THIS IS THE time of year when it is good to be a bird-watcher, even if you are only semiliterate in the pursuit of bird-watching as I am. During these early spring days, like so many other people, I delight in watching various species of songbirds traveling through or taking up residence right here until autumn arrives. 

I am not totally without knowledge of all the songbird species and can readily identify such easy ones as goldfinches, robins and other common ones, but when it comes to identifying the gazillion different brands of sparrows for instance, I am at a loss.

Luckily, I have a go-to genuine birder I can call, one who probably knows as much as anyone in this neck of the country about birds. Rarely, given a halfway decent description, is she unable to identify any bird I have seen.

My dad, a bird-watcher himself, would often consult with my/our lifelong friend, Linda Thomas, for anything regarding bird identification. My dad, like Linda, was a real birder who kept an annual tally of every different kind of bird he saw and on what date he saw it.

Last week, I was talking to Linda on a day that just happened to be the day she had all five members of the woodpecker family commonly seen in this area in her yard at one time, a first for her. That may sound like something only a true birder would get excited about, but I can tell you anyone with even a mild interest in watching birds, someone like me, would probably get excited about such a happening as well. And by the way, those five woodpecker relatives were the downy, hairy and pileated, along with a flicker and a sapsucker.

It’s true that there are a couple other species of woodpeckers sometimes seen around here, but the only one I can remember having seen is the red-headed. At the Plum Lake property for which my dad was the caretaker for years, there would annually be a pair of red-headed woodpeckers that would nest near the ice house. Personally, I would rate the red-headed second in beauty among woodpeckers only to the brilliantly-colored pileated.

Linda is a person who can identify many songbirds by their songs. My dad also was among the people who could do that and I know that he took satisfaction in just hearing a hermit thrush for instance, even if he couldn’t spot it in the brushy domain that bird favors.

I will tell you this, that even though my dad would be certain he was hearing the song of a particular bird, I was never quite sure he was right. Thing was, if he said it was a purple, sway-backed, yellow-legged “wapituli” bird, not knowing what it was myself, who was I to argue? I choose to think that at least 99% of the time he was spot on with his identification.

Songbirds aside and as I said I do greatly enjoy them my main love come spring migration time is the multitude of ducks and geese that either pause for a short time or take up summer-long residence on our lakes and streams.

Over the past couple of weeks, I began my waterfowl watching excursions, seeing my first mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese at the mouth of Plum Creek as soon as a bit of open water appeared. I have added a few species since then, including hooded mergansers, ring necks and a pair of redheads. For good measure, you can throw in several swans I’ve had the luck to observe. Two of the latter, in fact, flew straight up the length of my driveway last Sunday morning, barely above tree level. 

Gordie, the 1-year-old wonder yellow lab sleeping in the sun on our deck didn’t take much notice as they winged past, but he sure did when they let loose with a sudden blast of loud honks when they spotted me standing on the deck. It was probably a good thing that honks were all they let loose with on their flyover.

I got to enjoy an unexpected treat last week as well, when I discovered I could walk all the way in to Rice Lake on a road that normally is never plowed in the winter. For some reason, someone plowed it at least a couple times during this late winter. I had to dodge a few stretches of soft, squishy mud, but a pleasant walk on a sunshiny day brought me to the rustic boat landing on a lake that was my very first love when it comes to ducks.

You won’t find this lake labeled as Rice Lake on any current map, but for people like me who have been around here for nearly 70 years, the lake was, is and always will be Rice Lake.

My first duck hunt was on Rice Lake and the first duck I killed was taken from a blind on Rice Lake. That first year of hunting, when I was 12, saw me shoot up probably three boxes of 20-gauge No. 4 and 6 lead shells at ducks. I killed exactly two ducks with all those shells. My wing shooting skills at the time left much to be desired, something my current hunting partners who have yet to learn to show proper respect to their elders say is still true today.

Though I have killed and eaten hundreds of ducks in my lifetime, and will continue to hunt until I can no longer heft a shotgun, at this stage of my life I enjoy just watching ducks every bit as much as hunting them. At this time of year, especially, I am glad I can only hunt them with a good pair of binoculars.

The season here for watching duck and goose migrants will be short, only a couple weeks or so, but you can bet I’ll be out for at least an hour or so every day taking advantage of their wonderful company.

And if I see a purple-crested, yellow-legged wapituli bird along the way, I’ll consider it a bonus.