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  • Chris Belcher

Accidental Birder

I never intended to be a birder. It just kind of happened as I explored San Antonio area parks during the COVID Pandemic in 2020.

After retiring from the U.S. Army in 2019 I decided to become a professional photographer. I bought photography equipment and started learning how to run a photography business. Then COVID hit and San Antonio locked everything down. I was stuck at home.

I got bored sitting at home after several weeks. The San Antonio Parks’ webpage showed over 200 parks in the city. An idea was born. I’d make a checklist of all the parks. minus the school parks and visit each one. The goal was to take at least one photo in each park to memorialize my visit.

The journey started with a visit to one park each day. I began to take photographs of different animals, plants, insects, reptiles, and birds. The deer were easy to photograph. They are over populated in the San Antonio area. The birds were a little more difficult. It became a challenge to capture a good picture of a bird.

There was also a desire to know what the bird in the photograph was called. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds was my first resource. I would spend hours looking through Texas birds until I found one that matched my photograph.

My journey continued as I started a Multimedia Journalism masters program. I was now using my knowledge of the parks, urban nature, and urban green spaces to create articles about those topics.

Then one day while in Mud Creek Park a flash of blue and yellow showed briefly in the brush along the creek. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d spend the next year trying to get a clear photograph of the bird I’d briefly seen. It was a Painted Bunting. I managed to see a couple of Painted Buntings over the summer but couldn’t get a good photograph of one. Then I visited Crescent Bend Nature Park.

A Painted Bunting perched on the end of a stick in Crescent Bend Nature Park on April 26, 2022. Photo: Chris Belcher

As I was walking down a trail a Painted Bunting landed in the middle of the trail in front of me. I was able to get great photos of the Bunting as it put on a show for me. I was hooked. I had finally gotten a good photo of a bird I’d been chasing for a year now it was time for other birds.

I started using the Merlin Bird ID app on my phone to track new birds as I photographed them. I discovered new “lifers” to try and find such as the Green Jay.

I also finally got up the courage to sit in the bird blinds at Crescent Bend Nature Park. I started talking to the regulars at the blinds and began to learn more about birds from them. I also learned more about bird photography from them.

I’m still out in the field looking for new birds. I started out as an accidental birder but discovered that I love photographing birds. I still prefer to walk the trails looking for birds over sitting in a bird blind and waiting for them. It’s my way of birding and it works for me. You can become a birder too accidental or otherwise by just getting outside and watching our feathered friends.


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