This is all good and happy stuff!
I am not a serious birdwatcher. It just happened that in the spring of 2019, I bought some binoculars. I did not have birdwatching in mind. I just noticed that a lot of people who walk along the waterfront of my Seattle neighborhood wear binoculars in the event there is something to look at, such as orcas passing through. And I decided that a small pair of binoculars might make my own walks a little more interesting.
One Saturday morning, I got up really early and went out for a latte and scone at around 6am. The coffee shop was nice and quiet at that hour so I dallied a while. But before I left, I got the binoculars out of my bag and put them on for the walk home. Along the way I spotted what I though were sea lions — or seals. I was not sure. But then I saw a middle-aged geezer looking through binoculars and I made to stand within talking distance. When he lowered his binoculars he noticed me and told me that he had been looking at a distant flock of birds on the water. He had expected them to be Buffleheads but on closer inspection they turned out to be Western Grebes. I asked about sea lions. He said he had seen a few that morning. Then he went on to tell me to be sure to be walking this stretch towards the end of April when the herring are spawning and there is an absolute feeding frenzy for the birds. We talked for over half an hour and when I got home I was rather encouraged. Later that day I was reading a neighborhood blog and saw a Bird Walk listed for the following Saturday. I decided to go.
As usual, I was worried about missed bus connections causing me to arrive late, but the buses were on time and I arrived way too early. So I had to make a bit of an impromptu walk in the rain to kill time, but when I returned to the appointed place, there were a couple of vehicles parked at the side of the road and two guys were getting their gear organized. One had a large camera bag and was assembling an impressive telephoto lens. And the other had a scope mounted on backpack frame that he was hoisting over his shoulders. And here was I with my cheap binoculars. But they were happy to see someone had shown up and asked if I had been on a bird walk before. I said I had not and they assured me I would love it. Over the next ten minutes about a dozen more people arrived and we got going. Only three people seemed to be seasoned birdwatchers; everyone else just seemed to be curious.
I did love it. Not once did I feel inadequately equipped with my little binoculars. Not once did I feel stupid when I could not catch sight of the bird that several other people were looking at. Not once did I feel unwelcome or that I did not belong. The experts were very generous with their knowledge and seemed to enjoy sharing their passion. Birdwatchers are very intensely passionate about their hobby — sometimes to the point of obsession. So it is hardly surprising that an autistic person might feel comfortable around birdwatchers.
We were in woods most of the way and I cannot remember all the birds we saw. It was the beginning of April and so the spring migration was underway with lots of birds passing through. I remember Crowned Kinglets, Bushtits and an Orange Warbler. I also enjoyed a Song Sparrow. I could hear him — but I had a hard time zooming in on him with my binoculars until one of the expert birdwatchers stood behind me and gave me directions. And we saw lots of hummingbirds. In the afternoon, I stopped by a bookstore and bought one of those laminated folding guides to Birds of Washington and went to a pub to study it over a beer.
Over the next few weeks, I took my binoculars on every walk and enjoyed watching the shore birds out on the water. I did not stress myself about learning to identify them. I just enjoyed watching them. There is something very soothing about watching ducks on the water. One suddenly dives down to feed. Then another. And another. One by one they dive down until there are none to be seen. After about a minute, one bobs up. Then another. And another. One by one they bob back up until they are all above the surface. And then it starts all over again. Very soothing to watch. I can now recognize the following duck-like birds: Harlequin, Bufflehead, Surf Scoter and Barrows GoldenEye. They often form feeding groups together, never being bothered that they are not all of the same type. I guess that only matters when it is time to mate. Otherwise, they just get along quite happily. People could learn a lot from ducks.
As I said at the beginning, I am not a serious birdwatcher — quite casual in fact. But that does not seem to matter. Sometimes a person will ask me what I am seeing through my binoculars. I always qualify my answer by admitting I do not know much about birds, but anything I tell them seems to be fine. If someone asks me, “Was that an osprey?” I just say, “I think so.” And if I do run into an expert birdwatcher, I know that there is no need to be intimidated. You can ask a birdwatcher anything about birds and they will be happy to tell you!
Next time you go for a walk, take some binoculars!