My little world of watching birds from my kitchen window got a whole lot bigger the day I went actual bird watching with an actual bird professional. Scott Dietrich of Tahoe Birding was that very expert who drove me and two other “clients” to numerous locations around the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.

For two full days the three of us (additional friends and family members joined on day two) yelped and squealed like a group of six-year-olds every time we raised our binoculars to look at a bird that Dietrich had heard and identified. By the end of the first day we had spotted 34 birds, 20 of which I had never seen before; “lifers” they’re called, birds you’re seeing for the first time. That afternoon I kept thinking how the act of birding was a lot like snorkeling, being underwater and noticing certain fish that you never would have noticed from the surface. It was just like that. Distinguishing a variety of birds in the willows or in the forest that had always been there, but were hidden.

Dietrich has a fun, innovative approach to enticing birds to come into view when they are being shy. His trick is to listen to the call or song of a bird, identify it (this is where you need the expert), pull up the call on his cell phone via the Audubon Bird Guide App, and play the recording. As his phone is twittering away (not as in Twitter, the popular social media platform, but as in actually twittering), the curious bird moves closer, believing the call is from one of its own. Dietrich is cautious, however, not to play the call continuously as he believes it’s unfair for birds to keep looking for an artificial mate, especially during the breeding season. “I don’t want to stress them out,” he says. Once the bird is located, we were told to keep our eyes on it while at the same time raising our binoculars. At this point, the magic happens. Through our small binocular windows, we were blown away when we spied the calliope hummingbird, the smallest bird in North America (not much larger than a bumblebee); the violet-green swallow with the most brilliant green and purple colors you’ve ever seen; and the pileated woodpecker, a prehistoric-looking bird you could swear had flown among the dinosaurs.

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Sometimes, the simplest means are the best, and this is the case when Dietrich tries to attract a woodpecker. He picks up a stick and taps it against a log in an even rhythm, tap, tap … tap, tap … tap, tap, a sound similar to that of a woodpecker repeatedly hitting its bill into a tree to announce its territory, or to probe for food. Sure enough, the curious woodpecker wants to know who’s knocking and responds with a few calls or taps of its own.

Along our journey, Dietrich told us tidbits about birds, like the fact that nuthatches scuttle up and down a tree trunk, whereas creepers can only “creep” up a tree and then have to fly down to a spot from where they creep up and fly down again. Another fact: a bird song is a melody birds sing during the breeding season to attract a mate or announce a territory, but a bird call is a different sound meant for interaction and is usually used all year long. A detail I found particularly interesting are the red-breasted sapsucker’s tidy housekeeping skills. It retreats from its cavity with pockets of fecal matter and extra building material, keeping its nest clean and organized. A more commonly known fact is that many Sierra birds fly south to Mexico or South America for the winter, returning to breed in the early spring.

Bird watching was a gift from my daughter to me, as it was a gift to another mother from her own daughter, that first day I met Dietrich. After those two days of squeals and excitement, the three of us vowed to do it all over again the following spring: no mask and snorkel required, just a pair of binoculars and our continued zest for winged creatures.

Check out Dietrich’s website tahoebirding.com to view pictures and videos, and to learn a little about him and his bird business.

~ Do you have a question about our region’s environment? Email editors@moonshineink.com.

Author

  • Eve Quesnel

    Eve Quesnel has lived in Truckee for 35 years with her husband Bill, once-upon-a-time daughter Kim-now on her own-and many dogs through the years, currently a Border Collie-Aussi mix. Her favorite pastimes include walking in her neighborhood and nearby woods, hiking in the high Sierra, and reading and writing. Quesnel is now retired from teaching English at Sierra College in Truckee but continues to pursue several writing projects. She is intrigued by the natural world of which she explores and writes about for the column "Nature's Corner" in Moonshine Ink.

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