Take a walk with the birds

Tim Hauserman

Like most of us who have spent lots of time hiking through the Tahoe Sierra, I’ve always been fond of birds. But to me, the enjoyment has centered around catching a brief look at common birds that fly by as I power along a hiking trail at 2 mph.

Sure, I know my Steller’s jays, mountain chickadees, Clark Nutcrackers, quails and robins, but I didn’t really understand all the little birds that are flitting around me every day. To remedy that lack of understanding I decided to join Sarah Hockensmith from the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science on the first of her Thursday morning bird watching strolls at the Village Green in Incline Village, Nev.

Bird Walks
7:30 a.m. | Every Thursday until June 6

Village Green | Incline Village, Nev.

The key to understanding the birds around us is to grab a pair of binoculars, slow way down and start not only looking around, but listening to the sounds of the birds. As we began our walk, I quickly realized that for Hockensmith, often it is the sound of the bird that first piques her interest, and then she starts looking for it. We listened to the robins not only playing their cheerio song, but she also pointed out how they laugh at each other. She was also able to quickly identify fairly small birds just by the pattern of how they fly.

Northern flicker
Black-headed grosbeak
Pygmy nuthatch





Since this was her first birdwatching stroll of the spring, Hockensmith was looking for birds who were actively beginning the process of making nests. She said that watching the transition of spring is one of the joys for her. Each week is different as new nests are built, new birds arrive as the temperatures warm and more insects pop up, and the greening of the bushes and trees also attracts new avian visitors.

Sarah Hockensmith from the Tahoe Institute
for Natural Science | Tim Hauserman

We saw one of my favorite birds, a Northern flicker, a colorful type of woodpecker, and this was an opportunity for Hockensmith to relay the importance of woodpeckers to the life of other birds. When woodpeckers peck holes in trees to find tasty bugs, they create perfect spots for other birds to live in, including the mountain chickadee. It was also a reminder that an old dead snag in the woods isn’t a bad thing, it is a great place to look for birds.

Several birds that our guide was keeping a keen eye out for were the black-headed grosbeak and the yellow-rumped warbler. She briefly spotted a grosbeak at the beginning, and after hearing the warbler a few times, attempted to call it in with her rendition of its call.

We did eventually get two good views of the grosbeak through our binoculars. It’s a bird with brilliantly orange accents that elicited a few oohs and ahhs from our group of eight birders. The warbler was too quick and small to get a good look at, but now that we know it’s there, we can go back and try to get a better glimpse next time.

I think many of us might have the perception that bird watching requires going to the edge of some large pond laden with water fowl, or finding a deep, quiet section of the woods, but the Village Green is certainly not that. It’s a pleasant little bit of woods and grass with a creek running through it, but it is surrounded by grassy fields, buildings and roads, and apparently every dog in Incline gets to go for a walk there in the morning. Even with all of the distractions, it is still an amazing place to see a variety of birds. Perhaps not eagles or sandhill cranes, but finches, swallows, Brewer’s blackbirds, sparrows, mourning doves, pygmy nuthatches and several others that have already escaped my brain.

For me, spending an early morning hour and a half wandering through the woods looking and listening for interesting birds, was a relaxing and stimulating way to start the day. I also quickly understood that when it comes to birds, the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.

The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science walks start at the Aspen Grove parking lot every Thursday at 7:30 a.m. until June 6. Bring the biggest and best binoculars you have. The group also offers other bird outings throughout the summer. Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com; click on Event Calendar. | tinsweb.org