5 Ways That Birdwatching Has Changed My Life

By Taylor Crisologo
Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on Taylor Crisologo’s website BayAreaNaturalist.com
There are very few hobbies that I can say have changed my life for the better, and birding is at the top of that list. Here are just a few ways that birding has influenced me. I have many hobbies that have enriched my life: reading, cooking, and dancing hula all come to mind as interests that make me feel happy and fulfilled. That said, there are very few hobbies that I can say have changed my life for the better. Here are just a few ways that birding has influenced me.

1. Birdwatching taught me how to pay attention.

Birding has completely transformed my day-to-day activities by teaching me how to pay attention. While birding has allowed me to further develop my attention span, it has also taught me how to integrate nature into my day-to-day activities by simply paying attention.
Take walking from your parked car to a building as an example. Before I learned the sights and sounds of individual bird species, a walk from my car was just another task. Learning how to watch birds has flipped an irreversible switch in my mind, turning every moment outside into an opportunity to see or hear new things.
Today, even when doing something as simple as watering my plants outdoors, I passively pay attention to who’s around. Dark-eyed junco hopping underneath my gardening shelves, looking for spilled seed. House finch singing from a perch on the ornamental tree across the street. It’s an incredible gift that I’m grateful to have learned.

Devils Slide by Taylor Crisologo

2. Watching birds got me to spend more time outside.

I’ve always loved the outdoors, but birding has presented me with the incentive to explore as many new habitats as possible, in hopes of observing more bird diversity.
Since I’ve begun birding, I’ve traveled to habitats ranging from rocky seashores to the edges of lush agricultural fields in search of a particular species. I’ve gotten to know a diversity of places, thanks to the journeys that birdwatching has brought me on.

Taylor participating in Herring Gull Research

3. Birds were a gateway to learning about other incredible wildlife.

Birds, like all other life, interact with a myriad of other species in their day-to-day activities.
As an avid birdwatcher, you sometimes can’t help but wonder who else is in the picture as you’re watching a particular bird. 

The Journeys of Debi Shearwater

An interview with Debi Shearwater, founder of Shearwater Journeys and recipient of the Ludlow Griscom Award at the 2018 Monterey Birding Festival

By Taylor Crisologo

Debi Shearwater received the Ludlow Griscom Award at the 2018 Monterey Birding Festival held in Monterey, California. The award is given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to our understanding of a region’s birds.

Debi Shearwater, famous for her incredible knowledge of seabirds, is the founder of Shearwater Journeys, Inc. Shearwater Journeys offers birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts the opportunity to venture out from California’s central coast to see seabirds and other marine life.

Mark Rauzon, Seabird Biologist, noted author, and Professor of Geography, offered this about Debi Shearwater, “Debi is a true visionary- a self made legend of the birding community, famously portrayed by Anjelica Huston in the movie The Big Year.  She was a pioneer of sea birding on the West Coast, developed a business, Shearwater Journeys, and carried it on for 43 years. Since 1976 more than 67,000 birders from every state in the USA and more than 30 countries worldwide have had an opportunity to appreciate seabirds and the phenomena of Monterey Bay oceanography. One of the first women birders to achieve national recognition, she has many firsts, including discovering new North American species like the Jouanin’s Petrel.”

Debi came to California in 1976. “I thought I was only going to be here for about 18 months,” she exclaimed. Within 10 days of arriving in the Golden State, she arranged to go on her first pelagic trip from Monterey. After a great experience, she booked another Monterey trip for that September – just six months later.

“In those days, there were no field guides to whales. They didn’t exist. There were really no good field guides to seabirds at that time either,” Debi explained. She spent the night before reading books about blue whales – an IUCN Red List endangered species whose global population was driven to drastically low numbers by commercial whaling. “I just thought, man, if I see a whale – that’s going to be amazing.”

Blue Whale tail by Beth Hamel

On her trip in September, Debi encountered a blue whale: the first whale species she’d ever seen. The following year, she spotted a Streaked Shearwater – a rare sight in California, since its native range is the western Pacific Ocean. “That’s how it began – with a blue whale and a Streaked Shearwater,” she said.…

Surveying Brown Pelicans at the Alameda Wildlife Reserve Breakwater Island

NOTE: Updated post with additional photos.

By Taylor Crisologo

The pelican moved slowly, stretching out its great wings in one fluid motion. It lifted its long bill to the sky and opened it briefly, then quickly snapped it shut. Our boat continued to move parallel to the pelican’s resting place, our movement causing me to crane my neck to keep sight of the individual.

As the pelican drifted away from my binocular’s view, I turned my attention to another individual and scanned its legs for bands. The only sounds that could be heard were the hum of our boat’s engine and the long calls of gulls from the breakwater’s rocks.

“140 total,” called a voice behind a pair of binoculars. The voice belonged to John Luther, who was in charge of keeping the total count of pelicans per section for our count.

“14 brown heads,” followed Emilie Strauss, who was counting the total number of younger birds per section. The younger birds have brown heads – as opposed to the adult birds’ light golden heads – making them discernible in the group.

First Light by Deborah Jacques

Breaking my focus on watching the pelicans momentarily, I wrote the numbers on my record sheet and repeated the data back to our team for confirmation. Leaning my head into the ship’s main cabin where Judy Irving stood recording behaviors, I alerted her of the start for the count of the subsequent section. Beside me, Jennifer Walton stood diligently, recording any banded individuals we witnessed. (The next morning by daylight, biologist Debora Jaques re-sighted 15 pelicans wearing bands at the Breakwater!)

