By Kim Hone-McMahan
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published: June 28, 2013 – 04:56 PM | Updated: July 1, 2013 – 12:35 PM
Andrew DeLamatre followed a line of birders into the woods. Sporting binoculars and boots, they trudged the paths, soggy from rain. Like everyone else, DeLamatre listened for the call of the red-headed woodpecker. On this day, only one of the “flying checkerboards,” as the bird with the crimson head is sometimes called, showed itself.
DeLamatre is among a growing number of 20- and 30-somethings who are becoming more interested in bird watching. Though the 27-year-old Summit County judicial assistant came to the hobby through his parents, others his age seem to be finding the sport on their own.
Three years ago, folks from Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, the same people who led this red-headed woodpecker tour near the Towpath Trail in Clinton, started the Young Birders program, targeting ages 7 to 10. This year, they changed the name to Beginner Birders because the staff noticed that it wasn’t just children who were interested in the program.
“We saw 30-somethings becoming interested,” naturalist Meghan Doran said. “We were seeing that they really didn’t know much about birding, but were interested in learning.”
Doran and her colleagues believe technology is spurring a revolution of sorts. Apps for smartphones, for instance, provide a wealth of information for bird watchers.
“One example is an app that plays back the song of the birds, so you know what’s singing in your park or neighborhood. Other apps are similar to field guides that give information about their breeding range, what they eat and their migratory path. And if you want to document what you are seeing, you can make a bird list on an app,” Doran explained.
“You can even meet up with other people on these apps or Internet resources, and network with other 20- or 30-somethings who are interested in the same things that you are,” she added. “It’s really fascinating and I think it’s growing because that kind of technology is available.”
There are lots of bird lovers among us. According to a 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, which tracked bird watchers over the age of 15, about 47 million people are keeping their eyes on the sky nationwide. Nearly 1.6 million Ohioans are birders.
Bird watching has traditionally been thought of as a sport for the graying population, a boring one to folks in their 20s. But DeLamatre maintains adventurous bird watchers can expect their hobby to take them hiking in the woods and through swamps.
“We also share the environment with animals, and I think it’s important to have an appreciation for them,” he added.
Jay Smith, 46, of Green, has been bird watching for 16 years.
“I wish I would have started when I was a lot younger,” said Smith, who was on the tour. “Bird watching is a challenge. The more you are into it, the more there is to learn.”
Smith, who jokes about being a birder and working at Giant Eagle, says most people don’t take time out of their busy schedules to look around.
“They might see sparrows around the house and not understand what the big deal is about. But once you see something really incredible, like the scarlet tanager, you don’t realize how incredible” birding is, he said.
During this day’s birding adventure, the group saw a goldfinch, tufted titmouse, blue-gray gnatcatcher, prothonotary warbler and catbird. Additionally, they spotted creatures including frogs and a snake swimming in the swamp.
As the group tromped through the woods, Metro Parks’ Pat Rydquist frequently stopped to listen. Hesitating briefly, she called out the names of the birds she identified.
“It’s really a seeing sport,” Rydquist explained, “but then you want to hear them.”
Instead of traveling out of state for vacation, Doran said people are using local resources to entertain themselves.
“They can see that they can go out to one of their local parks or go within a couple of hours of their home in Ohio to find some magnificent birds, and they don’t have to fly across country or across the ocean to do something fun.”