How Birding Can Connect You with Nearby Nature (Yamina Nater-Otero)

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Yamina Nater Otero Humans Outside Podcast

No matter where you live you probably regularly see at least one kind of animal outside your window: birds. City or country, birds serve the ecosystem while providing humans with beauty, curiosity and entertainment.

And if you spend any time noticing them, you are already participating in birding. Feeling curious and want to learn more about these feathered friends? That’s where today’s guest, Yamina Nater-Otero, comes in. As a program coordinator for Audubon New York based in New York City, she knows that you don’t need to live somewhere with big forests or nearby mountains to learn about and watch birds. And in her role as secretary for Amplify the Future, she knows you also don’t need to look a certain way or come from any special background to participate. Birding and all of nature is for everyone.

In this episode of Humans Outside Yamina talks to us about how literally anyone can become a birder and the importance of birds in the use of nearby nature.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:04] Yamina Nater-Otero’s favorite outdoor space

[4:11] How Yamina became someone who likes to go outside

[5:39] How she got into birding

[7:12] What is her favorite bird and, also, is it possible to have a favorite bird?

[8:09] Amy’s favorite bird

[11:46] How birding was an outdoor gateway

[13:58] Misconceptions about birding

[18:20] What is a birder?

[22:49] Useful bonus items for birding

[24:17] What kind of binoculars to buy if you want some

[26:39] How to create a happy bird space

[29:48] How to get started with birding

[32:07] How birding might be a gateway activity

[35:17] Birding can even make you love this place

[38:10] Yamina’s favorite outdoor gear

[39:24] Yamina’s favorite outdoor moment

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Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to Humans Outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor minded. I’m Amy Bushatz. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years, but life, including my husband’s war injuries had burnt us out.

So we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on outdoors was just the shift we needed. Since September, 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

As spring creeps across your yard and starts to slowly turn to summer, you might notice a new chorus outside that has been absent during the more chilly parts of the year. Birdsong. April and May are peak bird migration months with many species of birds moving far and wide across the Northern hemisphere.

And that means now is the perfect time to explore just one more way you can make your regular outdoor time as interesting and it’s exciting as it can be: birding. Like so many things birding comes with this misconception that you have to go somewhere far away or own fancy equipment to participate or enjoy it.

And since this season of Humans Outside is all about why nearby nature, no matter where you are, is the perfect nature for you, the nuts bolts, why and how of birding is a perfect subject. Even better, today’s guest Yamina Nater Otero, an avid birder, is the perfect example of why birding doesn’t have to include dramatic travel or big purchases.

Why? Because she’s a birder in and around New York City. Yamina as the secretary for Amplify the Future and a program coordinator for Audubon New York, and I am so, so grateful that she’s here today to give us her tips and tricks. Yamina, welcome to Humans Outside.

Yamina Nater Otero: Thanks for having me.

Amy Bushatz: So I, like I said, I’m so excited. We were talking about this before we started recording that birding is just not something that is well in my wheelhouse. And so I personally cannot wait to learn from you today and get your insight on this. Thank you so much.

Yamina Nater Otero: Oh I love talking about birding and especially accessible birding, so yeah, I’m ready to go.

Amy Bushatz: All right. So we start our conversation sort of imagining ourselves in our guests favorite outer space. Like we’re here having a chat somewhere outside instead of where we actually are, which is world apart, you in New York City me in Alaska. So where are we hanging out with you today??

Yamina Nater Otero: So I actually live in New Jersey. I work in New York City. So you did get that right. I live in Newark, New Jersey, which again, people don’t really think of as being a very green place. But that’s because we need to redefine what green is. And so I actually live a few blocks over from Weequahic Park, which is a very large park. It’s got a really great lake in the middle.