All 4 BRPE Band Programs represented at Alameda Breakwater Band Collage by Deborah Jaques

It was a breezy September evening. The vessel Sparky, captained by Jim Labbe, slowly moved parallel to the Alameda Wildlife Reserve Breakwater Island, allowing us a clear view of the roosting pelicans without disturbing them. Leora Feeney, along with Deborah Jaques, assessed the pelicans coming and going to the breakwater from shore.

Leora counting from shore by Deborah Jacques

Leora, our team’s organizer, was instrumental in orchestrating our efforts for the task at hand: counting the thousands of pelicans currently roosting at Alameda Wildlife Reserve Breakwater Island. Luckily, our team’s local knowledge of the area is vast. Since 2004, Leora and John have coordinated their own efforts to monitor the breakwater’s pelicans twice a month as part of the All Bird Surveys done at Alameda Wildlife Reserve.…

Getting to Know the Anna’s Hummingbird

By Taylor Crisologo
I’ve always been captivated by the bright allure of hummingbirds. Their beautiful, iridescent
feathers and busy demeanors have made them some of my favorite birds to watch. I was even
more impressed by hummingbirds when I learned that all hummingbird species are only found in
North and South America. This discovery made me feel that much luckier to know this bird, as
they are a treasure only found in the New World.
As a Bay Area native, the Anna’s Hummingbird in particular holds a soft spot in my birding
heart. Anna’s Hummingbirds are permanent residents along the west coast of the United States, meaning that our winters in the Bay Area (although very mild to begin with!) are made that much brighter by the presence of the Anna’s Hummingbird. They are also the most common hummingbird on the west coast, making them a universal part of the Bay Area birding experience.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are a frequent and feisty visitor to my hummingbird feeders, and I’ve
often watched territorial individuals perch on a branch nearby the food and chase away any
unwelcome visitors. When they’re not feeding on my pre-mixed hummingbird food, I find them
visiting the mosaic of native and non-invasive plants in my garden.
Male Anna’s Hummingbird by Bob Gunderson
The Anna’s Hummingbird’s ability to make use of some exotic plants found in urban and suburban
areas, as well as supplemental sources of food from hummingbird feeders, have allowed them to
greatly expand their range. While the species once only nested in certain areas of California and
Baja California, you can now see this brilliant bird almost everywhere in California and well into
the Southwest and British Columbia.
Rain brings more hummingbird food, namely nectar-producing plants and insects, which is
perfect for breeding hummingbirds. Thus, Anna’s Hummingbirds will breed in the winter and
early spring, timing their nesting season with the rainy season in California. This makes them
California’s true winter birds, as some individuals have been recorded breeding in the Bay Area
during the annual Christmas Bird Count.
Anna’s Hummingbird pair by Bob Gunderson
The courtship behavior of breeding Anna’s Hummingbirds is a sight to see. Males will sing
energetically to females and begin an ascent up to 130 feet in the air. Then, the males will dive
down towards the female, generating a loud, non-vocal “squeak” sound as air vibrates through
modified outer tail feathers.…

Getting to Know the Anna’s Hummingbird

By Taylor Crisologo
I’ve always been captivated by the bright allure of hummingbirds. Their beautiful, iridescent
feathers and busy demeanors have made them some of my favorite birds to watch. I was even
more impressed by hummingbirds when I learned that all hummingbird species are only found in
North and South America. This discovery made me feel that much luckier to know this bird, as
they are a treasure only found in the New World.
As a Bay Area native, the Anna’s Hummingbird in particular holds a soft spot in my birding
heart. Anna’s Hummingbirds are permanent residents along the west coast of the United States, meaning that our winters in the Bay Area (although very mild to begin with!) are made that much brighter by the presence of the Anna’s Hummingbird. They are also the most common hummingbird on the west coast, making them a universal part of the Bay Area birding experience.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are a frequent and feisty visitor to my hummingbird feeders, and I’ve
often watched territorial individuals perch on a branch nearby the food and chase away any
unwelcome visitors. When they’re not feeding on my pre-mixed hummingbird food, I find them
visiting the mosaic of native and non-invasive plants in my garden.
Male Anna’s Hummingbird by Bob Gunderson
The Anna’s Hummingbird’s ability to make use of some exotic plants found in urban and suburban
areas, as well as supplemental sources of food from hummingbird feeders, have allowed them to
greatly expand their range. While the species once only nested in certain areas of California and
Baja California, you can now see this brilliant bird almost everywhere in California and well into
the Southwest and British Columbia.
Rain brings more hummingbird food, namely nectar-producing plants and insects, which is
perfect for breeding hummingbirds. Thus, Anna’s Hummingbirds will breed in the winter and
early spring, timing their nesting season with the rainy season in California. This makes them
California’s true winter birds, as some individuals have been recorded breeding in the Bay Area
during the annual Christmas Bird Count.
Anna’s Hummingbird pair by Bob Gunderson
The courtship behavior of breeding Anna’s Hummingbirds is a sight to see. Males will sing
energetically to females and begin an ascent up to 130 feet in the air. Then, the males will dive
down towards the female, generating a loud, non-vocal “squeak” sound as air vibrates through
modified outer tail feathers.…