Beginner Tips for Birding in the East Bay

Audubon programs offer insight into the frequent flyers of your own backyard

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While we spent much of spring indoors, migratory birds were busy settling into their Rhody summer homes. Now, as fledgling hawks and songbirds emerge from nests and geese flock up for the return voyage southward, it’s hard not to notice all the activity. Who’s that cooing outside your window or fluffing their feathers in the dirt? Audubon’s Bird Scavenger Hunt program might help you begin to navigate the who’s who of the backyard bird scene. 

The Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol reopened in June with the enticement of getting back to nature. While Lauren Parmelee, Senior Director of Educational Programs, laments the cancellations of summer highlights like kids nature camps and birding trips, she’s excited to see families coming out for small group excursions instead. She describes this month’s Bird Scavenger Hunt as “a wonderful way for families to delve into discovering more about our local birds,” including their behaviors, survival skills, and mysterious songs.   

Expect to see some familiar species that might already be frequent flyers to your bird feeders: Black-capped Chickadees, Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, and Downy Woodpeckers, just to name a few. But with a naturalist giving you a glimpse into their habitats – uncovering clues of their presence at every turn – expect to be enchanted. “Birds always surprise us,” Parmelee says, “even those of us who have been birding for years.”

A common late-summer sighting in the East Bay, watch for patchy cardinals shedding their red plumage as they begin to molt, and sandpipers darting in and out with the waves along the shore, along with the larger American Oystercatchers. If you’re lucky, you might spy a colorful Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, or Baltimore Oriole, or one of Parmelee’s favorites, the Great Crested Flycatcher, notable for its loud “reeep” sounds from the treetops.

Having grown up spending time outdoors, Parmelee emphasizes how crucial it is to engage with nature now more than ever. “It’s so stressful right now – it’s such a challenging time in so many ways that I would just really encourage people to get outside in their backyard, take a walk in their neighborhood and just pay attention to the birds and other wildlife around them.” Whether you’re joining a program or adventuring solo, she says, “Nature makes us feel better if we pay attention to it.” The Audubon Society’s Bird Scavenger Hunt takes place August 10, 11, 12, and 14 at locations across the state.