It’s got a good diversity of habitat and it’s it’s usable by the community. So it’s got a track for running. It’s got a football field. It’s got baseball diamond. So this is a space I like to go to as often as possible.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. And that’s, I forgive me. That is a very Alaska problem. You know, outside of Alaska’s just outside. New York City, it’s just there. I don’t

Yamina Nater Otero: It’s the Northeast. It’s all New York City.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, there are people and cars and I don’t know. Yeah, services that we don’t have. It’s just it’s out there. So start by telling us how you became someone who likes to go outside. How did this become a part of your life and experience?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, I did not grow up really uh, going outside a lot. My parents would occasionally take me to the park because at the time I actually lived really close to Branch Brook park, which is the biggest park in, in Newark. And I think when I got older, I just started being a bit more active and hiking. was accessible. At the time I did think that I had to drive really far in order to go on hikes.

And so I would pack my dog up into my car and we would hike the Delaware water gap and all of these random spots in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And I think that when I realized that being out in nature is good for my mental health and good for my overall wellbeing.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah that’s so great. And all of those things are true and they’re all discovered in this sort of journey that we’re talking about today, where we start to understand that nature is whatever is outside our door. It’s not. It’s not some sort of, it certainly can be some sort of glorious green space, but it’s also whatever you see outside of your window.

And so I love that, that’s that’s a part of your journey as well. So how did you get into birding? Because going for hikes and being into birds are two entirely different things. And I can say that because that’s my, like, that’s mebecause I go for hikes, but I’m not very into birds. So tell us about that.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. So I started working with Audubon New York uh, doing education and in New York City and part of our program involves taking a New York City public school students out on neighborhood bird outings, and field trips to their local major parks. So Central Park, Prospect. And I realized that I should probably know a thing or two about birds if I’m going to lead kids on bird outings.

So I started going out with my local Audubon chapter and, learning from my amazing colleagues at work. And it sort of went from this thing that I, the skill that I needed for my job to something that I really love. It gets me outside year round because you can bird year around. It got me to see my community and where I live in general in this whole new way. And again, just really good for my mental health and my overall wellbeing.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So we’re going to talk here, coming up, about the practical parts of birding and how people can really get into in a very accessible right where you are way, but first I got to know just some stuff about you and birding.

So can you tell us, what is your favorite bird? I did not ask you, prep you put this question. So if you don’t have a favorite bird, that’s my bad for not warning you, but what is your favorite bird?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, that is any birder will be like, that’s a hard question to answer because it is. All birds are amazing. And it really depends on the season and the mood. I will say that some birders like to talk about their spark bird, which is the bird that got them interested in birding. And mine is the white breasted nut hatch. It’s this cute little black, gray, white bird that has this very distinct, like nasal honking call and they’re pretty unique because they’re the only bird that really can like walk up and down, like upside down the tree trunk.

And they’re adorable. And so that was one of the first birds that I recognized because of its behavior. And that’s when it sort of clicked in my head that there, I could learn about birds and it is exciting to learn about birds and to share that knowledge with other people. So I always say that’s like my spark bird.

Amy Bushatz: I have to tell you that my favorite part is the Bald Eagle. I know that’s cliche. I know. I know.

Yamina Nater Otero: It’s fine. Never, the whole point of this conversation is to explain that there’s no judgment in birding. There shouldn’t be any judgment in birding. And if you love Bald Eagles, that’s amazing because Bald Eagles are great. And yeah, it’s fine.

Amy Bushatz: They’re so majestic. Here’s what happens. So I have, I live in Alaska, so Bald Eagles, like, oh, it’s another moose. Oh my gosh, it’s another Bald Eagle just a day, but I that’s not how I feel about it at all. I love seeing them and I, at the risk of being a little froufrou, feel like it is my spirit animal.

When I, so I run a lot and when I am going out and doing something really hard, without fail, when I’m in sort of that pain cave moment where I’m feeling very challenged, or really just would rather not be there anymore, a Bald Eagle will soar above my head or cross my path somehow. And it’s this feeling of all right, oh right. I see what you’re doing there. This is going to be fine. It’s going to be okay. And they’re just so frigging majestic, how can you not be inspired right then?

