Few activities better exemplify patience and connection with nature than birdwatching. So we turned to Blake N., Snow Peak’s resident birdwatching enthusiast, for his perspective on the hobby and the impact it's had on his life.
What sparked your interest in birdwatching?
My interest in birdwatching started during the pandemic. My partner and I were going on hikes and nature walks during the spring and summer, and somewhere along the way I began carrying a pair of old binoculars to better appreciate the wildlife we would come across. This led to doing two new things: using my iPhone to take pictures through the binoculars and researching the different species I would encounter that I was unfamiliar with. Ultimately, what started as an occasional thing I did quickly became my new full-time hobby that I was dedicating a huge part of my free time to; my joy of learning and desire to capture what I was seeing were driving forces. Then, with encouragement from my brother, I purchased a camera and lens to gain an even closer view of my subjects. This only propelled my enthusiasm for birdwatching further, and the more time I spent out in the field learning and coming across new things, the more my passion grew. It truly is an activity where one gets out of it what they put into it. The beautiful thing about bird watching is that it’s always there, always has something to give, and there’s always something new to discover.
How does birdwatching help you connect with nature, and how do time and patience factor into the experience?
Before my new hobby, I didn’t spend very much time outside, and when I did, it was when I was on vacation somewhere. I’m very routine-oriented, and my other activities were all indoors. Now that I have an interest that’s pulling me outdoors, I’m spending at least a handful of hours in nature every single week; I’ve easily spent more time outside in the last six months than I had in the six years prior. During the turbulence of the last two years, I’ve found all the hours spent surrounded by wilderness and wildlife to be both restorative and healing. Birdwatching is a powerful medium for painting perspective and inspiring curiosity. It’s very easy to go on with our regular lives in the modern age, and we become disconnected from all the things happening around us. Now that I’m more intentional about seeking them out, I’ve become so much more aware of the life playing out all around us, which is often missed by our indoor lifestyles; just being present in the outdoors is enough to begin taking notice of this. There’s so much unfolding around us all the time; getting to witness sequences and stories unfold between birds, even just in my neighborhood, has left me astounded.
At the same time, not all sightings are made equal, and both the really special moments and highly sought-after species require work, diligence, and patience. For example, King Fisher and Bufflehead are two very timid species that appreciate plenty of distance between them and any potential admirers, so it took me months of effort before I could capture any quality images of these birds. Moreover, despite being the most commonly seen owl species, it took me about two months to achieve my first unobstructed sighting of the Great Horned Owl this last fall. It just so happens that this sighting led me to not only its mate but their roosting spot as well, which I’ve been keeping tabs on ever since. This is significant because it meant I would have the opportunity to document the development of their future offspring, though it would not be until a much later time. Effectively, the work put in during the fall secured rewards that wouldn’t be realized until six months later. The cycle of life is constantly at work, yet it can still take time.
What is your favorite bird you've spotted to date, and why?
My favorite species sighted thus far has to be the Long-Eared Owl. Last fall, my first encounter with this bird was at Malheur Wildlife Refuge by total accident. I was working my way through a thick patch of juniper trees to get a better angle on a flock of Cedar Waxwings when I spooked a much larger bird out from one of the junipers I was approaching; he was only five feet away when we startled one another. Fortunately, he didn’t go very far, and I was eventually able to locate him again, which allowed me to spend some time admiring him from a distance. The Long-Eared Owl is notoriously difficult to spot because they typically roost in dense thickets. Even if one was specifically targeting this species, they could go all year without a sighting. I had no idea just how fortunate I was to have that encounter until after the fact when I was doing my research to confirm what type of owl I had seen. This incident inspired me to be more intentional about seeking out owls in general; my current goal is to photograph all the different species of owls that inhabit Oregon. I’ve captured six of the fourteen thus far and hope to check another four off that list in 2022.
The Long-Eared remains my favorite due to its unique plumage and striking looks and because this inadvertent meeting was just so memorable for me. Oddly enough, I had a second sighting of this species just outside of Portland in January. It’s very uncommon for this particular owl to be as far west as Portland. It just so happens that this second encounter was on the day of my final visit with my grandpa. Although he was already deteriorating, he lit up when I shared what I had captured earlier that day. He passed away just three days later. Grandpa is very dear to me, and he will always remain one of the most important figures in my life; this second encounter with the Long-Eared Owl effectively tied the species to my grandpa, making it much more significant for me.
Do you find yourself using any Snow Peak gear or apparel during your excursions?
The 2.5 Layer Rain Jacket has become a staple for me in my time outdoors in pursuit of birds. This piece works so well for my needs because it’s highly functional and extremely comfortable. Though lightweight and simple in construction, it offers me sufficient warmth through the colder months and the utility to carry all my essentials. The muted nature of the design and colorway allows me to blend into the background out in the field. For warmer months, I’ve found the X-Pac Nylon Waist Bag to be a great compliment to my field attire. I have minimalist tendencies and prefer to carry as little as possible; the X-Pac NylonWaist Bag allows me to consolidate the essentials into a single piece that does not disrupt mobility.
Gear up for your birdwatching excursion with items from the SS22 apparel collection.