“Birders are a funny lot. I’ll be in a park and someone will be like, ‘Oh I just saw a vireo, come on!’ and you just take off with them. It’s like you’re eight years old again. Let’s go play on the slide! It’s awesome.”
“This marsh here — ” Bev Bowe breaks off, an endearing habit of birders always on the lookout. “— Oh! Okay, now, that’s a male, another male, and you’ll see ‘em, and they’ve got…well, there were three here the other day…. In February, you’ll see hummingbirds. They do a jay-pop, and you can actually hear the pop. They go way up and then, they shoot down and do a quick up, like a jay, and their wings make a popping sound. That’s a territory thing. Now, let’s go see if we can find a bushtit nest…”
Bowe is a master birder who loves to give newbies a glimpse of paradise, tucked into the hills and marshlands of Edmonds, and beyond. Constantly on alert for the sounds and sights of our fine-feathered friends, she continues an endearing, running commentary about life all around her, whether it’s winter’s first red-tailed hawk sighting or a group of regular birders standing near a grove of bushes, waiting for sparrows to light up the sky.
“Ever heard of something called the Dawn Chorus? Birds at dawn, they get up and if you get up early enough, you can hear them. Everybody gets up and sings their song.”
Bowe’s guided walks are in high demand — the stuff of birding legend. The Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds is lucky to have her.
She’s one of many expert twitchers ready to give you the lay of the land, and sea, at the annual two-day affair, Sept. 11-12 — a favorite of amateur and expert birders everywhere.
Bowe will lead the Accessible-ish Edmonds Park Guided Walk Sun., 8 a.m.-10 a.m., at Yost Park. The guided walk may afford bird’s-eye-views of Cooper’s Hawks, Chickadees, Pileated Woodpeckers, Pacific Wrens, and assorted other resident and migratory birds.
Don’t forget “weird ducks,” plentiful during prime fall season, headed into winter — the best birding season, according to Bowe, because you get a clearer view of the birds up in the tree branches, without all those leaves in the way, or a lot of bright sunshine.
“Eagles are the Mike Tysons of the bird world. They look so big and virile and threatening, and they’ve got this whole, ‘Eee eee!’ In the movies, they always dub in a red-tailed hawk for these birds, because that sounds more manly.”
“September is the very beginning of what we like to call Weird Duck Season, when many seabirds and ducks show up for the winter,” she describes. “There will be shorebirds and some warblers finishing up their southerly migration, too. Two of my favorite winter visitors show up in the wooded parks around here: the Varied Thrush and the Hermit Thrush both come down from the higher elevations, where they have been nesting and rearing young and I see both frequently in Yost and Pine Ridge Parks.”
Sign up early for Bowe’s accessible, guided tour, and you’ll be a birder in no time. She has a way of drawing you into their magnificent, hallowed world, an eternal playground, where everyone is welcome and free to be themselves, running around like kids again.
“Once you see or hear a new bird singing, you kind of own it.”
After 15 minutes following Bowe around at any one of her tours, you begin to get used to the birding shorthand and the bird-like attention span. The master birder will frequently interrupt her lively, running monologue to notice the slightest flash outside the corner of her eye, or perk up at the sound a certain kind of chickadee makes during mating season.
“Most people [recognize] birds by seeing them,” she explains. “But we find them a lot of times by hearing them. Part of the master birder program is, you are expected to learn birding by ear and you should know a hundred or so. You get tested on it. I was really good at it during class, then I forgot 80 percent of it, which is okay, it’s allowed. It’s birding, not diffusing a bomb [laughs].”
The late Edmonds wildlife photographer Bill [Anderson] “was our buddy, he was our playground playmate.”
Birders are an endlessly curious, ridiculously friendly bunch. Even if they don’t know you, they won’t hesitate to share what they’ve seen and heard, or join in on conversations, as if you’ve always been the best of friends.
Bowe is also given to seamlessly interrupting her ongoing bird commentary to greet fellow birders along any given trail:
“Hello, ladies, lovely day for birding,” she’ll chirp.
“Beautiful morning!” they respond in kind. “Where are you going next?”
“Heading down to the tennis courts. See if we can find some sparrows. You guys see the Kinglet?”
“Yes! So exciting. Have a great day, ladies!”
Bird watching and birding are two different animals. One’s a nice hobby, a fun way to pass the time, if so inclined. The other’s serious business, a sport that often compels people to drop whatever they’re doing and fly clear across the country at a moment’s notice just to be there for a rare bird sighting. “They’re the crazy ones,” Bowe jokes.
“I’m actually somewhere in the middle and consider myself both a birder and a bird watcher; it is really a sliding scale, with lots of variations and levels of commitment.”
One of the coolest parts about bird watching is, everyone can play — and nobody judges: old, young, avid, casual, you're all welcome. There are so many different kinds of birders, just as there are birds: loners, social butterflies, seasonal, and year-round. “There are people who bird by scope only, and they will stand on the beach and scope the water, looking to see any kind of seabird they can find, or they stand at the beach and they go to Ocean Shores, and spend hours looking through a scope. And that’s great,” she continues.
All of a sudden, Bowe stops dead in her tracks to warmly greet Wesley, the resident Marsh hummingbird (Anna’s Hummingbird)…a fuzzy green blur hovering and dipping a few feet away — in the middle of an infamous Jay-Pop. “He’s so famous, because he follows people. He recognizes the regulars, too,” she says. “And when our friend, [wildlife photographer] Bill Anderson passed away from cancer on Feb. 2, it seemed like Wesley knew somehow…like he was looking for him.”
“You’d be surprised at the birds you do know. You probably know at least 50 to 100. You know crows, you know Canadian goose, you know what a robin is, a Song Sparrow, a Mallard Duck… By the time you’re an adult, you should know about 50 of them.”
Before she has a chance to say more, movement up in the trees dead-ahead attracts her attention and she goes to it like a moth to a flame. She catches adorable Cedar Waxwings — fast-moving blips the color of a summer sunset — jumping from branch to branch, before flying off again, and then, turns her head just in time to catch a Red-Tailed Hawk soaring right above her, dangerously close to a murder of territorial crows in a line of trees next to State Route 104.
Just another thrilling day in the life of a master birder, with another eager recruit falling helplessly in love…
Be sure to check out the goings-on at the 2021 Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds, starting with this year’s keynote speaker, Olympia, WA-residing, “accidental naturalist” Maria Mudd Ruth, who has a lot to say about the Salish Sea-dwelling, diving seabirds known as Auks, or Alcids. Her Zoom Webinar, “The Not-So Awkward Auks,” kicks off Sat., Sept. 11, 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Mudd Ruth is the author of “Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet” and the 2017 Nautilus Silver Medal book, “A Sideways Look at Clouds.”
Other Sat. Zoom presentations include the free Bird Fest Family Storytime, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., live from the Edmonds Library, and “Birdability: because birding is for everybody and every body!” by Virginia Rose and Freya McGregor — the hearts behind the non-profit organization opening up access for mobility- and sight-challenged birding enthusiasts, noon-1 p.m.
Guided walks, workshops, and a cruise complete the fun-filled weekend.
Don’t miss a rare opportunity to view rhinoceros auklets and glaucous-winged gulls returning to their nests at Protection Island’s 364-acre National Wildlife Refuge. The three-hour Puget Sound Birding Cruise departs Edmonds Marina Sun., 4 p.m. Almost 70 percent of the nesting seabird population of Puget Sound and the Straits resides on the island. The Puget Sound Bird Fest collaborates with Puget Sound Express for the Protection Island expedition. Register online at PSE.
Registration and login info are posted on the Bird Fest website.
Photography by Matt Hulbert