Yamina Nater Otero: No that’s awesome. And yeah, so they are common by you. Actually. A lot of people know, you might not know that’s totally valid. Bald Eagles were in decline in like the seventies because of DDT the pesticide.

So what it would do is it would make the eggshells thinner. So when the birds would sit on it, they would crack. And so we didn’t really have Bald. Eagles. We had like one nesting pair in like New York state at one point, and now they’re more and more common. Right now there’s a video of one capturing and eating a gull in Central Park, that’s like how common they are. So I think along those lines, they’re also just like a good reminder of the work that people can do in order to preserve um, like birds and where they live.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. That’s such a good point. It’s just, it’s an entire ecosystem of which we, as humans who are outside not to borrow the name or whatever of my own show, but that we’re a part of that ecosystem.

And so to be able to have that moment where I’m running and I see this Bald Eagle across my path and I’m like, yay. I have to then to have that moment, I have to establish a behavior in the world where I’m contributing to that moment being possible. Because when I don’t, as you were saying, things happen like Eagles weighing so much that they crush and their eggs and being thin because of this pesticide that they crush their own kids not cool. My husband, by the way, likes to point out that Eagles eat trash. And the reason I see some is because I run by the landfill ruin the vibe man, why do you gotta ruin it for me?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, yeah, I mean, they’re surivors good for them. That’s nothing wrong with that scavenging

Amy Bushatz: That’s what I say. Okay. All right. So, um, I find that many people start spending outside for one thing, right? You said it was hiking. And for me it was just trying to hit my daily outdoor time goal to see how that would improve my life. And it’d be a, becomes an on-ramp for all sorts of other outdoor fun. So for me, that’s running and whatnot. And for you, that became birding. So I’m wondering, what hobbies do then found sort of in the next step because of birding. So did birding become an on-ramp for other outdoor activities as well for you?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, so I moved recently and one of the things I was looking for was gardening space because I wanted to start creating bird friendly habitat close to home. And I got really lucky, found a place with a backyard and I could start putting in native plants for birds.

So yeah, I think it boils down to you love your local green spaces so much. That you want to do everything you can to make sure that they thrive and they survive. And you become part of the solution. And so for me, that turned into a love of gardening.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, and now you are a gardener and now you’re doing plant things and learning plant stuff, and I can see how that would be an on-ramp to another interest later. And it’s just this sort of beautiful expansion of who you are in the world and your place in that ecosystem that you’re talking about.

Yamina Nater Otero: Absolutely.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans, did you know, you can officially join the Humans Outside 365 challenge and score some really cool and exclusive challenge flag, including a finisher metal and decal on Humans forward slash challenge. You’ll also get an outdoor challenge guide written by me for you. An exclusive challenge tracker and insider info all year long.

You don’t want to be left out of this. There is never a wrong time to join the Humans Outside 365 challenge. So get going, join it today. Go to Humans forward slash challenge to learn more now. Now back to the show.

So let’s get in to the facts and fun of birding first, talk to us about the misconceptions of birding. Like let’s just get those out of the way. What do people think birding is and what do they think they need to do to be a birder?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. So this is something I make sure to clarify a lot for people. There’s no one right way to bird. Historically speaking people did think there was a right way to bird and it involves lots of expensive equipment and adding as many birds to your life list as possible. So that’s birds that have been spotted. And so I think when this is an exercise, actually I’ve done in some classes is what do you picture when you picture a birder?

And it’s usually old white in like fields. Uh, like wear binoculars, giant camera and they’re out like somewhere majestic and in quote, unquote nature. The idea is that you have to have really good binoculars and you can have a really good spotting scope, which just allows you to see even further um, and a car so that you can get all of those like rare birds that randomly pop up.

And again, there actually is no right way to bird. If you want to learn how to identify birds, you can, if you just want to go outside and spend time with them, you can do that too.

