From Hunting to Birding


Hi bird lovers. Happy April. Ken Hall, aka Bird Nut here. 

The other evening I had the good fortune to meet two of the outstanding staff with The Neighborhood Gazette. I was presented with a question: “What made you interested in birding?”  I had never pondered this question, and I’m very good at pondering. So after several more days of pondering, I will attempt to give some insight.

I, my two brothers, and sister, were lucky to have amazing nature-loving parents and grandparents. From my earliest memories we would go visit my grandparents, who had a neighbor that raised pheasants and quail. My younger brother and I would just stand and marvel at the beauty of those birds. Then we were busy ourselves, catching horned toads on our way back to the house. 

My grandma was an absolute bird lover. She had a bird feeder right outside her front window. More than once we would be sitting having a visit, just to lose Grandma from the conversation when a beautiful bird landed on the feeder. Now, Grandma wasn’t all that concerned about street names, or scientific names of the birds. A yellow bird was a canary. Any black colored bird was a blackbird. All blue colored birds were bluebirds. She just had a huge love for all her feathered friends. 

As I got into my late teens to early twenties I would ride out to Grandpa and Grandma to help out with the yard or pick up groceries as needed. I remember once, Grandma giving me a grocery list and a bit of money. She told me if I didn’t have enough to get everything, to be sure I got the bird seed. Many times I would pull in her yard to find her carrying an old coffee can of bird seed to fill the feeders. Then always after my yard work, she would come out and we would sit on her yard swing watching the birds.

Another huge influence in my love for nature falls on my dad’s shoulders. As long as I remember we would take weekend or day trips to the mountains. Besides hotdogs, chips and Mom’s homemade potato salad, we would always find time for wildlife viewing. It became a game to see who could spot the first deer, elk or other wild creature. Dad was a hunter, and a self taught naturalist. We were raised as hunters as well. And I mean hunters, not killers. We ate what was harvested. Sometimes game meat was all we had to eat or want. Homegrown gardening, and an elk steak is beyond delicious. 

But hunting for Dad and his boys didn’t happen just in the fall. We would go on hikes witnessing things many will never see. A newborn fawn. Hummingbird nestlings. Elk returning to their summer range. Hawks, Eagles and Owls. The list goes on and on. We were taught stealth. If you snapped a tree branch you got what we called “Dad’s look.” He taught us to look for the horizontal in a vertical forest. How to look 10 yards ahead and see every obstacle, then look up walking by the memory of what you saw. We learned to pay attention to everything around and learn what looked out of place. So yes, I shot many big game animals, as well as birds. But what we shot would be eaten or you never pulled the trigger. To be successful you had to be tuned into nature.

About six years ago, the urge to hunt and harvest wildlife left me. Why, I have no clue, the desire just left. But the urge to be out in nature never did and never will. About the same time my wife bought me my very first non-pocket camera. At 65 years of age it was a bit intimidating. But digital cameras are great training devices. I started learning to use the camera and incorporating my huge love of nature into the best hobby I could have ever imagined. Birds fascinate me. But not all I love to photograph. I will wade into a patch of wildflowers and photograph honey bees for hours. Or looking rather silly, chase butterflies across a flowering meadow. Then there are the deer, elk, bears, bobcats, foxes and coyotes as well. To make a photo complete I must know all I can about whatever it is in my photo. 

So in retrospect of how I became a birdnut. The passion for birds is predominantly due to time spent with and learning from my Grandma and feeling the love she had for birds. The urge to hunt and appreciate all I see in nature falls back on my Dad. The drive to capture the beauty with my camera, and educate myself of what I am seeing is a self driven addiction.  

Lastly, it does not take a huge financial layout to photograph nature. My camera is an entry level mirrorless, and a 50-200 kit lens. I like it. A smaller lens and camera is much like archery hunting versus rifle hunting. The smaller lens forces me to be closer and use the lessons of stealth and awareness my dad taught me. 

You too can be a bird nut. Happy Spring. See you on the trail.    

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