Hobbies keep you young
As the prospect for retirement nears, whether you’re 63 or 80, hobbies and pastimes become more and more priceless in terms of personal enjoyment and fulfillment. The challenge is to pursue ones that last a lifetime.
Power weight-lifting is out after age 70 or so for most, but bird-watching is definitely in and, like gardening, can have moments of adventure, excitement and physical activity, not to mention years of satisfaction.
Gardening can mean many things to many people. It can be physically demanding (and exhausting) if garden soil needs to be amended or weeded heavily, or when making major landscaping changes.
However, even individuals who are physically or mentally limited can enjoy time spent in gardens watching the stages of growth, flowers, fruits and vegetables produced and even the animals and insects that call the gardens their home. It is a relaxing and mellowing hobby that can often help track time even for those with memory lapse or confusion.
The Middlebury Garden Club is a group of community members that was first founded in 1933 by members of the local Women’s Club.
With a mission to pursue their interest in gardening, floral design and civic beautification, the garden club hosts educational events, youth programs and outings to various gardens and nurseries around the state.
Volunteers through the Middlebury Garden Club work hard to keep the gardens at the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury in excellent shape throughout the year. A group of volunteers meet every week to help tend the gardens, weeding, watering and planting new species each year.
Garden Club members also volunteer to decorate the Ilsley Library with regular floral arrangements as well as for the holiday season, help with the Mary Hogan Elementary School’s annual flower show and coordinate a day with Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center to create floral arrangements with their residents.
Of course, gardeners are all ages from the very young to the very old and likewise members of the Middlebury Garden Club can be of any age.
For more information on the Middlebury Garden Club you can visit their website at middleburygardenclub.org.
“Birds are beautiful and charismatic and draw you in, making you want to learn more and engage more every day,” says Ron Payne, president of the Otter Creek Audubon Society in Addison County.
“Many people have watched birds their whole lives, intrigued but without the time to really learn much about them. We see a lot of retirees join the Audubon Society who suddenly find themselves with that time to dedicate.”
It’s pretty safe to say that bird watching is a low-impact activity. While it may behoove you to be able to get to more remote habitat, it is often patience and stillness that yield the best results when watching birds.
The Otter Creek Audubon Society is a local chapter of the national Audubon Society and works to build a culture of conservation in Addison County committed to protecting birds and other wildlife and their habitats.
According to Payne, there are between 350 and 400 members of the local chapter and the group continues to gain traction and grow as more and more people become interested in bird watching and habitat protection.
“We spend a great deal of time trying to reach out to all ages at the Otter Creek Audubon Society and work with everyone from schools to retirement communities,” Payne says.
The society hosts a wildlife walk on the second Saturday of each month that is free and open to the public and requires no specific knowledge or experience.
“We have very experienced bird watchers that come out with their own binoculars and cameras and equipment and we have novice bird watchers who don’t know anything,” Payne says.
“We’re lucky because Vermont has a great birding community with lots of engaged people who enjoy helping others learn more about what to look for and what to listen for.”
While it can be very helpful to have a bird book to help identify the species you are looking for, Payne says the most helpful resource is to go out with someone else who really knows what they’re doing.
“If you don’t have a friend or family member that’s an expert birder, then Otter Creek Audubon Society is there to be your friend.”
For many, bird watching can be a hobby that almost becomes an obsession. Birders will often keep lists of the species they spot each year, hoping to spy more than they had in a previous year or a rare bird that their birding friends haven’t spied.
Many bird watchers also become bird photographers, snapping a photo to help with later identification or simply to capture the delicate beauty of a posed bird or avian flight.
“Taking pictures of birds is not easy,” Payne says, “but the price of cameras has been going down for a long time and many people now have cameras with zooms that can help them shoot a great photo from a further distance.”
In essence, many birders have two hobbies rather than one — watching the birds and taking photos.
Addison County is an especially friendly wildlife zone for birds, with as many as 320 bird species within our county lines. Some species come and go as the seasons change, while others stay year-round.
“Early-May through mid-June is actually one of the best times for watching migrating birds,” Payne says. “Some interesting warblers and other transitory birds are moving through and so serious birders are out there trying to catch a glimpse or shoot a photo.”
According to Payne, there are many wonderful sites in Addison County to view birds, but there are a few that are especially outstanding.
Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area is one, with many entrances and access points to choose from in Addison, Bridport and Panton.
Much of this wildlife area is swampland and birding is easiest in small self-propelled boats like kayaks or canoes. Giant flocks of Canada and snow geese can be seen in the fall just prior to their migration south for the winter.
Lake Champlain, Lake Dunmore and Silver Lake also offer wonderful opportunities to view ducks, loons, eagles, osprey and other birds that reside around lakes and fish in their waters.
“Of course, the Green Mountain National Forest is an incredible resource for birds and many varieties can be found around the Robert Frost trails and on other woodland trails within the forest,” Payne says.
The most important tip Payne has for new bird watchers is to “just get out there and start.” Open your eyes, listen for calls and patterns and you’ll start to understand, he says.
Or, if starting with a group seems more accessible, consider joining Payne and members of the Otter Creek Audubon Society on June 20 for a “beginning birder walk” on the Trail Around Middlebury in Wright Park.
For more information on the Otter Creek Audubon Society, visit www.ottercreek.wordpress.com.
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