Birding season takes wing

09/23/2010 12:00 AM |

Black and white warbler.

If there are any aspiring birders out there, this time of year might be a good time to get started, as a spectacular fall migration is currently in full swing.

According to local birding aficionado Jody Levin, joining a guided walk is a great way to ease your way into this increasingly popular hobby. (One U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study claims that around 20% of Americans can be counted as regular birders.)

Ms. Levin knows whereof she speaks, as she frequently leads bird walks on the North Fork, such as the one that trailed through the woods and fields of Hallockville and Jamesport State Park a couple of weeks ago.

“It was an extraordinary day because it was quite windy and you rarely see lots of birds in those conditions,” enthused walk participant Carol Coakley of Southold. “But Jody is the best of the best. She hears them before she sees them.”

And see them they did.

“It was one of those days with huge numbers of species,” said Ms. Coakley. “The Cape May warbler is one of those birds that you dream of spotting and there were two of them.” The birders were also lucky enough to spot a Canada warbler and a kingbird among many other species.

While going on guided walks helps to improve bird spotting skills, getting started can also be as easy as noticing birds in the backyard. “Look out for cardinals and blue jays,” said Ms. Levin.

The North Fork Audubon Society offers a variety of birding activities, says chapter president Diana van Buren. The society sponsors the popular monthly bird walk “Tuesdays with Tom,” led by keen birder Tom Damiani and also hosts regular meetings at the Red House Nature Center in Greenport.

At a recent meeting, 40 or so people listened to migration expert Shai Mitra on the identification of shore birds.

“Shorebirds are harder to identify because their plumage changes,” said Ms. Van Buren. Ms. Coakley agreed. “That was a very complex lecture, maybe not for new birders,” she said.

Next month the society will sponsor a talk on Long Island owls presented by wildlife photographer James Galletto and premier Long Island birding website creator Dianne Taggart, whose website can be found at In November, Hallockville Museum Farm will present a late autumn bird walk, led by Mary Laura Lamont. Details are available at

Ms. van Buren encourages anyone interested in birding to join the North Fork Audubon Society.

“We are a chapter of the National Audubon Society, which is a very big and important conservation group,” she said. “But our chapter only receives around $700 a year from the national organization so we’d love some new members.”

Ms. Coakley hopes that more young people may be inspired to take up birding, “as their hearing and hand/eye coordination is so much better than older folk.” She added that both fall and spring are great times to start because the North Fork is so close to the Atlantic flyway, the route migratory birds take.

So what is the appeal of birding?

“People have always found birds fascinating,” said Ms. Levin. “Some people get into the competitive aspect of birding or they use it as an excuse to travel to spot rare birds. But for me it’s the freedom and the same feeling of joy that you experience as a kid.”

“There are many great spots out here,” she said. “We have ducks that spend the winter here feeding and we occasionally spot rare birds like razorbills.”

But the real beauty of the hobby, Ms. Levin observed, may be in the simplicity of the required equipment. “Sturdy footwear, binoculars and your mind are all you need,” she said.