Amy Bushatz: So when you described the person you people describe when they see a birder, I saw that guy in my brain. Right then even before you said anything, but mine was wearing like a vest, like, I field vest with like, like maybe you wear fishing, but also apparently in my brain for birding.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, no, that’s an answer I get a lot. Absolutely. And when I do this exercise, I pull up Google image results for birder, and most of them are that. And so obviously when you picture that, you think, well, that’s not me, so clearly I’m not a birder. Which again, completely wrong. This is one very specific way to be a birder.

I also think it’s a very gate kept way of being a birder. Some people can’t afford the equipment. Some people can’t afford to buy clothes specifically for going out birding. Some people don’t have a car or have the time to drive an hour to like a nature preserve. And they’re meant they’re told this excludes them from being a true birder when that’s not even remotely the case, what you really need to be a birder is curiosity and patience. So the curiosity to learn new things and patience because you don’t have to go very far for birds. You don’t have to walk a long time. That’s another misconception.

When I bird, I move very slowly. And I can just do a loop in the park, but most of it is just sort of standing there. Yeah. Getting quiet, letting the birds get used to you being there. And then eventually they come and you can just sort of enjoy that. If you want to be the sort of birder that learns how to identify birds, that’s fine.

You don’t have to, but you absolutely can. There are free apps that you can download to your phone, like the Audubon Bird Guide, Merlin, iNaturalist that’ll help you start to familiarize yourself with all of these different birds. There are book, bird guides that you can use. You can find used ones and in bookstores, If you want to, the, I use Sibley’s, I think it’s like 15 bucks for the Sibley’s east, which is covers the Northeast, or sorry, just the east coast.

Which again, for some people, maybe that’s too much and that’s totally fine for some people that’s reasonable. So I recommend that. If you want to get binoculars again, that’s totally fine. You don’t have to get thousand dollars binoculars, which is a thing, and it’s kind of mind boggling. You can get $10, $20 ones that you can just sort of keep in your pocket. You don’t have to bird with binoculars. Some people like to bird by sound. And so that’s basically a matter of just learning different bird calls and different bird songs. You can bird by silhouette so you can learn how birds fly and how they move and forage.

And so that way you don’t need binoculars either. And again, I can’t stress this enough. You don’t have. Go outside and identify birds. You can go outside and listen to their, listen to them, look at them and think, wow, that’s really beautiful and move along. And that’s totally valid. Yeah. Yeah.

Amy Bushatz: So what I hear you saying is if you like to look at birds, you are a birder.

Yamina Nater Otero: Right. There’s a um, uh, one of the leaders actually from our local Audubon chapter is really great human being. And I believe he says, if you like birds, you’re a good birder. And if you love birds, you’re a great birder. And I, I, I really liked that philosophy because you don’t need anything to go outside and enjoy birds.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And what is up with us that we think we needed a special outfit for every single activity? Like what is up with the guy in my brain? No offense meant to people who have birding outfits and our picture that I am seeing in my mind, you guys do you. But why do I think, what is it that with our culture that makes me think that I one cannot possibly go look at birds without looking quote, unquote, looking like a birder, whatever that means.

And also this presumably means that there is some sort of a special outfit. This is birding outfit. This is my birding shirts.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. I mean, so I will say I do have a lot of bird shirts don’t have birder shirts. And it’s really funny too, because yeah, at first I’m like, oh my boots. Oh, where like, like yoga pants, it’s not like a special outfit. It’s just like my active outfit. But then come migration, birds are everywhere and I carry my binoculars with me. And so sometimes I’ll be like in a cute outfit, like trekking in a park because I got an extra few 15 minutes and I just wanted to see what I could spot. And I mean, it might not look very quote unquote normal. But I don’t care. Like who knows what I’ll find, because I decided to pull over like between running errands to see what I find. So you definitely do not need a birding outfit.

