Keep eye on the sky as migrants fly by

Keep eye on the sky as migrants fly by

When I was a kid, I proved my worth by spotting things in the sky no one else could see. No, I wasn’t a juvenile psychic or some sort of conjuring prodigy. The things I saw were every bit real. They were just so far off and tiny in the sky that to most folks it might have seemed I was making them up.

If I could get the people around me to look hard enough, close enough and in just the right direction, they too could enjoy these distant objects of wonderment. Thus was my life as a young bird hunter.

When I was still too young to carry a gun afield but plenty big enough to serve as an able retriever, my brother would take me along on his forays afield. Doves, ducks and even the rare — at that time anyway — Canada goose were the focus of my longing, and I learned very quickly to tune my youthful eyes to the sky to see things that were seemingly beyond sight. Along the way, hawks, owls, songbirds, and even aircraft, satellites and the occasional meteor came into focus.

Sky-spotting is a skill I’ve practiced daily my entire life, and it has continued to serve me well, even as my focus has turned over the years from hunting toward wildlife observation and photography. Thank goodness the geriatric eye atrophy that has forced me to wear ever-increasing magnifications of “reader” glasses to see the print on a page has not affected my long distance sight in the least. I guess you could say I’ve grown to become “far-sighted,” but I’m not so sure that’s how it all works.

This is a great time of year for folks to keep an eye to the sky as the spring migration is beginning to ramp up in earnest across the Midwest. Millions of birds will wing their way through our area over the course of the next few months, and if you’re one of the 45 million Americans who enjoy birding in any given year, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Birding is an immensely popular activity, made even more so by the pandemic. With nothing to do but sit and watch the birds, many Americans did exactly that. And the wonderful thing about it is this hobby that began for many as a simple, inexpensive way to fill the time seems to have stuck.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, participation in birding has mushroomed by 50% in the past six years. And while a majority of those who claim birding as a pastime may limit their passion to just observing birds around the home, nearly a third — about 17 million people — are willing to travel in pursuit of their feathered friends.

I can personally attest to the popularity of the endeavor, even if based on nothing more than the number of buggies and cars parked along the birding hot spots of the area, spotting scopes trained on some distant silhouette bobbing across a flooded bean field. One of the best attributes of this nonconsumptive and largely noncompetitive sport is there’s always enough for everyone. When I see that hooded merganser out on the swamp, I can share it with 10 other people, and later that afternoon, 10 more might happen by to see the same bird.

There’s an awful lot of joy to be found in sharing the natural world. Now get out there and practice. It’s quickly becoming the most wonderful time of the year.

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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