Jacob Jensen thinks about birds all the time.
“I wake up in the morning. My eyes are closed. I can hear the birds. There’s a Carolina wren,” Jensen said.
He makes a point to track and record the birds he sees daily on a bird-watching app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He goes bird watching regularly in Central New York, but says one of the best bird watching spots is in Cortlandville, at Lime Hollow Nature Center.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “A bird watching hot spot.”
Bird watching is a hobby that is open to all. You just need to look.
To be a birder means being aware of your surroundings, said Jensen, 22, of Homer, a SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry senior.
“It means to be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “Taking your time. I don’t know of any fast birders. You take time. It takes passion.”
“I’m no ornithologist. I’m not a bird expert,” Jensen added. “I didn’t take any classes at ESF. I started birding with my parents at 5, 6 years old, at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. We’d take wild life drives. It’s kind of a family thing.”
Now he participates in citizen science for the Cornell Lab, tracking what he sees on the internet so bird scientists can record the species distribution.
“I do a lot of birding from my car, also, not just hiking in. I use the car as a blind by a water body. I record the birds I see and hear on a smartphone, on eBird,” he said of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology app.
“Currently in Cortland County there are 160 species of birds I have seen the the past two years,” he said.
Photo provided by Jacob Jensen
An American kestrel.
GETTING OUT THERE
On a typical birdwatching expedition Jensen says:
“I pack my gear: binoculars; a camera to track sightings, if I see a rare species and for birds I think are absolutely gorgeous.”
“And you look outside: What’s the weather like? Central New York can be rainy or snowy. It will probably be cold,” he added.
He wears a polyester shirt for his base layer, a flannel shirt for warmth and a waterproof jacket. He has good waterproof boots and “nasty jeans I don’t mind if they get torn up.” And fingerless wool gloves to manipulate the knobs of his camera and binoculars.
“I like to stick with Cortland County,” Jensen said. “How much time do I have? Three hours between classes? I stay close to home. I plan a rough route, then go.”
The car is an option. “Birds are pretty used to motor vehicles. I will park my car, open the window, turn the heat off and sit there for a half hour,” he said.
FINDING THE VARIETY
He’ll scope out nature, trees — whatever is moving. He saw a male bufflehead, for instance. “It’s a duck. It’s a diving duck.”
“I love seeing owls. Any owl at any time … Bard owls in particular,” he said. “When I fish at Labrador Hollow, I hear them at night.”
He likes any warbler for their beautiful, dazzling colors. He likes any type of sandpiper, which have so many species they can be tough to identify.
“I get excited when I have a tough ID on my hands. It could be six different peeps six different sandpipers. That’s where eBird comes in.”
The app helps birders identify species. “Finches. We have had an irruption,” he said of seeing a surge in a species. “Common red polls, hoary polls from Canada and purple finches, which are native to the area, but less common because they are in competition with house finches.”
He thinks American and English scientists have named birds poorly — a red-bellied woodpecker, for instance. “You rarely see a red belly.”
Photo provided by Jacob Jensen
A mourning dove has a soothing bird call. Seen in the area within the past two years.
‘HE’S LEARNED SO MUCH’
Peter Harrity, a “mostly retired” naturalist at Lime Hollow Nature Center, met Jensen when Jensen was a Lime Hollow camper.
“He’s great. He’s a ball of energy,” Harrity said. “He totally goes in with whatever he loves,” Harrity said. “He became a mentor for us at Lime Hollow.”
Jensen has become “a top notch birder,” said Harrity, who worked for 20 years with the Peregrine Fund in Hawaii, a conservation non-profit that protects raptors.
“He’s amazing. He’s learned so much.”
Beginning birders can put up a bird feeder in their backyard, if that works for them, Harrity said.
“Pay attention to the backyard. Learn backyard birds,” he said. “Have a field guide. They have nice apps. One is called Merlin.”
The watcher can put in key details, the habitat, size of the bird and color and images will pop up of bird possibilities, Harrity said. “I learned the old way, with field books,” now duct-taped from so much use, he said.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology puts on a beginners field trip, he said. People can access www.birds.cornell.edu for webcams, bird identification help, programs and more. It’s Sapsucker Woods has 4 miles of trails on 230 acres that the public can access.
Its visitor’s center, like Lime Hollow’s, is now closed because of the pandemic, but the trails remain open.
“It’s always good to go out with someone who knows what they are seeing,” Harrity said. “Birdwatching is knowing more what’s not possible, than what’s possible.”
“There are 400 species in New York State. Right now in Central New York, there’s under 100 birds you are going to see right now,” Harrity said. “Find a spot you like and go visit it.”
Photo provided by Jacob Jensen
A pine sisken.
WHERE TO GO
“Central New York is a wonderful birding spot,” Harrity said. “We have a premier birding locale at Montezuma that is world-class for birds … we have a lot of migration. Lime Hollow is a stunning spot. It’s one of the best spots. It’s got diversity of habitat.”
Beginner birders may not know the best places to look, but they can practice.
Jensen likes Durkee Park on Route 11 in Homer and Lime Hollow Nature Center, which he calls “phenomenal.”
The center has 591 acres and 13 miles of trails off McLean and Gracie roads.
“I can’t name a better area to bird,” Jensen said. “This is a hot spot, other than Montezuma.”
Jensen saw a white-eyed vireo at Lime Hollow in 2019. “That bird was rare. It’s not from around here,” he said; it’s typically found from Pennsylvania to the South.
He recommends people check the Central New York Land Trust, the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the Roy H. Park Preserve in Dryden. “It has a beautiful habitat,” he said.
Then there’s also this:
Or — “Take a walk,” Jensen said.