One fine fall day in 1974, my fellow Columbus School for Girls preschool classmates and I took a field trip to Blacklick Woods. While we were there, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Dickens, took each of our pictures to make a special souvenir to give to our mothers. Back at school a few days later, she helped us cut a circle around our picture and paste it to a circle of wood. My mother fashioned hers into a necklace that she’s still wearing today.
Last Saturday, the wee plaid-coated lass went back to this Columbus Metro Park for the first time since posing for that picture. Wearing my beloved Barbour this time, I joined 13 other novice bird-watchers to take part in “Basic Birding,” a two-mile hike with Colleen, a delightful park naturalist who provided us with tips on finding birds.
Before we began our hike, Colleen pointed out several birds having breakfast at feeders hanging in front of a big picture window in the visitor center. We admired a Red-winged Blackbird, a Downy Woodpecker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, an American Goldfinch, a Northern Cardinal, and a White-throated Sparrow. We all drew a deep breath when a Red-tailed Hawk swooped into a tree and surveyed the proceedings. As Colleen introduced us to each one, she marked the park’s spreadsheet that tracked what birds had been spotted during both that week and that day.
Armed with binoculars and the Metro Parks’ Check List of Birds of Central Ohio, we followed Colleen outdoors and focused on our first bird: a Blue Jay. As we watched, Colleen explained how to use landmarks and the phases of the clock to explain to fellow birders where something is that you would like them to see. Hearing a persistent “pretty, pretty, pretty” call nearby, we refocused our binoculars at about 1:00 on our imaginary clock face and spotted a Tufted Titmouse.
On the Buttonbush Trail, I blurted out, “Cardinal at Noon!” Then, Colleen told us about how cardinals use a vast repertoire of sounds to protect their territory, from a sweet sing-song to something akin to machine-gun fire. She explained how bluebirds like to nest in cavities of trees, and how a project to build nesting boxes that’s been under way at Blacklick Woods since the 1950s has revived the park’s population of bluebirds. For those of us whose binocular skills were a little rusty, she showed us how to calibrate them so we could get the best focus for looking at a feature.
Our group included three children and their parents, two couples, and several solo participants of all ages. By the time we reached the Walter Tucker Trail, we all were thoroughly into what we were doing. Rounding a corner, Colleen would listen intently, pull up her iBird PRO app on her phone, and play a recording of a bird call that she wanted us to hear. Then, we’d cup our ears, look for movement, and try to find the origin of a similar sound. This engaging hide-and-seek game led to spotting a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Brown-headed Cowbird, a couple of robins, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Blue-winged Warbler, and a Carolina Wren. When we parted company two hours later, Colleen gave us a phonetic list of common bird calls to take home.
Driving back to Worthington, I listened to my new Common Birds of Ohio Bird Songs CD so I could start learning this new language. As I rode the Olentangy bike path up to Urban Coffee for lunch that afternoon, I tested myself to see if I could pick out any bird calls. A woodpecker and a few robins were easy to spot above plenty of other bird calls that were way beyond me. Pedaling home past the Master Patch on Tucker Drive, I heard a Tufted Titmouse calling, “Pretty, pretty, pretty.”
It’s going to be a while before I can shout out, “Cedar Waxwing at 4:00!” In the meantime, it’s easy to identify this little beauty as one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen. Watch this video describing the only known matching pair of circa-1820 gold and enamel singing bird pistols, attributed to Frères Rochat, which were offered at a 2011 Christie’s sale. It’s just one of the countless “pretty, pretty, pretty” things I’m discovering while reading Jim McCormac’s archived posts on Ohio Birds and Biodiversity.