white-winged-scoterA lot of “field birders” have been out and about this past week conducting reconnaissance in their assigned areas for this year’s Christmas bird count. With so many great birders out in the field, there have been some really good finds – including a pair of white-winged scoters at Willow Lake.

I use the term “field birder” to describe individuals who go out into the field to actively participate in bird watching activities. In contrast, casual backyard birders are individuals who don’t consider themselves birders at all. Here at Jay’s Bird Barn, we cater mostly to individuals who fit in the casual backyard birder category.

I have fond memories of my early birding days in Tucson when I participated in guided bird walks with the Tucson Audubon Society. I am indebted to a very kind neighbor who helped foster my love of birds by driving me all around southeastern Arizona so I could participate in guided bird walks.

When we would arrive at the designated meeting place, she would point out the field trip leader and encourage me to stick right by that individual. I followed her advice and it made all the difference in the world. As a young teenager, I quickly became proficient at finding and identifying birds because of the skills I developed while participating in bird walks hosted by a guide.

My recent trip to Brazil reinforced the need to go birding with a knowledgeable bird guide. My first two weeks in the country were spent on a guided birding tour, and I saw 402 species. The last two weeks I was in the country, I did not have a guide and I only added an additional 42 species to my trip list!

Having a guide is invaluable, especially when you are in the beginning stages of becoming a birdwatcher. Here at the Bird Barn we are frequently asked whether we lead bird walks. It makes sense since we are a wild bird and nature store. Historically I have only led bird walks on a request basis, and it is usually for other organizations such as the Highlands Center for Natural History or the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival.

In last week’s column, I hinted that I have been working on plans to get out and do more birding in the new year. One of the ways I am going to accomplish that is by leading bird walks! Beginning in January, Jay’s Bird Barn will be sponsoring free weekly guided bird walks to local birding hot spots in and around Prescott.

Two of our Prescott employees, Bonnie Pranter and Micah Reigner – who are both excellent birders – will assist me. We will take turns each week leading walks to places like Granite Basin, Watson Woods, Willow Lake and many other locations where we hope to provide you with a wonderful field birding experience.

Dena, our store manager in Sedona, has been leading weekly bird walks for more than a year in the Verde Valley. Her bird walks are a coveted activity and there is a waiting list every week for those who want to go.

We have created a schedule for upcoming bird walks, and this information is posted on the Jay’s Bird Barn website. We limit each trip to 12 individuals, as it makes for a much nicer experience. More information will be forthcoming on how to sign up.

I hope you will consider participating in some of our bird walks from time to time. Hopefully by participating in guided bird walks, many casual backyard birders can gradually transition into becoming field birders!