Birding is big—and getting bigger. As topsy-turvy as this year has been, its events have shaken up enough routines to cause people to notice new things in the world, and that includes the birds flying around their homes.
Maybe the boom in new birders is simply tied to the fact that many of us are safe at home and looking out the windows at times when we’d normally be stuck in traffic commuting. Or maybe, even during quarantine, people have found that they want to get outside and, for social distancing reasons, have discovered new places to go. Birding fills that bill nicely.
Of course, it could be that in a digitally-engaged-always-on-Zoom world, people are finally waking up to what birders have always known: Birding is fun, and you’re guaranteed to see some amazing things. As a hobby, birding gets a lot right.
- There’s a very low cost to get started.
- There’s a low learning curve.
- It works great for small groups.
- It works just as well for individuals.
- It takes you outside and away from screens.
- Birders are introduced to more about the world around them.
- It’s a hobby that you can participate in year-round.
This is why we partnered with award-winning author and wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela for a whole new Bird Watching Basics series to help folks get started with birding.
Stan Tekiela’s Birding for Beginners
There are 7 books in the series that are available for preorder now. Each one is based on a different region of the United States, allowing readers the chance to focus quickly on whatever they see. So you’ll be able to find specific books for California, the Midwest, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, South, and the Southwest. Each book focuses on what you are most likely to see and provides field markings on each photo to help you easily identify the birds in your backyard.
These books for beginning birders also have information on birdseed and other bird foods. Not all birds eat the same kinds of foods, and you’ll be amazed at how the mix of birds in your yard changes once certain foods, feeders, bird houses, etc., are put into use. The guides also have information on bird nests and trees, as well as a few words on the habits and migration patterns of some of the birds in each region.
So check out Stan Tekiela’s Birding for Beginners series and pre-order your regional guide today. Also, check out the publisher’s blog over at Adventure Publications for more detailed information about the series and to enter the great giveaway going on right now. There’s still plenty of time to enter!
Stay safe and get outside!
[Note: the following information was current as of August 1, 2020.]
The Bighorn Fire, named for the bighorn sheep that roam the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, began after a lightning strike hit those mountains on June 5th, 2020. Fanned by high winds and exacerbated by hot, dry weather often exceeding 100°F, the fire burned for almost 7 weeks, burning 119,978 acres (178.5 square miles) of forest. At its height, more than 1,000 firefighting personnel were involved in containing the blaze, and several helicopters and aircraft were used to dump water and fire-retardant slurry over remote areas that could not be reached by road.
The village of Summerhaven high on Mount Lemmon was evacuated, and many residents of homes in the Santa Catalina Foothills were also forced to leave. Fortunately, the fire crews were successful in saving the buildings and no lives were lost or major injuries reported. While some wildlife unfortunately did not survive, many animals were able to escape the fire. In fact, a herd of 14 bighorn sheep was seen strolling through a suburban neighborhood in late July.
The US Forest Service has closed all facilities in the Santa Catalinas until November 1st. With the annual monsoon rains expected through September, it is likely that the burned-out areas will not be able to absorb the rainfall and dangerous flash flooding will result. There have already been some flash floods of tarry water carrying blackened debris closing roads and potentially threatening homes. All trails have been closed until the flood danger is over and crews have inspected trails to assess if they are safe and passable.
This means that trails described in the Mount Lemmon, Sabino Canyon, and Santa Catalina Foothills sections of the book are closed. Also, Sabino Canyon and the Catalina State Park are closed until further notice. The Mount Lemmon Highway was temporarily closed during the fire but reopened on August 1st with restricted access to Summerhaven. Because parking space is limited, the road may close temporarily until space is available. Further information is available on the Pima County Sheriff’s Road Condition Report at (520) 547-7510.
Saguaro National Park is open. However, both visitor centers are closed until further notice.
I live 2 miles south of the evacuation zone in the Catalina Foothills. During most of June and into July, I could see the fire burning, huge clouds of smoke billowing, and firefighting helicopters and aircraft passing overhead. Often, I could smell the smoke. Most residents of Tucson and the surrounding communities experienced the same to a greater or lesser extent. 2020 has been an abnormal year for everyone, and Tucsonans got hit with a little bit extra.
