By Tara McIntire
People often ask me how I’m able to spot birds to which I reply, “I don’t know. I just do.” That answer is the truth, but I’ve learned, as kindred birders can relate, that birding is a skill we develop. Once you know what to look for, your senses become ‘bird-tuned’ to your surroundings. It’s hard to overlook a sparrow skittering by or a distant speck darting across the sky or the inevitable ‘third’ (or fifth) insulator on a power pole. Our sense switch is always in the ‘on’ position and in endless ‘search’ mode, because you know there’s a bird out there somewhere.
Birding can be exhausting at times, frustrating for the non-birders in our midst, but really it’s a wonderful skill and gift, especially while sheltered in place. I have taken the shelter order to heart. Much of my nature explorations have been relegated to my 20’ x 20’ backyard. Though birds occasionally pass by, there have not been enough to satisfy my senses or my photography. I have sincerely missed birds. Instead of allowing frustration and sadness to overwhelm me, I have adjusted my focus to fill the void.
In the process, I’ve been exposed a new world (and possibly a new love).
Though I’ve seen and photographed these little jumping wonders on a few occasions, my recent observations have noted several similarities between these tiny spiders and birds! Now, instead of spotting irregular feathered ‘lumps’ five football fields away, I take note of odd fuzzy ‘specks’ tucked between frilly lettuce leaves. I’ve discovered favorite ‘hang-outs’ and specific plants that they prefer (chard has been quite popular).
I notice how they position themselves in morning sunspots and I believe there are at least three species, all of which are different physically and characteristically.
I’ve watched birds hunt insects, sometimes using a ‘perch and pounce’ technique reminiscent of Red-tails, or actively perusing all the nooks and crannies like a Bewick’s Wren.
Also, like birds, though I have found birds to be very curious and bold, they can be quite shy and disappear in the blink of an eye, especially the second I reach for my camera (sound familiar?). Capturing these moments through a lens has allowed me to fully appreciate the fine details and beauty of these fantastic little creatures. The world of macro photography is always revealing and full of surprises.
I’m a bird swooner. Adjectives such as delightful, sweet, delicious, and cute (typically preceded by more colorful words) pepper my descriptions of birds. So, of course, I would be remiss if I did not note for the record how incredibly adorable these ever-charming jumping spiders are. Watch out, my feathered friends, you have competition, and now I can’t get enough! Not to mention these eight-eyed wonders make me work to witness them in action and continuously test my patience, and like birding, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be as fun or rewarding.
I have refrained from enveloping you in a jumping spider web of incredible facts and information; after all, this is a blog about birding, right? Hopefully, I have piqued your curiosity and offered another way of utilizing your birding sensory skills, and exposed a potential new obsession found right at the tips of your toes. Plus, there are 6000 species to be found around the globe! For me, it now means I have not one, but two life-lists!
So, sometimes it takes being pulled from our typical patterns and habits to allow for discoveries.
We only need to open ourselves and adjust our focus. Like many, I am eager to be fully reunited with birds and travel plans. For now, I will continue to skulk around my new ‘patch’ with camera in hand; scan for garden specks; and keep my new ’spidey’ senses fully activated because who knows what new worlds I may find.
Since I first wrote this piece in early May, I have spent even more time watching and enjoying these spiders. The exciting news is that now there are ‘fledgling’ spiders! These spiders are literally 3/16” long and so small a camera can barely focus on them. It has taken my point of ‘focus’ to a whole new level (plus I need my reading glasses to see them without the camera!).
Tara McIntire is a local birder, GGAS member, Master Birding graduate, Denise Wight ‘Birding By Ear’ disciple, and had just led her first bird walk for the SF Bay Feminist Bird Club before the shelter in place. She is also an avid amateur wildlife photographer who actively promotes and practices ethical and conservation photography. All photographs are taken by the author © Tara McIntire. She invites you to follow her on Instagram @TMcIntirePhoto