Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Nov. 5, 1965.
Chasing butterflies is no longer viewed as a strange pursuit, nor are bird watchers looked upon with wondering as in years past.
Nature study is enjoyed by more and more people. Society has found such hobbies to be fascinating and well they should, for there is nothing that intrigues man more than mystery.
Nature abounds in mystery because it is composed of the unknown and unexpected. In mathematics things are predictable. Two and two always equal four. However, in nature’s world, there are no mathematical formulas, nor are there many certainties. Probabilities are predictable but the improbable frequently happens. I have never yet walked a wooded path, sat by a brook or watched the sky and known the weight of the next moment.
As a matter of fact whenever I do any of these, the only certainty is surprise.
The other day I was visiting with a neighbor who said, “Several years ago I don’t remember being aware of many birds. There was a blue jay now and then or a chickadee. In those days to me, a sparrow was just a sparrow. One day I put out a bird feeder, added some seeds and a chunk of suet and was amazed at the number of birds that soon were visiting me. I didn’t know what many of them were. As a matter of fact I never realized there was such a variety of birds in this area. I found myself struggling to identify them with the aid of a most inadequate bird book.”
My neighbor went on to say that she purchased “A Field Guide to the Birds” by Roger Tory Peterson. With the aid of this book a whole new horizon was revealed to her. A sparrow was no longer just a sparrow. It was a fox sparrow, a field sparrow or an ordinary house sparrow.
This lady was fortunate to have a kitchen window that was in a protected corner. Her birds alighted on a board outside the window. The board, now a feeder, had been attached to a ledge and from inside the house birds were easily studied for their identifying marks. The whole family soon adopted a new hobby. They became alert to the presence of new bird visitors.
Since they began feeding birds, they have compiled an extensive bird list. One of their most interesting experiences has been the appearance of migrating Cape May warblers. Each spring they are visited by a flock of 30 or more that spend a day or so in a tall spruce tree on their property.
Bird watching was the beginning and over the years as a family, they gained an awareness of the out of doors. To their library has been added several field guides. There’s one on butterflies, rocks and minerals, wild flowers and animal tracks. It was caterpillars on the milkweed and pretty stones in the driveway and tracks on the snow noticed by the children that stimulated a desire to know these things better.
This fall and coming winter there will be others who will feed birds for the first time and sooner than they think they will gain a more meaningful understanding of the world.