Recommended: Birds, Birds, Birds

Hoopoe in Israel (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

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Tim Van Schmidt | New SCENE


I guess I’m just part of the flock.

This summer, I was walking along a road in the “Great Northwoods” of Wisconsin when a woman walking in the other direction stopped and said, “You’re one of us”!

I was stunned for a moment but then realized she was referring to my Rowe Sanctuary hat — one I purchased on my recent adventure witnessing the Sandhill Crane migration at the famed Audubon facility in Nebraska.

Wouldn’t you know, just a few minutes later, I spied a large red-headed woodpecker — a “Pileated Woodpecker” — flitting between the trees, perhaps a little perturbed that I was walking by. Later, I was delighted to see a mama duck and eight ducklings gliding past me as I stood on the shore of a beautiful lake.

I guess it’s true — I’m now a “birder”.

Cormorant (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

I’ve seen some interesting birds in my time, like Toucans in the jungles of Guatemala and just all manner of strange-looking birds in the Florida Everglades.

But it was while I was making an extended visit to Israel a couple of years ago that I really got interested in watching birds.

Snowy Egret (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

You see, a particular park where we often took our grandson to play was apparently the home of a Hoopoe. The Hoopoe is a richly colored bird with a striking crest and whenever we went to that park, it would perch in the trees above us.

It got so that our grandson could spot the Hoopoe — the national bird of Israel — every time. And at some point, that Hoopoe let me get very close to snap some photos.

Heron at Riverbend Ponds (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Back at home, my Hoopoe experience lead to watching the birds in the NOCO region much more closely — hawks, eagles, finches, jays, herons, and more.

But I guess I became a real birder on that March trip to Kearney, Nebraska. I found myself creeping along in the pre-dawn darkness with a red flashlight to observe the cranes before they took off for the day.

Mama and ducklings in Wisconsin 2022 (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

The same friends who got me to go to Kearney are also local birdwatchers. They live very close to both the Running Deer and Riverbend Ponds Natural Areas. Running Deer in particular seems to be an excellent birding area due to regulations barring dogs and bikes.

Running Deer has also been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and is on the list of “Best Birding in the Greater Fort Collins Area” by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

One cool bird experience I had at Running Deer involved a whole mess of Red Winged Blackbirds. They were making such a racket in the wetlands as we walked along that at one point I just said out loud, “Aww, cut it out”. Every single one of them suddenly went silent — it was a little shocking.

On a recent early morning walk through Riverbend Ponds, though, I felt like I hit the jackpot. We saw American White Pelicans, quietly passed within only about 20 feet of a Great Blue Heron perched on a log, a beautiful Snowy Egret, and a Cormorant with a face only a mother could love.

Real birders — the ones who carry binoculars and big lens cameras — would probably find me to be not much more than a neophyte. That’s OK, I’m still learning, but I feel like I’m like that one lone Canadian Goose who has been separated from its flock — I’m going to catch up.

Visit “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt” on YouTube.