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Today we’re gearing up for the birding season. Townsquare 49 contributor and bird enthusiast Zac Clark says Anchorage will see a big flux of birds in the next two to six weeks. He calls this time of year the glory days, but it wasn’t long ago when Clark couldn’t have cared less about birds.
“My supervisor at work had talked about birds many times before, and had I sort of brushed him off like ‘yeah, that’s for nerds, what are you talking about birds for?’,” Clark says.
That all changed about four years ago, when Clark bought a house near a green belt. “I’d wake up in the morning around 6:30, with the sun shining, and I’d hear these great songs every day. Next thing I knew I got sucked into this whole new hobby,” Clark says.
Today Clark is taking a stroll around Goose Lake. He says even though the birds are still fairly scarce, it’s never too early to hone your skills.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got to get your Alaskan bird sounds album. Just play that on a loop when you’re driving to and from work so you can practice your ear birding skills,” Clark says
But we’re not hearing anything. I’m worried we might be in trouble.
“No we’re not in trouble, but it is awfully quiet out here. It’s still frozen over, and hasn’t opened up yet for any of the water birds to start making their way here,” Clark says.
Then, almost on cue, we hear something in the distance. “Ah, some Canadian Geese over there,” Clark says.
According to Clark, all you need to bird is a pair of eyes and ears, but for those who are really interested, he suggests a few basic items. A pair of binoculars, a field guide, and his favorite, a birding app. “It has the benefit of not only being able to search by color, shape, size, region and time of year, but it also has songs. So if you hear a song but don’t actually see the birds you can at least play their song back and hear what they sound like,” Clark says.
And that reminds Clark of the final piece of equipment you’ll need; some headphones.
“You have to be careful with this. When you’re out in the field you’ll want to have an ear bud in so you’re not playing it out, because the birds will hear this and respond to it. So people think it’s a good idea to play it to draw the birds in, which you will, but often times you’ll stress out the birds because they think someone is in their territory,” Clark says.
But Clark says it’s unlikely someone will scold you for doing it. After all, the birding community is a generally polite and welcoming one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hardcore birders out there.
“Well I haven’t been to one, but they do daily competitions. The Anchorage Audubon does something called the birding “smack down” at Potters Marsh. You get a team together and you spend a few hours, and then whoever finds the most species wins the competition,” Clark says.
But on a quiet day like today, there aren’t that many species to find. Just the occasional bird to remind Clark why he loves being out here.
“The great thing about it is you’re out hiking, walking around Goose Lake. Right now we’re watching some Magpies fly around with nest material. You just see these birds moving around, and it doesn’t cost you a penny,” Clark says.