For Hoosiers spending their days inside for a stay-at-home order, spending time outside can feel especially important — but finding an activity that allows for social distancing is key.
Birding can offer that balance.
Every day around lunchtime, Roxie Easter heads out to her backyard in West Lafayette to look and listen for birds.
“So above us...we have the blue jays,” Easter says. “Off to the side you can hear a “fee-bee”-- that’s the Eastern phoebe that’s returned to the yard in the last week. That’s a migratory bird that has nested in our yard for the last three years, which is great.”
Birdsong comes from every direction. Easter points out the call of a brown thrasher in a towering spruce tree on their property.
“I heard an American goldfinch — that one always makes me smile,” Easter says. “Song sparrow off in the distance.” She pauses, listening, and a trill fills the air. “There it is.”
Easter has been birding for seven years. She’s not a trained ornithologist; she taught herself. She watches for birds, and takes note of the details so she can identify indigo buntings and golden-crowned kinglets. Easter likes to double-check what she sees at places like the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s website, which breaks down location and size and color. She keeps lists of all the birds she’s seen.
“And if you have binoculars, obviously utilizing those to kind of get a good look at what it is that’s hopping around in the tree, or singing, that has caught your attention,” Easter says.
But if you don’t have binoculars, Easter also points out that you can just use your eyes to observe the natural world around you. Once you start paying attention, you realize: birds are everywhere. That’s especially true this time of year.
“Spring migration is a crazy and fun time,” Easter says.
During spring migration, as birds fly through the country on their way to summer nests, Indiana birders — both experts and beginners — get to see a much wider range of species.
“When it comes to the warblers coming in, there’s so much variety as far as their sound that you kind of just have to get a good look at them to be able to hear their voice, is how kind of I see it,” Easter says.
Easter has a wooden bird feeder mounted in the yard, but she says she doesn’t need one to attract birds in the springtime. There are bugs — and plants — aplenty for them to eat.
“At times, it can be overwhelming, but it’s also exciting,” Easter says.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, and want to venture out of your neighborhood, there are still plenty of outdoor spaces you’re allowed to visit. One of Easter’s regular birding stops is Granville Sand Barrens in Tippecanoe County. We walk the half-mile trail around a field still brown from winter, and into woods where bits of green are starting to sprout from the branches. Easter says if you’re birding, a place like this sounds different than your backyard.
“The plants that grow out here, the open space, the lack of disturbance by people...I mean, you’ll still get people that will walk through and, you know, flush some birds, but they’ll come back to it,” Easter says. “And there’s not as much movement or traction in this natural area.”
But remember: if you’re new to birding, you don’t have to make a special trip to a park. You can watch from your kitchen window, or your front porch. And Easter says while there are birding groups people can join, for her, it’s an act of solitude —and it can be for you, too. There’s no need for a crowd. It really is as simple as standing still, listening, and watching what’s around you.
If you’d like to follow Roxie Easter’s lunchtime birding adventures, you can check out her Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/lunchtimebirdinginindiana/
Other birding resources Easter uses and recommends: