Take a walk in the woods — or in Houston’s parks, trails, neighborhoods or along Galveston’s beaches — for bird-watching opportunities – Houston Chronicle


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Resolve to walk outside a few days a week to enjoy the sights and sounds of birds.
Birdwatchers will gather this holiday season to count birds for the Christmas Bird Counts. Volunteers are needed for this longest-running and most successful citizen-science project. Photo Credit: Kathy Adams Clark Restricted use.
A couple heads out on one of the hiking trails at Brazos Bend State Park.
Resolve to walk outside a few days a week in the new year to enjoy the sights and sounds of birds.
Walking is good for your physical health. Resolve to get out a few days a week in the new year. While walking, listen and observe birds.
Happy New Year! As you read this, I will have greeted the first day of the year as I meet every day — by going outside before daylight to sense the dawn, see the sunrise and listen to the birds wake.
Besides, While I’ve never been good at New Year’s resolutions, I do hope you’ll make a modest resolve to walk outside at least a few days a week to enjoy the sights and sounds of birds. They draw our attention to nature in all its dimensions.
Whether morning, midday or afternoon, take a walk while paying attention to the birds. You’ll be refreshed from your toils and have your spirits lifted from the angst of our times.
It’s good for your physical health. A sustained walk while looking around for birds lubricates and loosens sedentary joints while building muscular and cardiovascular fitness.
It’s good for your brain. Listening to rhythmic chirps and songs of birds activates neural pathways to enliven mental acuity. Don’t we all need that?
  Use weekly walks to learn neighborhood birds by sight and sound.
  Study bird plumages and the shapes of beaks, heads, wings and tails.
  Watch how birds forage for food, how they avoid danger, how they form breeding pairs, build nests and raise their young.
  Look for flight patterns, such as the rate of wingbeats, quick flights from point to point, meandering flights around trees and soaring flights.
  Learn each songbird’s voice by its vocal pitch, short call notes and melodic songs.
 Jot down what you’ve learned each day and sketch simple stick drawings of birds before consulting books, websites, or listening to recorded birdsongs.
Watching birds go about their daily lives resurrects our childlike curiosity and sense of wonderment. And while sorting out one bird from another by looking at varying plumages and flight patterns, we sharpen our perceptual acuity and analytical abilities.
Look at the red plumage on a northern cardinal and notice how the red hue becomes increasingly vivid as spring approaches. Same thing with the blues on male bluebirds. Ask yourself why those male plumages outshine the female plumages. Before Googling for the answer, try figuring it out.
Attend to the songs and calls of birds and work out ways to tell one vocalization from another. No matter your auditory range, use your hearing abilities to discern varying bird voices. Think about the loud vocalizations of Carolina wrens versus soft vocalizations of Carolina chickadees. Ask yourself, why the difference in tonality?
You’ll be surprised how the vocal patterns of birds stick to your brain just by paying attention and wondering about the different songs and chirps.
Warning: A weekly routine of walking while looking at birds could turn you into a bona fide birder. You could wind up at local parks and wildlife refuges with binoculars and a camera while watching the extraordinary diversity of birds you never knew were here.
Gary Clark is the author of “Book of Texas Birds,” with photography by Kathy Adams Clark (Texas A&M University Press). Email him at Texasbirder@comcast.net.
Gary Clark is the weekly nature columnist for the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. He also publishes feature articles in state and national magazines and has written four books: “Texas Wildlife Portfolio,” “Texas Gulf Coast Impressions,” “Backroads of the Texas Hill Country” and “Enjoying Big Bend National Park.” Gary is also a contributing author in the book, “Pride of Place: A Contemporary Anthology of Texas Nature Writing.”
He has won eight Lone Star College writing awards and is the recipient of the Houston Audubon Society 2004 Excellence in Media Award and the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition 2010 Synergy Media Award for Environmental Reporting.
Gary is professor of business and developmental studies at Lone Star College–North Harris. In 32 years at the college, Gary has served as vice president of instruction; dean of Business, Social and Behavioral Sciences; associate dean of Natural Sciences; professor of marketing; professor of developmental writing; and Faculty Senate president. He is a recipient of the Teacher Excellence Award.
Gary has been active in the birding community for more than 30 years. He founded the Piney Woods Wildlife Society in 1982 and the Texas Coast Rare Bird Alert in 1983. He served as president of the Houston Audubon Society 1989-1991 and purchased the North American Rare Bird Alert for Houston Audubon in 1990. He was vice president of the Board of Directors for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory 2001-2008. He currently sits on the Board of Advisors for the Houston Audubon Society and Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. He is also a member of the American Mensa Society.

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