I read several Illinois bird sitings boards and you wanna know what drives me nuts? These expert birders who apparently can identify 50 different warbler species by a brief glimpse of a wing tip. These people can go to one location and tally as many bird species in 6 hours as I have found in 4 months! What really drives me nuts is when one of these mega-birders posts some ginormous list from a location I visited the same day.
This weekend I realized how much practice birding really takes. I spent both days birding part of the morning at Forest Park Nature Center. Friday morning I went by myself and was able to stop and listen and really spend time looking around. I found 30 species in ~2 hours. My favorite part of my hike was one lookout point where I could see red-headed, red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers all around me at the same time. That was really cool! Saturday morning I took the kids. The three of us were crashing around the woods, talking nonstop and paying just as much attention to squirrels and snails and dewdrops on leaves as we were to birds. We had a great time, but the only new year bird I picked up was a summer tanager who was singing loudly from a dead tree. He was spectacular and I couldn't have missed him!
I'm learning that birding takes a huge amount of time and patience. To see all those extra species, I'd need to be willing to spend the time to scope every little dot on the lake. I need to learn to ID a lot more bird songs. I need to learn to tell apart the umpteen different sparrows and warblers and flycatchers and vireos. In other words, I have a LOT to learn and that is a wonderful thing. Right now, I want to spend time with my kids and get them outside. If they would rather bike paved areas than slog through tick-infested marshes, I'm good with that. I'll go battle the ticks and gnats and mosquitoes on my own time.
This past winter I got pretty good at identifying different waterfowl. This spring and summer I'll work on the sparrows and other little guys. I've seen 4 owls this year I never would have seen if I wasn't specifically looking for them. Birding is a great hobby. Once I've mastered the birds of Illinois, I can work on the birds of the rest of the United States and then the whole world. Okay, I'll probably never have the resources to get that crazy, but it's good to know my options are limitless.