share their interest with others, a good place to start would be by tagging along with someone who is knows the ropes.
"Karen Lippy inspired me to be a birder and taught me that you can enjoy birds as long as you can see and hear," Swam said.
Swam and Lippy are among the volunteers who monitor the bluebird boxes at Codorus State Park.
"We do it at least once a week. We keep records of the number of eggs, the numbers that hatch and fledge and the different birds who nest in the boxes. Opening the boxes is like Christmas. You never know what you are going to find. bluebirds, house wrens, chickadees. I've never found a snake and I'm not sure what I would do if I found one," Swam said.
Codorus State Park is popular because there are many different species to see.
Most birders keep a close eye on the osprey nest at the end of Marine Road, and it is also a good place to observe eagles and woodcocks, she said.
The area offers several other places to see birds of all kinds.
"The rookery at Kiwanis Lake is an important breeding area for blue-crowned night herons, yellow-crowned night herons and egrets where they are educating people in area of their importance and the value of having this so close by. Middle Creek is the place for snow geese where you can watch them take off and land by the thousands. Visit Rocky Ridge County Park for the fall raptor migration and the Warblers in the spring," Swam said.
But if you want to see an even wider variety of birds, it might involve some traveling.
I've recorded 326 different species. I have seen lots of them in York County but I also do some traveling to see birds," she said.
She recalled the excitement of a May 1 spotting of the rose breasted grosbeak, stopping to refuel before heading to Canada to breed. There was a night time owl walk and thrill of hearing an owl respond to a recorded call, and an Audubon-sponsored trip to Gettysburg, led by a licensed battlefield guide and birder who talked of the battle and the various kinds of wildlife that call the battlefield home.
If you want to attract birds to your backyard, you will need feeders, trees and cover, preferably native plants and a source of water, such as a bird bath or stream. Feed black oil sunflower seed and avoid mixes because there is a lot of waste, she said.
Karen Lippy of Hanover got into birding almost by accident.
"I always enjoyed walking outdoors. In 1983 I joined other volunteers at Codorus State Park monitoring bluebird boxes and Larry Rorhbaugh, who was in charge of the program, encouraged us to carry binoculars and look at all wildlife. It wasn't long before I was hooked on birding," Lippy said.
The bluebird nest box trail at Codorus State Park began in the early 1970s when Dr. Thomas, an optometrist from Spring Grove, put out many boxes in York County.
"It took thirteen years to get the first successful nesting of bluebirds. They were that rare at one time. But as we began having success at the park, people began erecting boxes all around it and they also had success. We've raised thousands of bluebirds, tree swallows, tufted titmice, chickadees and house wrens in the boxes over the years.
The trail was once the largest in the state and even though are now fewer boxes because there aren't enough volunteers to monitor them, it is still a great trail, she said.
The boxes are important because there are so few natural cavities for birds, she said.
"Nest boxes are not only for bluebirds, but for owls, flycatchers and purple martins fill that void. Without the boxes, bluebirds would never have returned in the numbers they have. But they serve another important factor to nature. They provide a link where anyone can watch the miracle of nest building, egg laying, hatch and fledge of many species of birds. They provide a window that can be shared by people of all ages into nature. It brings beautiful birds into our lives in a personal way and makes us care what happens to these birds. You need little time on the trail to see how much seems to be against these birds and yet they prevail against the odds and the species live on. That's very important," Lippy said.
In addition to Codorus State Park, other great local sites include lakes Redman and Williams, and Caledonia and Pinchot state parks. Community parks and local water reservoirs, woodlands, grasslands, brushy areas, shorelines and waterways also are great places to watch birds, she said.
Serious birders will travel to distant sites, as well.
"Every birder should visit Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania to watch the migration of hawks in the fall. Middlecreek Wildlife Area near Klinefeltersville is the hot spot for snow geese in February and March. Short-eared owls are a specialty on Confederate Avenue near Gettysburg, and Conowingo, just over the Pennsylvania line in Maryland, is spectacular for watching bald eagles in November and December I've been birding in Texas, Arizona, Nebraska, and Florida. These were all planned birding trips and we hit birding hot spots. I believe most states now have official birding trails geared toward bringing in bucks for birds," Lippy said.
If you are looking for help to get started, the York Audubon has several birders who are willing to share their knowledge on field trips. Local parks often sponsor birding outings led by paid or volunteer naturalists, community colleges usually offer beginning bird classes and Lancaster County has a large birding organization, she said.
Optics are very important if you really want a good look at the birds, she said. When choosing binoculars, Lippy's advice is to try before you buy and buy the best you can afford right off the bat because you will continue to invest in improving as your birding skills improve and wind up paying more in the long run for several inferior pairs before you get to the pair you like, she said.
There are many field guides to chose from. Study them and pick out birds you would like to see, she said.
