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Many approaches to birding

Those who enjoy the outdoors typically do so for myriad reasons: Fresh air, stress relief, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, or whatever. Getting outside to enjoy some hobby or another commonly leads to other interests as well. Most folks I know who enjoy birds came at it from one side or another but usually from an outdoor pursuit of some sort.

I've been asked how I got into bird watching (or 'birding') many times. I don't quite know how to answer the question without saying something like it, 'basically sprung from just wanting to be outdoors.'

Hunting, believe it or not, is a somewhat common interest among bird enthusiasts. So is an interest in botany, insects, get the picture. Sherry Leslie, Burlington, N.D., told me, "I've never been one for coffee and soap operas," and added, "Birding is very important to me because I love to be outdoors."

There's that 'outdoors' thing again; a very common thread.

Interest in any hobby is sometimes hard to fathom, and enthusiasts arrive from many different angles. Take renowned expert and author Kenn Kaufman. He dropped out of high school and hitchhiked across the country to see as many birds as he could. His book, Kingbird Highway, recounts his quest for birds and wanderlust. How about David Sibley? His interest was cultivated by his ornithologist father, and David merely took it from there. He now is one of the shining stars in the world of birding having illustrated and written some outstanding field guides and books. A mentor isn't a requirement however as I know several people who've gotten hooked on birding by themselves, including Joe and Linda Gregg of Horace.

And, unlike the prodigies above, bird watching is something that can be picked up at any stage in life. I know of several middle-aged folks who are just now discovering the rewards of an outdoor pursuit like birding.

Then, like any hobby, there are varying levels of participation. Some folks go hog-wild and spend every waking moment thinking about their next bird. Others merely read the paper every morning and cast an occasional glance outside at their bird feeder.

The well-off among us will spend thousands of dollars taking guided bird trips to far away places like Antarctica, Costa Rica or China. Yet plenty of folks are content to stay home and keep an alert eye out at their own yards. The Greggs are exemplars of this. They mostly bird from their living room, but they do have an advantage. Linda said, "We live along the river so we don't have to go very far to see a variety of birds."

Most birders I know occupy a spot somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Yes, they will put up a feeder or two and yes, they will take a walk or drive now and then to see birds. But rarely do most of us trek off to India in hot pursuit of a newly discovered bird species. We have jobs and families and other interests to balance our time.

How about favorite birds among birders? Sibley, like most, has several but leans toward those with a certain personality, such as Yellow-breasted Chat or Common Raven. Gregg's favorites include Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The Black-capped Chickadee captures Leslie's heart. "They just make me feel happy with their antics and are not very shy."

In the end it really makes little difference what got us outside in the first place. What's important is simply opening the door. Once that first step is taken the possibilities are endless. Plus, you never know, you just may start to wonder what bird that was singing in the tree.