Thursday, May 29, 2008

Beware Of Summer Birdwatching Hazards

Summer birding calls for planning . . . planning for the hazards you might encounter on summer walks. Protecting yourself from the mass attacks of insects that you might confront and shielding yourself from the broiling hot rays of a brassy sun is of the utmost importance.

Your skin should be covered. Large hats that shade your face, ears, nose and neck are ideal. Sunscreen applied to all exposed skin is helpful.

Summer birding calls for loose-fitting, long-sleeved, light-colored clothing and, of course, long pants that can be tucked into boots, if possible. An insect repellent should be applied to arms, legs and sock tops. Don't wear any kind of "stinkum" . . . deodorant, perfume, cologne, hair spray or after shave lotion.

Walking down the levy, or a leisurely stroll around ponds, might be followed by a week of insufferable itching caused by bites and stings if you discount the warnings. As the weather grows warmer, insect pests grow larger and stronger and will be out looking for a meal of blood.

A few of the bad guys are mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers (also known as red bugs), yellow jackets, wasps and hornets. Stagnant ponds, oozy stream banks, wet and shady wood edges, swamp streams and low-lying fields and meadows will become humming mosquitoes' and other insects' maternity wards.

The tick season will be at its peak from April through October. Ticks are small creatures about one-fourth-inch long. They cling to grass, leaves or branches of bushes and trees until they can attach themselves to a puffing, out-of-breath, red-faced, sweating birder chasing a scissor-tailed flycatcher (not likely to be seen in this area) who is oblivious to the tick-infested region.

It's always well, after being in the great outdoors, to examine body and clothes when you get home or get back to the motel. Ticks might not be felt even when they are feeding on you.

Other insect habitats to avoid are mosquito infested swamps, chigger-clogged wood edges, grassy roadsides and fields and pastures full of wasp and yellow jacket nests buried in soft ground. Watch where you step.

Insects . . . those creatures that bite, buzz, sting, swarm and spoil almost all summer outdoor activities, dominate the land. Scientists have accounted for a mind-boggling 850,000 different species of insects and there may be as many as another million species that have not been cataloged.

Humans are a perfect chigger lunch. This tiny, almost invisible, six-legged mite, after attaching itself to your flesh, digs in with a vengeance, causing intense itching. Chiggers don't attach themselves immediately, so a hot soapy shower after a walk will probably get most of them before they bite.

Most birders know poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac and the dangers they hold. But we do get carried away sometimes when bright feathers flash before us. We charge right into a bed of such hazards. It's worth it, though, if we find a rarity or a "lifer".

With proper preparation, your summer outings should never be ruined by creepy-crawly, blood-sucking, chemical-injecting, needle-poking, disease-carrying vermin.

Prepare wisely and let's go birding!