…like to the local cemetery. It’s true. Many cemeteries are great places to go birding. The late naturalist Frances Williams, the woman who started me on the birding path, once told me that cemeteries in the west have some of the oldest trees in town, since one of the first things people would do is plant trees where their loved ones were buried. As a result, cemeteries have become islands of bird activity, especially in spring and fall when migrants travel through.
We are on the cusp of neotropic migrant visitation here, so yesterday I took my Fieldcraft class to the cemetery in hopes of finding both lingering winter residents and early spring arrivals. As you can see in the photo, far from being spooked by the experience, they are chatting happily just after finding and identifying (on their own) a red-bellied woodpecker.
The average person might not think of cemeteries as places to spend a leisurely afternoon birding, but in fact, many of the cemeteries in the United States were designed to encourage (living) people to get out of the city and into the country for a day outdoors. Some of the concepts for our great urban parks, like Central Park in New York, were inspired by the pastoral settings in early American cemeteries. This in turn led to the great Park Movement in America.
We’ve gotten out of the habit of visiting cemeteries for anything other than, well, the obvious reasons for going there. But since I started taking students there many years ago, I’ve noticed that their attitudes toward these parks have changed. They stop thinking of them as scary, gloomy places, and start seeing them as peaceful and full of the stories of life.
If you haven’t ever gone birding in a cemetery, grab a friend and try it. It may feel a little strange at first, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly those old perceptions fall away. Soon it will be just another day in the park, and a wonderful place to look for birds.