The Casual Bird-Watcher, Part 1: How I Learned to Name That Bird

Kit Dunsmore's Blog

I’ve loved animals of all kinds all my life. When my parents asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, the answer was always “go to the zoo”. I loved getting a close look at all the different mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, and birds. But my interest in animals has always been as an amateur. I’ve never even had a class in basic biology. I was too scared. I knew there would be dissections and I didn’t think I could handle it. So I studied other sciences and paid attention to animals in my off hours.

The closest I got to having a job related to wildlife was working for the Bioacoustics Research Program, which is part of Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology. The job was not what you might think. I spent most of my time in front of computers. I started out analyzing recordings of…

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The Casual Bird-Watcher, Part 2: Tips for the Beginning Birder

Kit Dunsmore's Blog

As I have slowly developed my bird-watching skills over the years, some simple tips have really helped me learn new birds despite my casual approach.

I started out just by looking at birds and asking others what they were. Eventually I got some binoculars and a field guide, tools that definitely make it easier to see the details that distinguish the differences between similar species, like the notorious LBBs (Little Brown Birds). One other tool I’ve found helpful is a camera with a zoom lens. A good picture can show you details you didn’t see at first and help with identification.

But you don’t need any of these things to enjoy bird watching. You can just look out the window.

Here are the simple things I have done to improve my birding skills.

1) I do most of my birding in my own neighborhood. When I eat my breakfast…

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Indoor Birding: 5 Ways to Bird Despite Bad Weather

Kit Dunsmore's Blog

Whether it’s bitter winter weather or just an overly rainy day, you can’t always be outside. I can’t, anyway. My body doesn’t deal with cold well, but I don’t like withdrawing from nature, either. So I find ways to keep birding even though I can’t be outside as much as I would like.

1) Keep a yard list. We have feeders in our yard so I can watch birds by looking out my window. A surprising variety of birds (39 species) visit our suburban yard, and I wouldn’t have realized it if I hadn’t taken the time to really look. Some of the more surprising birds that I’ve seen in our yard: green-tailed towhee, Steller’s jay, great horned owl and common nighthawk. Even on the days that it’s just the usual crowd (house finches, goldfinches, chickadees, and robins), I take the time to look closely. You never know when someone…

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7 Frustrating Truths About Birding

Kit Dunsmore's Blog

Back in March, I spent a week in southern Arizona birding. While I have looked for birds while hiking in the past, this was my first trip dedicated to birding. I discovered that focused birding is both wonderful and frustrating. Here’s what I learned.

BTSP_web Black-throated Sparrow (photo by Kurt Fristrup)

1) Birding can be intense. Knowing I might see something I’d never seen before made me vigilant. I concentrated and was alert whenever I was outside. Eventually, every little movement got my attention and I found myself gazing at a spiderweb glinting in the sunlight or a leaf shivering the in the breeze. Given how many leaves there are out there, it’s not surprising how tired I was by the end of the day.

ACWO Acorn Woodpecker: Looks like a clown, acts like a king.  (photo by Kurt Fristrup)

2) You need to take your binoculars everywhere. I missed a…

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Pink-Footed Goose: The Rewards of Acting On A Whim

Kit Dunsmore's Blog

Sunday, on a whim, Kurt and I went to look for the locally rare pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus). A bird that breeds in Iceland and Greenland, it occasionally finds it’s way to North America in the winter. To make it as far west as Colorado is unusual indeed. It was hanging out in a flock of thousands of other geese, making it difficult to see, but we thought we’d try any way.

We first heard about it from some birders who were checking out the gulls at our neighborhood lake. They told us how tricky it was to spot, a needle in a mountain of straight pins. I was interested, knowing how odd it was for the goose to be in our state. But it wasn’t until a Facebook friend posted her picture of the bird on Saturday that I thought we should try to see it ourselves.

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Looking Back on 2018


With the exception of yet another romantic failure, by all measures 2018 was a great year.  Without question the highlight was the addition of Griffin Pascal Leung to the family as my first grandchild.  Although he arrived on the scene a month early, he is healthy and happy and definitely a cutie.  Parents Miya and Lester are wonderful parents.  Unfortunately, I only got to visit them and Griffin in Newton, MA twice and Miya and Griffin made the trek to Seattle once.  I am looking forward to time with them in Hawaii next month.

Grandson Griffin – Maybe a Birder in the Future – But Entirely His Choice

Griffin Birder

As best I can recall there were only two health issues in 2018, some very brief congestion after a plane ride that was chilly or worse and some bursitis in my left knee after the crowded San Diego Pelagic trip and that…

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Goose odyssey

Wading through Wigeon

Going back to my roots – a trip to the Fylde.

After Stuart Piner’s superb goose haul the other day, I thought I’d give the Fylde flocks a bash.

Eagland Hill via New/Bradshaw Lane was the first port of call. A few small groups of Pinks spread here and there and then 200 or so in the fields north of Bradshaw Lane. First bit of good fortune of the day as a Dark-bellied Brent waddled into view from behind one of the muddy mounds – my 1st of the year and a really nice looking bird.


I could see the main Pink flock was feeding in a distant field, but no way I could scope them from where I was so I headed towards Garstang. Finally managed to get a reasonable vantage point for some of the birds, but 3/4 of the flock were still a bit too distant and…

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