"I would advise beginners to start with a Birds of the East guide which shows all birds found locally. When you start doing long distance trips, and you will, you will need a Birds of North America guide," Lippy said.
Do your part to protect our bird population by eliminating or reducing our dependence on pesticides and create habitat for birds by providing food, shelter, water and space, she said.
Put out several small clusters of feeders to prevent any one bird from bullying the others away. Feed a variety of foods to get the widest variety of birds. If you can only afford to buy one type of seed, make it sunflower and not a mix. Feed at different levels, on the ground and hanging and platform feeders. Don't put out more seed than the birds can eat daily. Putting out too much seed attracts rodents, Lippy said.
"You're going to have hawks come in to grab the small birds. This is natural, although we don't like it. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks eat small birds. I always say they only take the '4 S birds' - the sick, the slow, the stupid and the surplus. By removing sick birds, they prevent the spread of disease among birds. By removing those that are too slow or too stupid to respond to hawk warnings given by other birds, they remove birds that might weaken the gene pool of a species," Lippy said.
Nature provides a bounty of young birds each season. It is estimated that sixty percent of the young will not survive to the next year. These are the surplus. A pair of birds only has to produce a single successful pair of young to replace them to keep a species stable. With good habitat and enough food and water, they can do so, she said.
Lippy said birders keep all sorts of lists of sightings, month lists, year lists, life lists, county lists, state lists, big day lists and of course, rare and unusual sighting.
"I have the privilege of being one of the very few people, only 3 three I believe, to see Pennsylvania's 'Bird of the Century,'" she said.
It was 1991, and Lippy was going out the door to look for birds when her brother stopped her and told her to watch a new clip about a Ross's gull. The gull, normally found in Asia, was spotted at a sewer treatment plant in Maryland and thousands were coming to see it, in spite of the foul stench in the air.
"My brother said, 'Are you going?' I told him I would wait till it came to me and darned if it didn't.
About a week later I was birding with a friend at Codorus when we saw this small gull flying over the mudflats."
I told him to look at the field guide and I would describe the gull. When I did, he said it was a Ross's gull. I told him to look again because the odds were pretty good that it wasn't. But he still insisted I was describing a Ross. I told him to look at the bird and I'd look at the book, and by gosh, that's what it was," Lippy said.
She returned to Codorus the next day with a brand new camcorder and filmed the bird.
"I tried to spread the word about the gull, but the York County compiler told me it was no big deal. When I sent the video tape in, the Pennsylvania Ornithological Society thought it was a big deal and people were furious that they weren't told. It has been called the 'bird of the century' and everyone wanted it on their Pennsylvania list. I have a few other great sightings of rare and unusual birds, but this is the best.
It takes patience and persistence to photograph birds, said Zona Reiss.
"When I see a bird I get my camera but I have to shoot through the glass. I wait quietly to get the best shot," she said.
Among her most unusual photos were those of "a hawk taking a leisure soak in my bird bath," she said. Soon a second and then a third hawk joined the party and Reiss took 100 photos and video using her iPad.
"I just watched the blue eyed hawks cooling off from that intense heat that Saturday. I will never forget this experience til the day I die," she said.
Fran Marple of Manchester Township also said birding takes a lot of patience.
"I love birding and taking pictures of birds and anything that I think is beautify or interesting. I have over fifty pictures of the red tailed hawks from the day I discovered the nest on March 11 until the three babies fledged at the end of May. The most important thing is patience," Marple wrote.
Marple also finds happiness is passing the love of birding on to her granddaughter.
"My 3-year-old granddaughter, Lexa Wood, can identify at least twenty birds and can also tell you what they say. It is a real joy to be able to pass my love of birds on to her," Marple wrote.
Code of honor
FEW PEOPLE are around when you find new birds and they don't often stick around for the next birder to show up.
But, in most instances, if the finder gives a good account of the sighting with detailed notes, his or her word is accepted.
If one person makes too many questionable reports without photographic or secondary verification, their sightings may not be accepted by other birders, Karen Lippy said.
"Most birders obey the rule of take only photos, leave only footprints. And trespassing on others' property without permission is strictly taboo," she said.
Lastly, no matter how much you want to see a bird, if there is any chance that you may cause undue stress to a nesting pair or rare birds, stay away. Put out good karma and you may get another chance.
THE YORK AUDUBON SOCIETY meets 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at Luther Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1907 Hollywood Drive, Spring Garden Township. Visitors are welcome.
More information on the York Audubon Society is available at www.yorkaudubon.org.
Codorus State Park
CODORUS STATE PARK is a great place for birding. For a weekly list of activities, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visitpaparks.com
York County Parks
YORK COUNTY PARKS offer a variety of bird programs throughout the year.
Programs include the spring migration of warblers to the fall migration of hawks, eagles and other birds of prey, naturalist Kelsey Frey said.
For more information, visit yorkcountyparks.org.