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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Walk and Talk a Feathery Affair

Walk and Talk a Feathery Affair:
Naturalist Dick Worth hosts bird chat at Audubon Society
(Appeared on 12/11)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – If you wanted to know about the birds that call Fairfield home during the wintertime, then Dick Worth is the man to see.

The long-time birder and naturalist hosted a “Walk and Talk” with that very focus mid-morning Dec. 11 at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Larsen Sanctuary at 2325 Burr St.

Worth, 65, professes a lifelong interest in bird watching that started as a child in New York City and continued when he moved to Fairfield in the 1980s. For about 10 years, he led school groups on spring and fall tours of the Larsen Sanctuary then, two years ago, began teaching a bird watching course for adults at Birdcraft Museum on Unquowa Road. About eight to 10 people typically attend the 4-week program to talk about bird calls and go on hikes to look at birds. Unfortunately, due to the recession, the fall course was not held this year.

Standing at the top of the steps at the Society’s main facility watching a flurry of activity at an adjacent feeder, Worth named the types of birds that can be seen in the winter or are year-round residents. “A number of American Goldfinch stay here for the whole winter and are frequent feeders,” he said. “Then there’s the Tufted Titmouse and Black Capped Chicadee, both of which are here year round. You can also see the White Throated Sparrow.”

He said that though owls stay in the area, you would be unlikely to see them as they are nocturnal. But one could definitely see small woodpeckers like the Hairy and Downy breeds and larger woodpeckers like the Flicker and Red-Bellied variety. Another bird that people might see is the White Breasted Nuthatch, which looks similar to the Chicadee.

He explained that these birds are seed-eating and that they follow a pattern of nesting and mating in the spring and usually have four or five offspring. Unfortunately, only about one in five of the offspring survive, due to predators like hawks, disease or injuries suffered from falls when learning to fly.

“Kestrel Hawks will hang out around a feeder and swoop down and kill a bird,” said Worth. One, in fact, was hovering in a nearby tree as he spoke.

About the birds in general, he said each has a different sound. “You start to get familiar with their calls, which is easiest in the winter because of the small number of birds that stay here. In the spring, when other birds return, you are already familiar with the calls of the winter crop, so learning the sounds of the other birds is easier.”

Worth said the secret to birding is to find a popular spot the birds frequent and to stay there. “Often, that’s a place that has water, like a pond, where they come to drink, or a meadow, where there are usually seeds on the ground and predators can be spotted,” he said.

One of the key things an aspiring birdwatcher can do is always look up. “You’re more likely to see birds in trees than at eye level,” Worth remarked.

There was a very plaintive screech as Worth excitedly said, “Oh, wow, look at that! A Broad Shouldered Hawk! He’s watching that feeder.” Sure enough, though it was hard to spot at first, the massive bird was perched on a limb of a tree.

“You can see how well they camouflage themselves. There are barely any leaves up there and he blends right in,” said Worth.

The bird man said this pursuit is popular because it requires so little. “You really just need a good set of standard binoculars and a good bird identification book, though you need patience, too. You have to stand there and wait for the birds to appear.”

Worth’s career path has been as windy as the Sanctuary’s trails, with an early start as a newspaper reporter for the old Hartford Times, a Gannett paper. For the past 30 years, he has written history texts and biographies. He’s also a jazz piano player and conducts a “Keys” instructional program for children in kindergarten through 6th grade in the Bridgeport school system.

Surprisingly, Worth has not written about his hobby, though he’s extremely knowledgeable. “There are so many books out there, I never felt there was a need for another.”

But he certainly is passionate about his pursuit. “Bird watching is a very, very relaxing way to spend time. It’s being out in the woods with a purpose. What it enables you to do is see some of the most spectacular creatures. Some of these birds are just gorgeous. There’s no end to the amount of time you can spend doing it.”

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