When things improve in the fall, I will report back with details of which trails are reopened. Meanwhile, stay safe, stay hydrated, and please wear a mask in public places as mandated by Pima County and the city of Tucson.
About the Author: Rob Rachowiecki is the author of Five Star Hikes: Tucson, which focuses on 38 Spectacular Hikes around the Old Pueblo. He has authored hiking and climbing guides to Central America and the Central Andes, as well as travel guides to Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and the American Southwest.
Although I grew up in Colorado, I did not grow up hiking with my dad. I really don’t know why this was the case, but at some point, he was a single dad of two with a full-time job, while I was a sassy teen with a part-time job and homework and friends and crushes. Hiking together just wasn’t part of our world.
Yet, when I set out to update 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Denver and Boulder, my dad was one of the people I ended up doing some memorable hikes with through the seasons. It hadn’t occurred to me before to ask him to join me, honestly, and I was so pleased that he wanted to come along.
I’ve got a few tips for enjoying a hike with your dad (or stepdad or grandfather or uncle) as I share a few stories from our hikes.
01: Go ahead and extend the invitation. Dad saw my posts on social media about my first few hikes and called me to ask if he could hike with me. It wasn’t that I deliberately did not invite him—I wasn’t so organized to have a list of hiking partners—but I hadn’t thought of him yet. Maybe you think hiking isn’t something your father likes or he hasn’t done it before, but don’t let that stop you. If it’s new to him, start with something relatively flat with places to stop and rest along the way. Even if he says no, it will make him feel good to be included.
02: One interesting thing about being an adult child is that sometimes you forget you’re still someone’s kid. I was humbly reminded of this on a gorgeous hike outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, to the top of Greyrock Mountain where little lakes filled with talkative frogs dwell. The hike had been hotter than expected, so it felt longer; by the time we were scrambling up rocks near the top, my legs were wobbly. My 70-something father hoisted himself up, and I stood there looking at my hiking poles and looking at the rocks and back and forth. “You want me to take the poles?” he asked. “No, I’ve got it.” I said. Like he can’t see right through me! I finally abandoned the poles and gave him my hand and he half-pulled me up. You’re never too old to still need your dear old dad.
03: Remember to pack your sense of humor along with your water bottle and other hiking necessities. One of my earliest hikes for my book was not in the previous edition, so I did a little research and headed off to meet Dad on a late-summer afternoon. Like many trailheads, this one had several trail options, and I misread the distance. As we walked and talked, it became clear this hike would be longer than we expected—by about a mile, it turned out. “How long did you say this hike is?” he asked me as we began the loop back. I had to confess that I no longer knew, and this seemed hilarious to us. On our various hikes we laughed about all kinds of mishaps—from those in the past to our getting lost en route to the trailhead—and this made us want to go on another hike together.
04: Try new things together—from taking selfies during the hike to having a meal together after the hike. Even though you’re all grown up, you can still make memories together. Just because we didn’t spend my childhood going on lots of hikes didn’t mean we couldn’t start now. Now retired, my dad has the time to hit the trail and spend the next day recovering, if needed. We have so much to talk about as we hike, and we laugh a lot about past and present stories we share. Next thing you know, we’ll have new hiking experiences to talk about over Christmas dinner with more family members, and our relationship and history will just keep evolving through these shared moments.
05: Adjust your hiking style. If you’re a weekend warrior bagging peaks with your buddies, that’s cool, but that’s maybe not quite what your father can handle. There’s a lot to be said for slowing down and simply appreciating the company you’re with and the time outside. If it’s your dad who is the budding athlete while you’re a weekday desk jockey, ask him to go at your speed so you can hike together.
Out of the more than 70 hikes I did for my research, only a handful of those were with my dad, but those were some of the best ones, and I have indelible memories from each one. We were both awed by the beauty we saw, and we easily laughed off our foibles. It wasn’t a trip down memory lane, but a chance to keep building remembrances in our lives together.
