By SABRA STAFFORD
- Dawn breaks across the eastern sky, sending shafts of gold and pink light over the meadow. Early morning wisps of mist are rising off the tall grass just as the Aleutian Cackling Geese take flight across the clearing and embark on their day’s journey. It’s a wonderous sight and one that is repeated each morning in the winter months. Each new season will bring new birds that will alight and find rest at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge in Modesto, which makes it one of the preferred spots for bird watchers in the 209 area.A study in 2016 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that more than 45 million Americans routinely observe the comings and goings of birds in their backyards and farther out, making birdwatching a popular hobby, second only to gardening. Locally, bird watcher enthusiasts or novices to the pastime have the Stanislaus Audubon Society and the San Joaquin Audubon Society as valuable resources for exploring the myriad of birds the fly in and out of the region. The first step in birdwatching is learning to identify the birds you see and to do this, Sal Salerno, the president of the Stanislaus Audubon Society, suggests starting with the birds landing in your backyard. “The good thing about birds is that they are everywhere, so it’s easy to get started,” Salerno said. Beginning birdwatchers should practice identifying the birds by taking note of the size, color, shape, and other physical characteristics. Listening is also going to play an important role in birdwatching because more times than not a bird will be heard before it is seen. Whether the weather is hot, cold, or perfectly pleasant, birdwatchers are going to find some fowl to gaze upon in the 209 region all year long. Fall and winter are popular months because the area becomes a temporary home for numerous migratory birds stopping for a few months’ sojourn away from the colder climates. The spring and summer are great times to watch the diverse bird population hatch and raise their offspring. The Stanislaus Audubon Society encompasses both Stanislaus and Merced counties, while the San Joaquin Audubon Society covers everything between Lodi and Ripon. Both societies offer information on birdwatching basics, like supplies needed, places to see birds, and lists of some of the more frequent avian visitors. For members, the benefits include regular field trips, guides and opportunities to help protect the birds. Audubon Society members often will conduct surveys and counts on various bird species, which is invaluable information when it comes to conservation efforts.