Amy Bushatz: But on the flip side of that, I mean, as you just noted, you wear your do whatever’s comfortable for being active. And so is the fact just like any other activity or any, like just going outside period. End of story. That you can improve your outdoor time by thinking about what you’re wearing and mostly with the view of being comfortable, whether that means good late, like good by good I mean, appropriate layering, so layering for warmth, or if it’s a hot, you know, not layering for warmth, layering for the opposite of lack of layers. And there are, so you can think through those things, but thinking through those things and like, what boots do I own that are comfortable for walking? What do I have that keeps my body warm? It’s winter here in Alaska while we’re recording this. And so I’m like very much in tune to the. It’s cold outside. I got to stay warm, but in the rest of the year, it’s okay, what do I have that keeps my skin from getting too much sun thinking through those things does not mean that you’re overreacting or thinking that you need something special for the specific activity of birding. I would say that whatever you’re wearing for. It could be the same thing that you were to go for a walk in the woods. It could be the same thing that you wear for walking in the park or down your city block whatever.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, no, I agree.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And um, so there’s, there’s a risk of over-complicating then there’s a risk of not thinking it through enough and we want to be in the middle at the sweet spot.

Also back to your shirt of birds. I think maybe the birds appreciate the solidary. You bothered to get a shirt in their honor. It’s just an idea.

Yamina Nater Otero: I sure hope so.

Amy Bushatz: Cause you probably have, if you’re anything like any other enthusiast any other subject, and by that, I mean, me, you probably have a lot of shirts, pledging your devotion to this thing. So.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. Shirts and socks. Yep.

Amy Bushatz: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. Mine are affiliated with the idea of running. Gosh, that’s a lot of them, but you know,

Yamina Nater Otero: And everyone around you is like, oh yeah, you like this thing. And so they get you stuff with that thing on it, and then you have too much.

Amy Bushatz: That’s right. That’s right.

Yamina Nater Otero: There’s no such thing as too much, but technically you have too much.

Amy Bushatz: Yes. Fair enough. So we talked about what those misconceptions are. You mentioned a couple of things that you recommend th that folks need. Is there anything else that you recommend people have to make their birding better.

And I love the idea of apps. I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I always forget that’s a thing, but it is. So there you go. Yeah.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yes, apps are very helpful. So otherwise I would say same thing as going out side regularly, water snacks. Make sure. You know how to read trail markers if you’re in a, in a bigger park. Yeah, make sure you wear layers if you have to. So obviously New Jersey cold is not Alaska cold, but there have been a few birding trips where in the winter, the it’s the best time to see waterbirds and ducks. And so I’ve gone birding like on the beach in January, which is rough worth it, but rough. And so I always was grateful for my many layers and my very warm coat.

But other than that, Really, there really isn’t much else that you need you’ve maybe you want to, have a notebook so you can take notes on what you see. Um, if you want to start nature journaling, that’s a thing. But like I said, really, you just need to go outside and either look or listen and sort of take it all in.

Amy Bushatz: I do want to specifically ask you about binoculars. Since you mentioned that you have a pair Obviously like anything else in the world, you can spend insane amounts of money on something, or you can buy them from the dollar store and maybe they don’t actually work at all. Like the ones my son has. So what’s the sweet spot here. What’s a price point or a brand, or, if somebody wants to go shop for this, what do you recommend?

Yamina Nater Otero: So I think t he typical being inner binoculars are like Nikon Monarchs and I believe they’re in like the one $150 to $200 range. I am lucky I get through Audubon, I have access to some deals, so I have some Zeiss binoculars. The lens is great. But the thing is that most companies have arranged of prices. So Zeiss has $200 ones and $400 ones and $800 ones. And it’s really a matter of going and, and sort of trying them and seeing what feels right for you. You know, the shape of them. Are they too wide for your hands? Is it not comfortable? Some of them have cups that flip out. So when you wear banal, when you work glasses, You want the cups to go down with, it’s just your eyes with no glasses. You want the cups to go out. So mine actually twist out. So there’s all these little, like little details that you sort of have to feel out and figure out what is like the most intuitive for you to use.

