Sharon Stiteler is always on the lookout for birds — especially during the spring migration, which began several weeks ago.
“A lot are just coming back right now, especially the brown ones,” said Stiteler, a part-time park ranger at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area who also has carved out an identity as “Birdchick.” In that role, she writes, blogs and makes speaking appearances, sharing her delight in birding.
For Stiteler, catching a glimpse of a certain bird is akin to a celebrity sighting. The first time she saw a loon, “it was like seeing Brad Pitt,” she said.
“There’s always something to learn,” she said. Birding is “like a treasure hunt, only the treasure moves and changes color sometimes.”
It all started when she was 7 and she read about the pileated woodpecker in a “Peterson Field Guide.” “The idea that there’s a crow-sized woodpecker out there” struck her, and it sparked a lifelong interest in birds.
Stiteler, of Minneapolis, is a daily birder. She stressed that bird-watching can happen anytime, near or far. For example, she might plant herself on her deck with a cup of coffee in hand and watch the birds pass overhead. It helps that she has birdfeeders at home, too.
She gets a laugh from observing crows as they gather nesting materials. “If you stare at them, they get cagey, acting like, ‘there’s nothing to see here.’ ”
At least several times a week, Stiteler surveys her “patch,” or the pocket surrounding her home.
Beyond her immediate area, she tends to stick around the Mississippi River, which is an important flyway for more than 325 bird species, according to Audubon materials.
When she ventures out, Stiteler usually brings her binoculars, spotting scope and smartphone.
Wherever she is, she notes what new birds arrive each day. “All of these birds are moving at night. You can’t see them. They seem to appear magically,” she said.
Their journeys are impressive, like when the hummingbirds show up at the end of April, “I know they’ve crossed the Gulf of Mexico at least twice in their life. It’s amazing that something so small has done that,” she said, “I wish I had that kind of energy.”
Recently, Stiteler noticed hermit thrushes, which are cousins of the robin. They’re “one of the prettiest singers. They can harmonize with themselves” and croon more than one note at a time, she said. “It’s a very haunting flute-y sound.”
Thrushes are common in Minnesota, but sometimes during the migration, a time when “anything goes,” more exotic species are known to make a cameo appearance in the area, too, Stiteler said.
“There are predicted routes but sometimes their DNA makes them go the wrong direction or exhaustion forces them into places where you wouldn’t expect to find them.”
For example, one spring she saw a swallow-tailed kite, which “isn’t supposed to be here,” as it’s a Florida bird, she said.
It’s still early in the season, so “everybody is waiting for warblers, tanagers, orioles — all the colorful birds.”
Being a birder means “never being bored. … You could be in Manhattan or Las Vegas. You can do it anywhere,” Stiteler said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.