No one would ever describe me as an athlete, so I am probably late to the game in appreciating my body’s functionality. Being blessed with good genes so that I’m generally healthy also means that I tend to take my body for granted.
The truth is, I long thought of my body in terms of how it looked, how it fit into clothes, or how it was judged by others (the weird mental woman’s work of developing opinions of my own body based on what others might think).
When I set out to update the guidebook 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Denver and Boulder in late 2018, I pictured myself getting buff and toned and looking better than ever as I traipsed along Colorado’s Front Range trails more than once a week. I look back on that and shake my head, thinking, “What foolishness.” Note that I was thinking how I would look, not feel.
It takes actually using your body to appreciate it rather than judge it. Otherwise, we might miss important messages from our bodies that can direct our wellness—or underestimate our abilities as we sit back and demand that the body just be as we wish.
A Scientific American article titled “We’ve Lost Touch with Our Bodies” looks at how a combination of medications, technology, and our modern culture have led to many problems in which we are increasingly disconnected from our own bodies. Without going into great detail, the concept is called interoception, and it’s about how our mind receives and responds to basic internal signals from the body such as hunger and thirst. When we numb ourselves through medicines, screens, and more, then the messages don’t get through.
I certainly wasn’t feeling out of touch with my body, but I do think that a full-time office job and daily commute meant my body—like so many others—had morphed into the shape of a dining room chair, and I didn’t give it much thought. As long as I wasn’t sick, made it to a yoga class and the gym every so often, and fit into my favorite jeans, there was nothing to think about, right?
Body image is a complex topic for both men and women, and it changes with age, not just size. Psychology Today did extensive surveys on body image over the decades and concluded that, despite discontent with their bodies, people would rather be assessed for what they do, not how they look.
Somewhere on about hike 30-something in the middle of one of the snowiest Colorado winters in years, I began to think differently about my body, as I needed more energy and muscle to get from trailhead to peak and back, over and over again. I forgot all about how my body looked or might look in the near future and instead focused on what it needed from me in terms of types of food, hydration, and rest. My goal was essentially the same—complete all 60 hikes by deadline—but how my pants fit was no longer on my mind.
I developed a new respect for the hard work my body was doing as I tackled trails with thousands of feet of elevation gain in just a few miles, pushed myself to get up pre-dawn to be on the trail, and then asked my body to do it all again the next day or a couple of days later. I became grateful to my body for making it possible for me to meet my goals, and I showed this by making sure I ate protein-rich foods along with fresh vegetables and fruit, had enough snacks and water with me on each hike, and soaked in plenty of Epsom salts when I got home.
I started off as a slow hiker, and I finished as a slow hiker. My pants fit exactly the same on my last hike as my first. And I was thrilled with my body!
I learned that what matters is how you feel, not how you look.
National Wildflower Week ends this Sunday, May 10, 2020. The photos and posts being shared online with the hashtag #NationalWildflowerWeek have been a welcome window into the wild while sheltering at home (and we do hope you’re safe at home these days!).
There are many types of wildflowers and many purposes that native wildflowers serve. The shelter they provide to insects (think links in the food chain) and the diversity they bring to an area’s ecosystem are both very important. Then there is the beauty factor.
It is a surreal feeling to be out on a hike, make a turn, and be greeted with a field bursting in color. Or to emerge from a pine grove or ravine and see flowers laid out like a carpet before you. Leonard M. Adkins, author of Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail, credits wildflowers as an inspiration for him.
“As the miles drew me northward, I could not ignore the attractive pink petals of spring beauty ﬂowers delivering the promise of warmer days to come. It seemed everywhere I looked tiny bluets spread out in lengthy carpets along the edges of the trail, mirroring the clarity of the sky above me, while flame azalea reﬂected the sunsets of which I was so fond. How could I have been so ignorant of such an exquisite element of the Appalachian Trail? How could I have always been questing after the big picture, while overlooking the smaller elements that make up the whole? It was time to learn more about this natural world of which I was becoming a part.”