Amy Bushatz: And as you said earlier, this is not a piece of equipment that’s necessary for birding because birding is looking at birds, however we’re listening to them or watching for them. But if this, it’s an activity that listeners really feel like they are into, or they want to be into more. Maybe that is sort of the next step is to do that.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. And I am one of those birders who likes to identify birds. I’m very competitive with myself and I like to challenge myself. So I am one of those people who is like, I want to look at this bird. I want to see the details. I want to be able to identify it. So. I’ve always stressed that like, there is no right way to bird because I’m one of those birders but you don’t have to be.

But that’s why I, yeah, I do enjoy having binoculars for that reason, because obviously you get a better look at the bird and you can sort of take notes on what it looks like so that you can identify it, should you choose to.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. So since we’re talking specifically about nearby nature, which we’ve brushed on a several times already in this conversation and you talked about creating your own garden with welcoming space and bird friendly plants, what are ways that people can create a welcoming space for birds in their, specifically in their urban environment? If they don’t have a lot of space for gardening, or if that’s not their thing bringing birding as close to home as possible?

I’m thinking like bird feeders, bird baths bird paraphernalia, wear your bird shirt.

Yamina Nater Otero: So. I will say before I moved, I did not have a yard. The backyard was not ours to use and it was all cement. So I the downstairs neighbor had a bedroom in the back that sort of extended and I had the, their roof outside my window.

And so I bought some pots put sprinkled in native plants, seeds and put them outside on that roof. Again, not a lot of space. Just two pots and that started to get some attention. And then I did get a bird feeder hung it outside my window and I did get some visitors. So just because I mentioned having a garden doesn’t mean that you need to have one, you can have potted plants, if you want, you can have a feeder like up in like your terrace or, or your fire escape or wherever. And all of it does benefit birds. And then if that’s not your thing, you can always just sort of think about, making more sustainable choices energy consumption, plastic use all of the traditional green behaviors.

All of it helps birds because all of it helps the planet. Yeah, I think that those are the best, if you want to live in a way could benefit birds, those are probably the main things you can do.

Amy Bushatz: Okay. So when I was preparing for this interview, I had this memory of people where I grew up in California having bird baths, like bird baths were all the rage. So I don’t know if this was just sort of a 1990s situation where we just really liked that idea. Or if that’s an actual thing, it is not a thing in Alaska, but I, then it occurred to me that would be because they would freeze solid and it would be like a bird skating rink and birds aren’t into skating.

So it doesn’t matter. Are bird baths to thing. Am I crazy?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah no they are a hundred percent. And if you think about why they might not be a thing in Alaska, well at Alaska has so much wilderness and so much green space, whereas in more urban spaces, the fact is we’ve removed habitat. And so in removing habitat, it is nice of us to put in little spots that birds can sort of visit and know that there’s going to be clean water and know that there’s going to be food. And so that’s sort of the magic of a bird bath and a feeder in someone’s backyard is that you’re creating a little, like a mini habitat for these birds.

Amy Bushatz: Good deal. I was like, I don’t know what’s going on there.

Yamina Nater Otero: No. And they’re awesome because once the birds start to use them, you basically can sit at your window and watch birds be adorable, nothing wrong with that.

Amy Bushatz: Nothing wrong with watching a bird take a little drink or a little bath, so fun. Can you give us three or four tips for people who have never birded it in their lives? So I’m talking, I noticed birds are in the world, but it’s the thought patterns stopped there. What’s the best way to get started.

Yamina Nater Otero: You go out and you spend time with birds. If you have a local birding group or a local Audubon chapter, a lot of them do offer outings and trips for free. So you can definitely look into that. Those are really great resource for learning from people who have been doing this for a very long time. And then once you feel comfortable after that you go out really just as much as possible.

