Birding Couple Keeps Their Eyes to the Sky

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By Caryn Stumpfl The Pineapple Contributing Editor Birding is much more than observing birds in the wild… it’s also a great social outlet, where “birds of a feather flock together” to enjoy field trips and even vacations to view their fine-feathered friends. An educational and environmentally friendly hobby for all ages, birding also can help keep you physically fit and is a relaxing way to decompress in today’s stressful world. Mostly, it’s just plain fun. That’s probably why it’s one of the most popular pastimes in the United States, with more than 48 million amateur Audobons today. Just ask Delray Beach residents Dave and Sue Hagen, avid birders who have gone out to view, hear and photograph birds locally, around the state and in many different countries around the world for their avian avocation. “It’s easy to go birding,” said Dave. “You just need binoculars, a bird ID book and a pad and pencil.” The Hagens are real students of the hobby. They enjoy learning as much as they can about the birds, their nests and the variety of calls and songs. After coming down to Florida as snowbirds from their native Michigan during the late 1980s and ‘90s, they moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2001. It was there that the Hagens first caught the birding bug. They credit professional naturalist Paddy Cunningham with encouraging their interest and helping to hone their birding skills. The Hagens went to birding classes and on guided tours led by Cunningham, who the couple describes as “an excellent, enthusiastic teacher.” Cunningham’s company, Birding Adventures (www.birdadventure.com), helps birders from across the country gain advanced skills through classes and field trips to area wetlands and on birding vacations to various locations in the United States, the Caribbean and Central America. They have also done bird counts here in South Florida every December. Their group meets at 6 a.m. and they go out all day to count the different birds and species they see, Dave said. “Paddy makes it so that the more you start to learn about birds, the more you want to know,” said Dave, a retired automotive engineer who spent 35 years at Ford Motor Company. Sue Hagen is also retired after working in offices up in Ann Arbor and as a volunteer. The couple have three children and four grandchildren (two boys and two girls). While they lived in Fort Lauderdale, Dave was a docent at the Bonnet House. “It was amazing. I never saw the birds until she (Paddy) came along and would point out 10 birds. Actually I think the birds found her,” he said with a wink. In 2011, the Hagens moved to Harbor’s Edge, a senior living community in Delray Beach. While the couple’s beautiful and spacious abode overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway, they say there aren’t too many birds to see from their vantage point, other than your typical South Florida ibis, egrets, crows and an osprey who lives on their building’s roof. On local birding treks to the Florida Keys, Green Cay on Hagen Ranch Road in Boynton Beach, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, west of Route 441 in Boynton Beach, and Wakodahatchee in western Delray Beach, the couple has seen a wide variety of birds and up to 20-25 different species every time they’ve gone. “Birds are starting to migrate down from the north now. You can see warblers if you’re in the right place at the right time,” Dave said. “It’s a wonderful pastime for us,” said Sue. “Living in Florida, we can go out any time, compared to Michigan.” When asked where they’ve been birding, Dave replied, “We haven’t been to either pole or India,” but they’ve basically covered the rest of the world. “Sue would come along with me when I traveled for business and we’ve gone to Japan and other places.” Since their retirement 20 years ago, they’ve traveled to Africa, Asia, the Galapagos Islands, Machu Pichu in Peru, Europe, the Caribbean and Israel just to name a few. Not all of their trips were about birding, but they did enjoy seeing and hearing hundreds of different birds on their trips. It’s not always a given they’ll see many birds when they go out, however. For example, once while in Israel, they went to a bird sanctuary but only saw three or four birds. When they took a Danube River cruise, it was too cold to see any birds. According to the couple, they’ve spent about eight to 10 years of solid birding. The most extensive birding trip they’ve taken was a “Carefree Birding” cruise in 2012. The Caribbean cruise and birding tour gave the birders a chance to see a large number of tropical birds and species. The group got priority to leave the ship early every morning on six different islands for excursions to see birds when they were at their most active. In Panama, the Hagens once stayed in a converted radar tower above the tree canopy. This gave them a rare “bird’s eye view” of the native birds at the top of the trees. One of the more unusual birds they’ve seen is the Roseate Spoonbill in the Everglades. According to Dave, sometimes you can see these colorful birds out at Green Cay, Wakodahatchee and quite often in Naples. “It’s very interesting to see this bird when it’s roosting and especially when in flight,” said Dave, who is also an accomplished photographer having had three of his pictures accepted as “Bird of the Week” by the Sun Sentinel. “We’ve done a lot of birding in Everglades National Park. We were up at dawn and birding all day for two or three days. It can be exhausting but rewarding,” he said. “It’s so exciting when all of a sudden you see something unusual,” said Sue. “You can usually hear Grackles before you see them.” The term “birding” is used instead of birdwatching because the hobby is more than just visual. It’s audible, as well. The Hagens and other enthusiasts listen for the sounds and calls of birds and seek to identify them. Birding has gone high tech, thanks to the internet and a variety of apps available. Dave uses the iBird Pro app on his iPod Touch to identify birds. The app features the calls of 940 North American birds. “Playing the calls out in the wild is not an accepted way of good birding,” said Dave. “Many birds think the sounds are a threat. I like to use the app to identify what I hear. One time I heard catbirds on a trail. I wasn’t sure what it was exactly until I heard the sound again on the app and confirmed it,” said Dave. The couple would like to do a little traveling after Dave recovers from some recent health issues. “We’d like to go to the Dry Tortugas and see some water birds,” he said. Sue keeps a list of all the birds they’ve seen and they have albums full of their birding photos. The couple are eager to share their hobby with others. They showed their photos and discussed their birding adventures in a presentation to residents at their community and to other groups. They also have a display case full of lovely bird figurines outside their home in the hallway. According to Dave, “Birding is a fun hobby that anyone can do and it provides good exercise. All you really need is a good pair of shoes and binoculars.”