Naturalist: Details Count When Watching Birds

By Betsy Muente

Many types of ducks feed with tails up and heads below the water. Skimmers glide with uneven bills just below the surface of the water waiting to feel the touch of food on their bills. Osprey and eagles soar gracefully through the sky then catch their food with their powerful talons.

These are some of the details about birds on the Eastern Shore presented by George Budd, a master naturalist, to an audience at the  Herbert H. Bateman Visitor Center of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The "talk" is one in a series to be sponsored this year by the Chincoteague Natural History Association

The audience was shown intriguing up-close pictures of local birds in their natural habitats. Everyone's eyes seemed glued to the screen as Mr. Budd showed his pictures and talked about how to tell one warbler from another. He played audio clips  of some birds as their pictures were shown. Other types of birds were shown and details were pointed out so we could see the differences to help us recognize Eastern Shore birds.

 Mr. Budd didn't always have such an eye for spotting, or as he says, seeing birds. Identifying them came later.

Mr. Budd retired to the peninsula a few years ago. An interest in birds and trips into the marshes and woodlands with friends helped him see what was there but had been hidden from his eyes. More sound clips of bird calls were played showing our ears can be very helpful as well.

Mr. Budd's interest in sharing his knowledge of Eastern shore birds with refuge visitors prompted him to become a master naturalist focusing on local birds. "Nature is just too broad a topic to not focus on a special interest," he said. People interested in more information about master naturalists can try virginiamasternaturalist.org

While the audience viewed the array of colors, Mr. Budd pointed out differences in types of warblers, woodpeckers, waterfowl, raptures and more. "Main body color is a good start," he said. "Look at beaks, size, body types and tail shapes. The smaller details can be key to identification."

Look carefully at egrets, the naturalist said. The great egret, not only has its size, but also a long yellow bill and black feet. The snowy egret is smaller,  black bill, black legs with yellow feet. The cattle egret sometimes seen on the horses has patches of yellowish feathers on head, chest and beak. Beware though, because I just found out that the little blue heron has a whitish phase. Noticing details can make identification a lot of fun.

In each marvelous photo, one also saw part of the bird's habitat. Mr. Budd joked about his property originally having lots of rose bushes which attracted Japanese beetles. As the roses died, his wife replaced them with perennials creating a new habitat. Suddenly the yard became alive with life, especially birds. He stresses being aware of what birds like to eat and other needs.

The bills are a key for what birds eat. Short and sturdy identifies seed eaters; while those with a little longer and thinner beaks are insect eaters. He began to see varieties of acrobatic woodpeckers, insect catching warblers and beautiful indigo buntings. "Plant your yard for attracting insects, such as butterflies, and/ or growing seeds.  Be patient, watch and 'see' what you couldn't before."Mr. Budd said.


The talk was filled with details and differences about Eastern Shore birds. Yellow rump warblers dance in the air. Great blue herons stand still or move in slow motion looking for food form such interesting curved poses. "Listening to some birds, we learned that their calls actually gave them their names," said Mr. Budd. He admitted thinking of all gulls as sea gulls until friends pointed out differences in types of gulls and terns.   

Mr. Budd asked people to remember there's more out there than birds. Flowers, dragonflies, frogs, butterflies and so much more are to be watched and enjoyed. Some equipment can help, he said. One of the first is a pair of binoculars. The Bateman Center has some that can be signed out at the visitor's desk. Field guides are a must to identify new birds. Mr. Budd uses a Nikon 70x 300 zoom that he got free for points. He likes the smaller lens for mobility. He suggests that a big money investment isn't necessary especially to start.

The history association sponsors events and activities promote a better understanding and appreciation of the Chincoteague refuge. The association may be reached at www.cnha@verizon.net or 757 336-3696. The association website is www.piping-plover.org.

Betsy Muente is a staff writer for Wild Pony Tales.

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