If you want to be a better birder, observe the birds, right? Even the common ones. Especially the common ones. Learn them backwards and forwards so you’ll recognize something special (they’re all special!) when it comes along.
Arthur and I visited Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County, Florida last month. It was a short visit, just four hours or so to explore one of the most productive and popular birding spots in the state. We hit a few parts of the park and then ran into a birder whose name I knew (and she knew mine, blush) from the state birding listservs. She showed us around a part of the park known as a warbler hotspot and helped us look for a couple of overwintering grosbeaks (neither of which were located that day). Despite the dips, it was great to meet someone who knows Fort De Soto so well and to put a face to an email name.
In addition to the Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks recently seen at the park, I knew that a Lark Sparrow (which is not normally found in Florida) had been hanging out there, but I didn’t know where exactly (I was unprepared; the trip to Fort De Soto was rather impromptu). As we walked back to the car at the end of the day, I stopped to observe and photograph a Northern Mockingbird.
Northern Mockingbird at Fort De Soto
It had just popped out of a bush and was perching in the open, posing nicely while it looked around the immediate area.
Northern Mockingbird calling
I noticed something moving inside the bush, and suddenly the mockingbird flushed. This is what took its place.
Observe the birds. Even the common ones. You never know what you’ll learn — or who you’ll see.