By Bruce Stambaugh
Birding is one of my many hobbies. I’m no expert birder to be sure. I merely enjoy the sport, and try to weave birding into every travel opportunity.
Birding is an activity enjoyed by folks of all races, religions, cultures and countries. I’m usually side-by-side with men, women, boys and girls wherever I bird.
When these good folks discover I’m from Holmes County, Ohio, I often am asked the same question. Why do you have so many rare birds there?
I smile, pause, and give them my standard answer.
“It’s not that we have any more rare birds than other places,” I say. “Rather, we just happen to have a lot more rare birders.”
That’s when I get the looks. Some vocalize their consternation. The nonverbal cues from others reveal their puzzlement. Still others get it right away.
I believe that the Holmes County, Ohio area has so many unusual bird sightings because it has so many outstanding birders. Many of them are teenagers or young adults.
The varied habitat of the Killbuck Valley and adjoining manicured farmlands east and west create familiar, safe harbor for a wide variety of birds. Marshes, ponds, brushy fencerows, and extensive stands of woodlots provide excellent cover and feeding grounds for birds big and small.
Birders who reside here know to keep a look out for anything extraordinary. If they see or hear something unusual, they tell someone. An authoritative local birder identifies the bird, and the word spreads near and far.
Many of these bird watchers are Amish. It’s a hobby embraced by their culture and family structure. To be sure, birding is an exercise in which all family members can participate, and be out and about in the nature that they love and embrace.
It’s no coincidence that Amish folks have discovered many of the rare birds sited in the area. Now, it’s not simply because they are Amish that they find the birds. No, they see the birds because they pay attention to their surroundings.
Take the latest rarity, the juvenile Swainson’s Hawk discovered recently in a newly mown alfalfa field half way between Berlin and Walnut Creek. Workers at Hiland Wood Products noticed particular peculiarities about this bird, its behavior, its flight pattern, its coloration, and its diet.
When the bird was pointed out to skilled birder, Ed Schlabach of Sugarcreek, he easily identified it. Ed works at the company and is a reputable birder.
Ed not only knew what the bird was; he knew that it was a very rare find for Ohio. In fact, the typical range of this buteo is well west of the Mississippi River, and mostly in the southwest, and only in summer.
What the hawk was doing here was a mystery. Ed knew that birders everywhere would want to see this magnificent specimen. The word went out through phone calls, birding lists, emails, texts and social media.
There is always a rush to see a rare bird. Most often such birds do not hang around for very long. This young bird chose to stay for several days, and also picked a spot to easily observe it, whether on the ground or in the air.
For many birders, the young Swainson’s Hawk was a “life” bird. That is, it was the first time they had ever seen this species.
Once again, we can thank the many rare birders who reside and work in our pastoral abode for this latest mega-rare find. Rare birders find rare birds.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2015
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