Some hobbies naturally lend themselves to unwitting participants.
Such is the case for bird watching – or birding – which often simply requires a spot outdoors and a keen set of eyes. The “Learn to Birdwatch” program, which was launched in the fall of 2022, looks to take that informal observation to the next level.
” ‘Learn How to Birdwatch’ is part of our larger ‘Intro to the Outdoors’ program. That whole concept is to introduce adults in the community to new outdoor hobbies,” said Ellie Althoff, Open Space coordinator/educator. “Birding is one of those kind of outdoor hobbies that not a lot of people know about right away but can be fairly low cost to come into. It’s something that we see a lot of people relate (to).
“During our classes, if you ask if people have birded before they’ll say no, but if you ask if they enjoyed watching birds, that’s pretty common among people. It seems like a nice way to unite people and get more people outside.”
Open Space has partnered with the New Mexico State Parks Division and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help run the program, which includes providing guides and educational materials. So far, 11 different libraries have served as hosts for the course, with nine classes taking place this spring and six last fall. The number of people in attendance tends to vary based on date, location and circumstance. Althoff says as many as 30 to 40 people have been present on some occasions.
Either way, the course is free with no registration required – and all materials are provided.
“We bring field guides, we bring binoculars, we bring all of the information packets, so all of the adults that come to the program go away with a collated PowerPoint slide of all of the information that we talked about throughout the day,” Althoff said. “No necessary background or tools.”
Those who attend will learn how to use binoculars, identify common species of birds and find out which areas in the Duke City are ideal for birding. Those skills can be put into practice at the end of the classroom session, as an optional guided walk around the urban space outside of the library is available. Guides have ranged from educators (including Althoff) to wildlife biologists to U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees, who in the past have offered insight on regulation and enforcement regarding birding.
“Between last season and this season, you would have gotten some different perspectives, but definitely the same theme and program,” Althoff said. “(We’re) trying to keep those principles of birding.”
Some of the species one might encounter in the area include Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, great-horned owls, mallards, sandhill cranes, woodpeckers, house finches, hummingbirds and chickadees, among others. Anyone interested in continuing beyond the course will have the option of checking out a beginner’s birding kit at any of the participating libraries. These come with a birding hotspot guide, an open space map and a set of binoculars complete with instructions.
“Anyone with a library card can get out there and get into it,” Althoff said.
And really, that’s the beauty of birding in general. It’s a hobby that’s pretty inclusive.
“I think one of the really lovely things about birdwatching is that it really can connect people to nature. So it’s a lovely first experience outdoors,” Althoff said. “You can just go outside with a pair of binoculars for an hour or two and just really enjoy (the area) you’re in and connect to the place.
“It’s also super flexible, so you can do it anywhere at any time. In that way it’s very inclusive. You don’t need a body of water, you don’t need mountains, you don’t get excluded if you’re in an urban environment. We can bird in our backyards easily.”