Birding was the original Pokémon Go. As with any activity that increases your appreciation of the world around you, becoming a birder can add more depth and meaning to your life. My favorite way to bird in the Houston area is while jogging–I see the greatest number of species during my long runs. When I lived in San Diego, I also liked to bird while cycling through the canyons and mesas there. (In fact, unbeknownst to me for years, I routinely cycled past endangered California gnatcatchers.) The best way to see many bird species in one day, besides going to the zoo, is to not stay in one place outdoors: move around to many places, and try to bird around dawn or dusk if possible.
I’ve seen many overwintering species in the Houston area in the past month. On December 4–a cold, rainy day–I took one of my compact binoculars (an inexpensive Olympus Tracker 8×25 PC I) on my long run and serendipitously encountered the first bald eagle I’ve ever seen in Houston! Since then, I’ve continued to see many migrant species: on Christmas day alone, I saw ospreys, a small fleet of American white pelicans soaring over the bayou, a flock of cedar waxwings, herons (tricolored, little blue, great blue), great egrets, a belted kingfisher, hawks (red-tailed, red-shouldered, immature Cooper’s), Eastern bluebirds, Eastern phoebes, a flock of “myrtle” yellow-rumped warblers, an immature white ibis, a blue-winged duck or ring-necked duck, two crested caracaras along the median of a road (these were seen while driving), Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and more!
If you own wild land, seriously consider not developing it. If you own developed land, seriously consider de-developing it. I, for one, would gladly pay an entry fee to spend some time in the serenity of a local wilderness instead of, say, paying a fee to plop down in a large theater for some escapism or going for a walk in the concrete jungle of the typical modern American city.
The following are photos I’ve taken with a smartphone and my entry-level spotting scope of some of the animals I’ve seen recently. In order, they are a great blue heron, osprey, female belted kingfisher, and white-tailed buck.
Update 1/2/17: I added photos I took on New Year’s Day of a juvenile brown pelican and of an immature Cooper’s hawk. The pelican preened itself while I photographed it and the Cooper’s hawk remained nonchalant as I took photos from a few feet away. A tiny ruby-crowned kinglet, perhaps emboldened by my presence, chirped at it with curiosity from a branch directly over my head. Ten minutes later, the hawk suddenly, explosively bolted off the branch, gliding mere inches above the paved street for half a block before suddenly sweeping itself up onto the slanted trunk of another tree, wings folding so quickly that it might as well have teleported.
The birding smorgasbord continues: before I even left home to bird, I heard and then saw a large flock of Brewer’s blackbirds congregating in the trees beyond my living room’s windows. At the bayou, I spotted an osprey atop a dead tree in the distance, eating a fish it had caught while flocks of cormorants criss-crossed the sky and a tireless, immature Forster’s tern circled and dived in front of me for food, not stopping to rest at all in the forty-five minutes I was there, and even feistily chasing away other terns as they entered its territory.
The many ospreys I’ve seen recently remind me of one of the first I ever saw: on January 11, 2013, I saw the following osprey and took photos of it before my run + hike at the salt marsh adjoining Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla, CA. Two hours later, when I returned, it was circling and then dived and caught a fish! Luckily, I had my camera out and managed to photograph the entire sequence: