Kids may not sound like the ideal birding companions–they’re usually noisy and over-excited, scaring everything away despite themselves. But birding, I found, is an ideal way to keep two rambunctious boys busy on an empty morning. The boys love birds, and we’d been watching a resident pair of cardinals out the kitchen window over breakfast, thinking of something to do for the day. As soon as I mentioned the idea of taking a birding walk around our neighborhood, they jumped into action, picking out appropriate clothing (camo, so the birds can’t see us, my eldest insisted) and assembling their gear: binoculars, bird field guide, camera. They were ready to see some “boodies.” It’s no wonder I love them so much.
And we were off. We peered into every forested buffer, listened to every song, and stopped at every pond. I must say that I’ve never thought much of my neighborhood ponds because they were always somewhat barren. We have at least six or seven small man-made lagoons that were dug as retention ponds when our planned urban development was built. The lagoons looked more like retention ponds for storm water runoff than wetland havens. But over the years, as the man-made ponds have aged and naturalized, I’ve noticed them coming alive in surprising ways. Here’s a few highlights from our walk:
Morning light. We were out of the house by eight, beating the heat and seeing the ethereal morning light fall through the trees.
Ducks, ducks, and more ducks! Three badelynges of ducks were spending their morning hours at one of the largest neighborhood ponds. I saw mallards and whistling ducks, but couldn’t identify the third and farthest away flock.
A black bellied whistling duck pair and their ducklings. These little guys are pretty common in the southeast, but I’d never seen whistling ducks in our neighborhood ponds until last summer. Such a delight to have ducklings this year!
The boys liked the ducklings, but they loved the mockingbird fledgling we found bouncing around by the sidewalk, practicing his flying. To my eager two-year-old, this little birdie was irresistible.
It’s always nice to see an alligator warning sign. We haven’t always had signs posted, but they are an important fixture for all neighborhood ponds. (If you’ve got a pond in South Carolina, the SCDNR will probably send you an alligator sign if you ask them. Signs help protect alligators by educating people on how to behave safely in their presence.)
We also saw a great blue heron. When we saw the bird, it was fishing along the edge of one of the smallest ponds. As soon as it saw us, he jumped into the air and flew a slow circle twenty feet above us before abandoning his spot and flying away.
Not a bad list of highlights for an impromptu birding walk around the neighborhood, the boys and I agreed. We were home by nine-thirty and they were worn out, which was, of course, my favorite part of the birding walk. Tired children are much quieter and less excitable.