So one of the great things about say like urban birding or suburban birding is patch birding, which basically means you find a small area near you and you can bird it like pretty much daily. And what happens is you get to know it really well. And you get to know your local birds really. So those Cardinal, well, here on the east coast, I don’t, you don’t have Cardinals on the west coast, but here it would be Cardinals and Blue Jays and Titmice and all of those fun, common birds. You get to know what they sound like. You get to know how they move, where they like to hang out and then come migration, you start to hear new things and see new behaviors, and then you can sort of see all the great birds that only spend like winter’s here or spring here. And that’s basically, if you want to familiarize yourself with the birds, you just got to go out and be with them.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. So I would go to my local Audubon walks and they would say, oh, that’s a blah, blah, blah. And I would be like, how did you know that’s a blah, blah, blah. And that’s how you learn. They’re like, oh, the way it flap its wings the way it’s feeding that tiny little mark, that isn’t really very noticeable.

And that’s sort of just like how you learn all of these tips um, for identifying birds and even spotting birds. When I first started birding, I was with coworkers at one of the nature centers and they’re like, oh, there’s a whatever back there on the tree, on the right branch.

And I had been offered and I was like, what are they talking about? I don’t see anything. And that’s because you’re looking for like a two inch bird and like a forest. And if you don’t know what to look for, you’re not going to see it. So even being able to find birds, that’s definitely something that can take practice.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. So I, as you’re talking about this I’m thinking about ways that when I spend time outside, I start to notice, like I’m expanding what I’m noticing. So when you talk about just finding a spot that you go back to over and over again, what did you call that? It was a special name..

Yamina Nater Otero: Patch birding

Amy Bushatz: Patch birding — that’s very similar concept or an adjacent concept to something that we’ve heard on the Humans Outside podcast before about having a sit spot as part of forest bathing which I’m sure you’re familiar with that, you go back to one spot over and over again, and you just sit there and you observe for however long you have. And now that is now your patch birding spot as well, because, I feel like if you’re sitting somewhere, not doing anything long enough, you’re going to start noticing stuff whether you want to or not. And some of those are going to be birds, some of those things.

Yamina Nater Otero: Absolutely.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And then the other thing that I thought of while you’re talking. This sort of second on-ramp, which is to expanding your curiosity about any given subject. So we’ve talked to a couple of people on this podcast this season about stargazing. And once you start stargazing, You start wondering what the star shapes might be, and then you think what are the star stories? And then you are, you find yourself going down this long path where now these are the Greek star stories. These are the indigenous star stories. These are the star stories from my local community of indigenous people. These are the star stories that we’re passing, these are different ways that I think about them, just on and on.

And I imagine that birding sort of is the same long string that if you have a mind open to curiosity and a mind open to the natural world around you, it just sort of leads into the world where now you have bird shirts and a lot of them.

Yamina Nater Otero: Well, and another great thing is, so I like to go out with people who are better at herpetology, so amphibians and reptiles, and people who really are great with plants, and trees, and people who prefer mammals, because when you get a group of people like that together, everyone has something to share. And you’re learning about the ecosystem as a whole. And so I do always want to make sure that yes, I love birds, I’m not ignoring the fact that birds and inhabit these amazing spaces, and that there’s a lot to learn from those spaces as well.

Amy Bushatz: Hmm. And and that goes back to what we were talking about earlier, which is where we are a part of the ecosystem with my friends, the bald Eagles, my little spirit bird. Uh, not little humongous spirit bird, where we are a part of that ecosystem, but the birds are a part of an ecosystem as well. And the things you just mentioned, the lizards and the plants and all of those things, they’re all together. This is what the birds eating, this is where the bird sleeping and it’s this cycle of connectivity that just opens up other doors of things to be curious about and learn about and enrich yourself and your world because of.

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. And it also helps you see where you live in a new way. So, I, again, I live in Newark and I was like, it’s Newark, there’s no green spaces. Nature is separate. I live in urban suburban space. And then once I started birding, when I would take my dogs on walks in my neighborhood, I would start to notice more things.

