You don't have to travel far to see a variety of birds out in nature. You might, however, need to wake up just a little early to see them.
For one of its regular regional field trips, the Kern Audubon Society will venture out to Truxtun Lake on Tuesday morning. There, birders will have the chance to see blue-grey gnatcatchers, kestrels, scrub jays, white-crowned sparrows, egrets and maybe even an osprey.
"Sometimes we're lucky and there are a lot of birds in the area and sometimes you really have to look for them," said Al Caetano, a member of the society and leader of the upcoming field trip.
Those interested in the field trip will meet at the parking lot west of Mohawk Street. Binoculars, water and snacks are recommended, and the trip will be a little more than a mile round trip. If people get tired, though, they can easily turn around and head back to their car.
"It's an area where beginning birders can feel comfortable," said Caetano, explaining that the club goes there two or three times a year to see birds in different seasons.
Cindy Caetano, Al's wife, said the Truxtun Lake field trip will be an easy-going and casual one, where a good time will still be had even if the birds don't make an appearance. She's only been birding for a few years, her interest ignited by the longtime passion of her husband of five years. She had some advice for any newcomers.
"Keep your eyes open and really look," Cindy Caetano said. "There are birds everywhere. It's amazing that I see them now, because I didn't. People have so much fun realizing how birds are everywhere."
But, like with all living things, birds have minds of their own, so while Truxtun Lake is home to many species, it's unlikely birders will see them all in one trip.
"You can't count on birds being where you want them to be," Al Caetano said.
Although Al Caetano doesn't consider himself an expert, he's been on enough birding expeditions to know quite a few birds and to know who to ask about any birds of which he's unsure.
"I'm not a really good birder, but I'm getting better," Al Caetano said. "You see the same bird over and over and pretty soon (you're going to know it)."
When looking for birds, whether on this field trip with the Kern Audubon Society or on one's own, there are a few things to keep in mind. To spot a bird, it's important to know what to look for among the trees.
"One of the things to look for is something unusual," Al Caetano said. "Look for some kind of movement."
Identifying a bird, though, is trickier than just seeing it. One way to identify a bird is its behavior, Al Caetano said. Is it doing something that kind of bird would typically do?
"You're not going to see a white crowned sparrow landing on the water," he explained.
On occasions when the couple has seen a bird that seems to be rare for the location and time of year, they, and other birders, will take a picture so they can get others' input on what the bird is; without a decent picture, Al Caetano said, identification isn't really possible.
"One of the things I have found over the years is, even if you think you know what a bird is, you should put your glasses on because some sneak up on you," Al Caetano said.
The club meets for field trips at least twice a month, with regular local outings in addition to the occasional out-of-town trip. Earlier this month, the club went to the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, and on Super Bowl Sunday it went to two birding spots in one day, the Kern and Pixley National Wildlife refuges.
The Kern Audubon Society has more than 300 members, with a dozen to 20 people typically attending the field trips.
"We always hope for a big crowd, but the bigger the crowd, the harder the birding," Caetano said, explaining that too many people can scare off birds or make them harder to be heard and easier to overlook.
Cindy Caetano said members of the Kern Audubon Society tend to be "mature individuals," though there are a few in their 20s and 30s, many of them in professions that lend themselves to the outdoors. She said the club is always trying to recruit new members, especially younger ones. Newcomers need not worry about their knowledge of specific birds, or lack thereof.
"We're very welcoming and do not have high expectations of (members) being able to identify birds," Cindy Caetano said.