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Summer School for Birders

Birding during the summer in the south can be very hot, buggy and very discouraging. Those of us who don’t have the ability to travel to cooler climes have to settle for birding through windows in our air-conditioned kitchens or family rooms. But we can still learn a lot during the dog days of a Carolina summer. Here a few suggestions to get you through the summer.

BirdAcademy by Cornell Lab of Ornithology is THE PLACE to go learn more about birds. Everything from How to Paint Birds and Nature Journaling to Shorebirds Identification and Comprehensive Bird Biology. There are online courses (some free, some have a fee), free instructional videos, open lectures (videos) and even a few interactive games to stimulate your brain. Currently they are featuring an excellent piece about feathers.


The Science of Birds podcast and website are resources to learn about the biology of our feathered friends. It’s a distilled, curated presentation of nerdy information about birds. It's meant to be fun and accessible for reasonably intelligent humans. It’s so entertaining and informative you will want to take notes. Topics cover the gamut from individual species to broader information on migration and a bird’s respiratory system.


For your reading pleasure these relatively recent titles which are making their rounds on social media:


The Birds That Audubon Missed: Discovery and Desire in the American Wilderness, by Ken Kaufmann. Renowned naturalist Kenn Kaufmanexamines the scientific discoveries of John James Audubon and his artistic and ornithologist peers to show how what they saw (and what they missed) reflects how we perceive and understand the natural world.


The Backyard Bird Chronicles, Amy Tan. "The drawings and essays in this book do a lot more than just describe the birds. They carry a sense of discovery through observation and drawing, suggest the layers of patterns in the natural world, and emphasize a deep personal connection between the watcher and the watched. The birds that inhabit Amy Tan’s backyard seem a lot like the characters in her novels.” —David Allen Sibley, from the foreword

 The Merlin app has made us all more aware and interested in bird song. Donald Kroodsma is a pioneer in the study of birdsong. His book Birdsong by the Seasons is a celebration of birdsong from January through December. The stories begin with a pileated woodpecker on New Year’s Day; they unfold through the year, covering limpkins and scrub-jays in February in Florida, prairie birds in May, Scarlet Tanagers in July, and a chorus of singing birds in Massachusetts just before Christmas. The Kindle ebook contains embedded audio files that will play only on Kindle Fire tablets (excluding the Kindle Fire 1st Generation) and iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch devices.


Another interactive picture book Listen to the Birds by Kroodsma was created for children but will be enjoyed by adults as well. Take a dawn walk through the pages of Listen to the Birds and discover forty species of North American birds, guided by expertly informed text and gorgeous illustrations. Then, hold a phone with the paired app up to the art and watch―and listen―as the birds spring to life and sing.

Pete Dunne has been writing about birds for several decades now. These two titles will help you find and identify more birds: The Art of Bird Finding: Before You ID Them, You Have to See Them and The Art of Bird Identification: A Straightforward Approach to Putting a Name to the Bird. In the first title Dunne fills a gap in the vast literature on birding, by explaining in his distinctive style how to find birds--the often-ignored first step in identifying, observing, and listing bird species. The second title discusses how to get good, then better, then even better at identifying birds in the field and have fun doing it.


Since the pandemic shutdown everyone has been talking about how birds are beneficial to our well being.


Tammah Watts, in Keep Looking Up: Your Guide to the Powerful Healing of Birdwatching, shares an emotional journey of finding comfort and inspiration from her feathered friends, while providing practical tips and tools to help you increase your self-awareness, mindfulness, and concentration.


In Birding Under the Influence: Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery, Dorian Anderson, a neuroscience researcher on a pressure-filled life trajectory, walks away from the world of elite institutions, research labs, and academic publishing. In doing so, he falls in love and discovers he has freed himself to embrace his lifelong passion for birding. Anderson, a recovering alcoholic, takes the concept of a big year to the next level by doing it on a bike!


Everyone loves to see and learn about owls. We seem to have a primeval connection with these birds. And Jennifer Ackerman’s What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds is a brilliant scientific investigation into owls and why they exert such a hold on human imagination. On a more personal level, Farley Mowat’s classic novel Owls in the Family retells his boyhood years living with two great horned owls who thought they were differently-abled dogs. Often considered a children’s book it will delight readers of all ages.

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