Through the binoculars of Patricia Voelker, there are no boring birds.
“I’m trying to eliminate from my vocabulary the word ‘just’ when I’m birding. There’s not ‘just’ a cardinal or ‘just’ a chickadee,” said Voelker, 71, a retired teacher who took up bird-watching about five years ago.
“They have all these radiant colors.”
Voelker is one of thousands of people participating in this weekend’s Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual “citizen science” project that helps ornithologists document changes in the range and number of birds across the United States.
In its 15th year, the bird count is for all ages and levels of birdwatching experience, said Kathleen O’Grady, a ranger at Congaree National Park and promoter of birding.
As for Voelker, she came to birdwatching at retirement.
Someone gave her a bird feeder when she moved into her new house, so she decided to spring for a birdbath.
Her interest grew from there.
Now she spends much of her free time walking in the woods, photographing birds and keeping track of what she sees. In July, she began offering monthly bird walks at Saluda Shoals. She also volunteers at Riverbanks Zoo — in the bird exhibit, of course.
Over time, Voelker has accumulated four pairs of binoculars, multiple field guides and 18 scattered feeders across the tiny yard of her Lexington patio home.
She’s always stocked with black oil sunflower seeds and recently has discovered a new mix of cracked corn she likes. Depending on the time of year, she might put out suet, grape jelly or hummingbird nectar.
But she insists birdwatching is not an expensive hobby. She figured she spends about $15 a month on seed. (She lives in a subdivision without mature trees, so pilfering squirrels aren’t an issue.)
“I’ve had 17 species at my feeder today,” she said during one late afternoon visit. A list of birds, with hatch marks beside each name, was sitting on the table beside the rocker at a bay window. A pair of binoculars was within reach, on the windowsill.
Voelker said she doesn’t count birds every day, but often. “That way, I keep in practice,” she said. “I learn more birds.”
Some people are better at recognizing bird calls than she is, so that’s something she’s working on.
The most unusual bird she’s seen in her yard – a bird she’s only spotted once – was a rose-breasted grosbeak.
But she’s liable to raise her binoculars at any bird that lights on one of her feeders.
“Every bird for me is just awesome.”