Bailey Park 55+ Community Located in Benton, PA Phone: 570.925.2077
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Wings of Desire
Actress Jane Alexander on the bliss of birding
When my four boys were little, we moved to rural Putnam County, north of New York City. Each spring, the swallows, flycatchers and song birds would race up our lawn in the air circle, and make a ruckus. I recognized that this was their home as much as ours, and I began to fall in love - hard in love - with birds.
Now I look for birds every day. I can't not look. My most intensive birding is in my own patch, around my house and neighborhood. I just take a gander outside. Anyone can do it.
I discovered that birding was a great hobby to have on film locations. Whereever I was shooting, I'd take my binoculars and my Perterson field guide. Now I have my apps on my iPhone - iBird Pro, Audubon Birds, the Sibley eGuide to Birds.
These days I live in Nova Scotia half the year. There I see the arctic tern, which travels some 44,000 miles a year. It goes to Antarctica, then comes back and breeds in Canada. It crosses the Atlantic. My God! Wanting to see birds where they lived during our winter, I started to travel to those places. I've been to Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Brazil. I'll go just about anywhere for birds.
My favorite sighting occurred three years ago in Bhutan. I mentioned to our guide that I hoped to spot a Himalayan monal, a gorgeous chicken-size pheasant with iridescent feathers that lives at altitudes as high as 14,800 feet. He said, "We'll depart before dawn, head up the mountain and just may see one." We arrived at a monastery where an old monk had put out some bird feed. With the sun breaking over the horizon and the snow-capped mountains behind, a Himalayan monal suddenly appeared on the hill, right in my shadow. "This bird knows I called it in my heart," I said. As the sunlight illuminated its feathers, tears streamed down my face. It was so beautiful.
I see birds as messengers of what's happening with climate; they're the canaries in the mine. A new Audubon Society report says that dozens of North American Species may not make it to 2080. I already see fewer flocks of warblers in the spring, and the lovely Canada Warbler hardly at all.
But it's not all doom and gloom. We brought back the bad eagle. The whooping crane isn't extinct. Ordinary people can make a difference. Up to 77 percent of the data in scientific reports on birds and climate change come from birders like us. We can do the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. I have a grandson, and his first word was "dub," for "dove." I started him on the Christmas Bird Count when he was 4, and he loved it. I introduce everybody I meet to birding. And they love it, too.