Tom Kemp doesn’t need binoculars to know that a house wren is nearby. All he has to do is hear the loud song packed into the little bird.
|Tom Kemp watches for birds through his binoculars. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Just by listening, Kemp knew which songbirds were busy Tuesday morning in the woods of Cricket Frog Cove, south of Bowling Green. There were red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, bluejays, robins, flickers, a gold finch, wrens and a Baltimore oriole.
“We do lots of bird watching by hearing also,” he said. “Once upon a time, I could identify all birds by song.”
“That’s a flicker,” he said, as a songbird broke the morning silence.
Kemp, a retired biology teacher who lives in Bowling Green, has been fascinated by birds for nearly 50 years. His older brother was a birder, “so I tagged along with him.”
As a birder, Kemp knows this is the biggest week of the year for American birdwatchers.
“This is the peak of migration,” he said. “Many birds use the Great Lakes as a migration focal point.”
But while many of his fellow birders were crowding together to catch glimpses of birds at Magee Marsh near Lake Erie, Kemp prefered the more quiet setting of Cricket Frog Cove this week.
“It’s wall-to-wall people” along the lake, he said.
Bird watching takes patience — aided by technology when desired. This week, Kemp came armed with his binoculars and an iPod packed with 300 bird calls.
|Tom Kemp with an iPod Touch and a speaker he uses to get the attention of birds.
|A red-winged blackbird at Cricket Frog Cove.
|Birdwatcher Tom Kemp at Cricket Frog Cove off of Freyman Road, just west of the Slippery Elm Trail.
“I don’t have any music on here. It’s all bird calls,” Kemp said.
By playing the song of the red-winged blackbird, for instance, Kemp can draw the bird closer since it had territorial tendencies.
“Sometimes they get mad,” he said. On Tuesday, that happened when the bird responded to the iPod song by swooping in and perching on a nearby branch, puffing up his red wings so he looked more formidable to possible competition.
Other birds, like the flicker, just respond in song.
“He acknowledged it,” Kemp said as he heard the flicker echo in the distance.
“If you do this long enough, you can tell birds by their silouettes and the way they fly,” he said.
Kemp has a particular fondness for songbirds, many which are returning to the region after spending the colder months in southern climates.
“I like the fact that they migrate,” he said. “Many spent the winter in Central and South America.”
The birdwatcher also enjoys seeing the unexpected.
“It’s fun to find an out-of-place species. It happened in my yard yesterday,” when a clay-colored sparrow showed up, he said.
Kemp has traveled the world in search of birds. He has been to Australia, Africa, Asia and South America. His next goal — Nepal. As always, he will study up on the native birds, such as the pheasants of the Himalayas.
Once he drove to Massachusetts to see a rare ivory gull, which is typically found only on northern ice flows.
“It’s a bird I had dreamed about seeing pretty much my whole life,” he said. Was it worth it? “Oh you bet.”
Though he has seen winged creatures around the world, Kemp never tires of checking out local birds.
“I’m still discovering things about it,” he said.
Kemp participates every year in the annual Christmas bird counts in the region. Over the years, he has noticed a declining population.
“Overall, there are certainly fewer birds than there were,” he said.
The biggest threat to birds is the loss of natural habitat areas, and ferral cats, he said.
The most common birds of this region include grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and the red-breasted robins.
“You’d have to make the case for robins,” he said.
His least favorite are house sparrows, who tend to be piggish about food.
“They out-compete some of the native birds,” he said.
And despite the bad reputation of bluejays for eating eggs and nestling birds, Kemp likes jays.
And while it hardly seems fair, the males are typically more brightly colored than females as a matter of protection. “That’s the way it is in the bird world,” he said.
Though birdwatching can be a solitary sport, Kemp said he has learned much about the region from fellow birders Chris Gajewicz, Chuck Anderson, Phil Chad, and Jeff and Becky Cullen.