BOERNE, Texas – Birding is on the top 15 list of America’s favorite outdoor activities, and why not? It’s all about getting healthy outdoors, and it’s an inexpensive sport that spans the interests of older Baby Boomers to younger Millennials. Maybe it’s time to start calling long-time birders the new birdsters.
The nonprofit Cibolo Nature Center & Farm in Boerne, which is open to the public, has become bird central in South-Central Texas. The center’s protected prairie grasses, wetlands and wildlife habitats attract birders from San Antonio, Austin and throughout the Texas Hill Country. They come for annual bird counts, birding workshops and independent expeditions along marked trails through natural habitats.
“Birding is good for you physically, mentally and spiritually. You get outside, you use your brain, and it’s about something bigger than you,” says Patsy Inglet of San Antonio.
The veteran birder and certified Master Naturalist teaches Introduction to Birding workshops with her birdster husband Tom Inglet. Their next class at the center is 9 a.m. to noon March 28.
“All it takes is a few skills you can learn easily. All the equipment you need is a decent set of binoculars, which have gotten less expensive in the last 10 to 15 years, and a field guide,” says Patsy Inglet.
It’s not about running marathons, either. “It’s as strenuous as you want it to be. If you walk too fast, you’re going to miss things. It’s a stroll. We call it the 100-meter mosey,” she says.
Birding is a year-round sport. “We teach the basic course in spring when the birds are sitting out and singing. They’re out in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter it’s a whole new cast of characters,” Inglet says.
The U.S. Forest Service reported in 2013 that birding, which cuts across all demographics, was No. 15 on the list of most popular U.S. activities. It ranks just below hitting the beach and bicycling and just above day hiking.
At Inglet’s Introduction to Birding workshop, participants spend about half their time inside the center learning about how to see birds as a birder sees them, how to identify birds and how to use binoculars effectively for birding. Then the class moves outside, starting at the center’s bird feeders and moving to the trails on a guided tour. “We teach them how to get on a bird,” she says, which is birdster lingo for spotting a a bird with your eyes, getting it in your binocular view and quietly following its path with the binoculars trained on it. The field guide helps you identify the bird.
‘Birding opens your perception. You start to hear and see things that people just walking along the trail don’t see or hear. You’re on the lookout for little sounds and movements,” Inglet says. “It makes your experience of all of nature better.”
Students are invited to practice their skills by joining other new and veteran birders to assist in incidental and breeding bird counts scheduled during the year.
“That’s how I started. I carried a clipboard and watched someone,” she says. “You learn by going out with people who know more than you, and you learn by going out by yourself.”
While workshops taught by the Inglets are geared toward teens and older audiences, many of the center’s award-winning programs and day camps for preschoolers and kids up to age 12 also incorporate birding basics.
Another popular and somewhat noisier workshop led by the Inglets each spring is Birding by Ear, a half-day workshop that this year is scheduled April 25. Students learn about how to recognize the differences in bird songs among species and about common bird calls.
And yes, there’s an app for that. “You can get apps for your phone that have the birds, their calls, what they look like. You’re missing half the fun of birding if you don’t do bird calls,” Inglet says.
For more information about birding workshops and other bird-related activities for kids and grownups at the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm, 140 Park Rd., Boerne, Texas, 78006, visit the Calendar page at http://www.cibolo.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org