Because I was looking up, I was looking down, I’m looking at plants and you start to really appreciate something that you took for granted. You appreciate it in completely new and different ways. And so there’s this thing in New Jersey where everyone is like desperate to get out of New Jersey. And I mean, I guess that’s true of everywhere, right? Everyone’s like when I grow up, I’m gonna get out of here. But I think once I started birding, I started seeing the state in like a completely different way. And now I don’t, I’m not desperate to leave because there’s so many different things to explore and do and, and learn about. So I think that’s another one of the beautiful things that birding has brought into my life is loving where I come from more.

Amy Bushatz: Oh, that is what if my favorites parts of spending time outside that you learned to love where you live. Because of that connectivity that you’re talking about, because you see the birds because you meet the plants and you meet the people, and now you’re learning about things.

So now you, there, you realize that we can’t possibly move away because you just found this other corner that you’d never saw before or this part of your town that you didn’t know about. And now you’re attending the festivals and now, the people and now you’re all doing the things together and it’s, it becomes this long chain of connectivity that makes me never ever want to move away ever. Because I’d have that connection. And that is explicitly because I started spending time outside. I would not have that connection, just like you’re saying. And I think people hear me say that I’m like, okay, of course you do, you live in Alaska moron. Uh, but if somebody who lives in a place like New Jersey where you’re right, it does have that stereotype that if someone in New Jersey and Newark can feel this way, y’all anyone can feel this way about where they live because of spending time outside. That’s so so great.

Well, we’ve come to sort of the end of our time. We’ve talked a lot about different tools today that you need or don’t need, but can have, and can use and may improve your birding experience if that’s what you want to do. I like to end our podcast episodes checking in with my guests just to hear some of those recommendations that you’ve already given us, but I’m wondering if you can maybe identify one piece of gear or something that you have or use I’ve had guests say that their favorite outdoor gear is snacks, so there is no right answer to this question um, that you have that makes your birding experience or your outside outside time the best that it can be. What would you recommend to people?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah. So I know that after stressing the fact that you don’t need them, this is going to sound a little hypocritical, but I actually really do love my binoculars because I don’t just use them to look at birds. You basically can zoom in on anything you want. And another really cool thing that a fellow educator taught me is if you flip them around, you can actually look really close up at small things. So that’s a cool trick I like to show students, cause they can look really close up at leaves and different plants and flowers.

So they, you know, not just for birding, just to sort of literally look at nature in a completely different way.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. You can use them to look at anything you want. We hope that you use them to look at nature and not any one you want just lizards, you know, just a little caveat there. Okay. That’s not what we mean. Okay. And then finally, we started this conversation by imagining that we’re hanging out with you in that park, looking at birds, having this conversation, and you’re just showing us the ropes. Can you maybe walk us out of our conversation and describing a favorite outdoor moment that you have, some time that just really special to you, that you close your eyes, go back there. Where are you and what are you doing?

Yamina Nater Otero: Yeah, so my family is from Puerto Rico and I have been visiting them my whole life. And so of course, my first time going as a birder was two years ago. And it was amazing because my aunt actually, I’m so sorry so my family lives on the north of the island.

My aunt got us an Airbnb on the south of the island. And that meant that I got to see complete new habitat. So the south of the island has a dry forest, which I had never been to um, It’s I’m like on like rocky cliffs looking at waterbirds. And I think about that a lot, because a it’s beautiful because it’s Peurto Rico. But also it allowed me to connect with the island in a way that I hadn’t before before my main connection was my family, which is an important one, but now I also have this sort of like ecological connection to the island and appreciation for its natural history that I didn’t before. And I think that’s one of my absolute favorite outdoor memories.

Amy Bushatz: Yamina, thank you so much for joining us here on Humans Outside talking us through birding. I am so grateful to have had you.

Yamina Nater Otero: Thank you. Yeah, it was great being here. Thank you so much for having.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcast to what you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time we’ll see you out there.

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