Bob Regier was about 10 years old when an elderly neighbor gave him a bird book: "Reed's Bird Guide," published in 1906. He didn't have any binoculars at the time, but armed with the book he set out on a quest to identify the birds in his neighborhood.
It didn't take long for a passion for bird watching — or "birding" — to take hold. He joined the Boy Scouts and was drawn to the challenge of the bird study merit badge. Although he was required to identify just 40 birds, he ended up with a list of 72. His childhood interest eventually turned into a lifelong hobby.
"It takes me outdoors, sharpens my visual awareness, exposes me to the remarkable range of avian variety and behavior, provides numerous challenges, and always offers the possibility of surprise and discovery," Regier said. "Besides, there's camaraderie in teaming up with others with like interests."
Regier is one of several birding enthusiasts in Harvey County who enjoy watching birds in their backyards or on nature trails. They say the hobby is a fun way to learn more about local wildlife and meet others who share the hobby.
Gregg Friesen, whose earliest birding experience was during a Sunday School class trip to Cheyenne Bottoms, said Kansas often is overlooked as a site for bird watching.
"Located in the center of the nation, we host birds both common to the east and the west, and likely no other state without mountains or seashore hosts such diversity," he said. "To date 475 species of birds have been recorded in the state."
Like Regier, Harvey Hiebert got his start bird watching through Boy Scouts. He said birding is both a fun challenge and a good way to stay in tune with what's happening to the environment.
"Birding as a game is enticing because species are just elusive enough, but usually just present enough, to make it fun," he said. "... Birding is important as it illuminates the health of our ecosystem — bird ranges are moving northward with warming, and most songbird populations are diminishing."
What are the best places to watch birds in Harvey County? Regier recommends the nature trail in Harvey County West Park, while Hiebert recommends wet spots, country roads in winter for hawks, and any alfalfa field in spring. Friesen enjoys the Sand Creek Nature Trail in North Newton and the Harvey County parks, which include East Park and Camp Hawk. He says you can spot a variety of birds at county parks, ranging from a mixture of sparrows (there have been 23 species of sparrows recorded in Harvey County) to waterfowl.
To get started bird watching, Friesen recommends getting a pair of good binoculars and learning to listen for birds. Helpful resources include "Sibley Guide to the Birds of North America" by David Sibley; the Kansas Ornithological Society, www.ksbirds.org; BirdinginKansas.org; and the Kansas County Checklist page at www.ksbirds.org/checklist/checklist_index.htm, which offers checklists of all birds seen in each of the state's 105 counties. Regier also has a book called "Yard Birds and Beyond"; access it through www.bobregier.com by clicking on the photography section.
Friesen encourages residents in Harvey County to give birding a try.
"The hobby takes me to the most wonderful places," he said. "... In Kansas there are about 200 folks who are hooked on the hobby. Most of us know each other, and this is by and large a wonderful group of people."