When I read that quote, “ignorant” is the word that resonates with me the most. Nature has a way of instructing us and showing us just how little we know and how often we’re looking at the wrong things. All the more reason to keep books nearby and measure your own adventures and outdoor experiences by the folks who have done it before.
Wildflowers are a wonderfully simple reminder of the joys you can find on and around the Appalachian Trail. And, if you’re safe at home these days, the colors you’ll see while learning the varieties make for a rewarding break in the day. We hope you’re well and able to get outside soon.
by Mindy Sink
I recently wrote about some of the things I learned while researching my new guidebook, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Denver and Boulder. One of the lessons I learned in my research was that preparing for various conditions and possibilities along the trail is key to a good hiking experience.
In the post I said, “The more prepared I was, the more enjoyable the experience.” By this I meant that I had water, snacks, hand warmers, a trail map, bandages, sunscreen, a hat, and so on. I found that when I took a little time to research what conditions I might expect, what the elevation gain would be, and other basics that would affect how long I would be out (how much food and water I needed, for example) that I could enjoy myself more.
Yet in a world of Facebook groups for all kinds of hikers and apps to show how crowded the parking lots are or where hikers can share photos from the trail the day before, some of the spontaneous fun of heading out in nature can be lost.
Here’s a little story in which good preparation led me to an unexpected adventure. I wanted to get in a hike on a later summer afternoon (okay, maybe it was more like early evening). My husband said, “You’re going to need a flashlight or a headlamp,” as I left the house. I said, “Really? OK, I’ll throw one in.” When the last 2 miles of my 6-mile hike were in the dark, I was very glad to have that flashlight—and I have never hiked without it since. Because I had a flashlight, I safely hiked in the light of the moon!
I recently read a query in a Facebook group for hikers in which someone described everything he had learned about a specific trail, but he just wanted to know what else to expect. Who knows? Maybe you’ll hear a hummingbird zip past your head, see a deer grazing in the trees, glimpse a moose wandering by, pick up the scent of a new flower in bloom, or watch the morning light hitting the rock just so as a snake slithers over it. No two people will have the same hike from one day to the next. Part of the joy of being in nature is the unexpected. The adventure of hiking lies in what doesn’t make it onto Instagram—those moments that take you by surprise in spite of your planning.
I can think of so many hiking experiences that make me laugh because things didn’t go as planned. There was a group hike in Eldorado Canyon State Park where the wind just wouldn’t let up, and at one point I was holding onto a tree to keep steady! I was prepared with a warm coat with a hood, but the adventure was in finding ways to block the wind in a group as we kept moving. Another time I went to the wrong trailhead, completed a hike, realized my mistake, found the “right” trailhead, and did that hike too. Then I decided that I liked the “wrong” hike better and put that one in my book instead.
It’s not that a little insight isn’t helpful, but it’s OK to learn from just trying, even if you have to make more than one attempt. Those accumulated experiences become part of your preparation. In doing research for my book, I found that, much like restaurant review sites, hiking reviews can be a bit misleading if not inaccurate and can therefore create missed opportunities for others. In doing some basic research for the land agency website for a trail, I found that people had been leaving reviews for the wrong trail, in one instance.
Life is made up of stories. A year or so of hiking by myself, with family, and with friends has resulted in a patchwork quilt of tales to tell and reminisce over together—not a string of hikes just like someone else’s.
Hit the trail with some preparation, but keep your eyes wide open for the unexpected joys of being outdoors.
About the Author
Mindy Sink is the author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Denver and Boulder and Walking Denver, which her daughter, Sophie Seymour, contributed to. She contributes regularly to The Denver Post, Colorado Parent, and other publications. Before becoming a guidebook author, Mindy worked for The New York Times Rocky Mountain Bureau, covering regional topics. Mindy also works in healthcare communications. She lives in Denver with her husband, Mike Seymour; their daughter, Sophie; and the family’s non-hiking cat, Marvel.
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