Birds of a feather

By Posted on Nov 14 2019 | By

Birdwatching is focused relaxation on wing

As seniors move into their golden years advice they’re likely to hear is, “Stay involved.” Good counsel since movement and social interaction are the twin fountains of youth. But high energy activities may begin to lose their appeal when the color gray starts to play a role in in their lives.

Most of us want to stay active as we age but jogging, weights and jazzercise may be a bit less enjoyable after passing the half-century mark. What to do? Consider a casual walk through field or forest or even a loop around the backyard dedicated to gazing skyward.

Think birdwatching.

Birdwatching, or more commonly referred to as birding, is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in North America. Some 50 million Americans, young, middle age and seniors draw joy from observing the sights and sounds of feathered beauties as they dart, swoop and perch on trees and landscaping.

It’s an endeavor particularly well suited to sages. It can be a solo activity or enhanced through group bird walks often led by knowledgeable birders eager to share their experience with neophytes.

Moreover, with window bird feeders and a comfortable chair or recliner positioned to take advantage of the activity, it can enhance the lives of the homebound. The joys of gazing at fluttering birds are obvious but it also has a calming, almost meditative, effect that can help individuals connect with nature in richer more meaningful ways.

Today, with the advent of smartphones and digital cameras, notepads and pencils have largely been set aside. Field guides are as near as a few good apps and flipping through a hard copy guide is often replaced with a click and swipe.

But some seniors may not be comfortable with the technology, so tried and true birding guides are still employed. It’s not an either-or proposition. Comfort levels and enjoyment dictate how the activity is embraced.

Daniel Lebbin
The non-profit American Bird Conservancy is located in The Plains and dedicated to saving birds and their habitat across the Western Hemisphere. Its work seeks to eliminate extinctions, protect habitat and expand the capacity for birds to grow and thrive.

In other words, the organization is a birder’s best friend. Daniel Lebbin is vice president of threatened species at ABC and an avid birder.

Lebbin, 42, holds a degree in Biology and Environmental Science and Policy from Duke University and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. He has worked for the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Zoo, and participated in field research projects in Jamaica, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

A lifelong birder, Lebbin enjoys bird illustration and photography. He co-authored “The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation”.

“Some of my earliest memories are watching birds at my grandparent’s feeder. I became interested in birds at the age of 12. At 16 I got my driver’s license and was more independent and things really took off,” said Lebbin.

He says, “eBird is the most useful tool for people getting into birdwatching.” The goal of the website is to gather information in the form of checklists of birds, archive it, and freely share it to advance conservation and education.

It has numerous tools to make birding more rewarding. From being able to manage lists, photos and audio recordings, to seeing real-time maps of species distribution. eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by members around the world.

Getting started
For as richly rewarding a pastime as birdwatching can be the cost of entry is relatively low. A pair of good binoculars is the first item to consider. Prices can range from $100 to $300.

Two popular models are the Nikon Monarch and Leupold Yosemite. Its recommended 8-power magnification be used since it provides a good field of vision without the shaky effect of larger powered glasses.

If you are serious about quality, consider a visit to One Good Tern, a birding supply store in Alexandria. “They have some of the best salespeople in the industry. If you want hands-on help, they are very good,” says Lebbin.

Next, consider downloading the app eBird or purchasing a field guide. Two solid publications are National Geographic’s “Field Guide to the Birds of North America” and Peterson’s “Birds of Eastern North America”.

If you don’t already have one or more already installed, place some bird feeders on your window sill or in your backyard. Leaning into the hobby is a lot easier if you can glance out your window and start identifying nearby warblers.

Your smartphone will serve as your camera and also permit you to post photos of your “scores” on eBird if you are so inclined. With some 400 different species of birds in the Old Dominion, you’ll have no trouble staying entertained.
Finally, the joy of birding is multiplied by engaging with other birders.

There are several organizations to consider joining by searching your keyboard. One particularly useful site is the Northern Virginia Bird Club. It offers field trips, a newsletter and an extensive list of other birding organizations for your enlightenment. Visit

“Birding can be as little or as much as you want it to be. You can make it a second career, or in my case, a first career,” said Lebbin. “The more people who understand and care about nature, the more they help us achieve our goals at American Bird Conservancy.”

Published in the October 16, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES