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Radio Field Trip: Bird Watching on the Seacoast

Dan Tuohy / NHPR
New Hampshire Audubon hosted bird-watching trips recently as part of International Migratory Bird Day. And Radio Field Trip tagged along to see what was up.

For this week’s Radio Field Trip, we’re heading to the Seacoast to meet some people who are very excited about seeing some birds.

Do you have a suggestion for an upcoming Radio Field Trip? Click here to submit your idea, or email us at

(Editor’s note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

It’s 5:30 in the morning on a chilly Saturday in May, and I’m standing beside the shoreline at Odiorne PointState Park in Rye.

The sun is rising over the horizon casting a sheen over the water. To me, it’s calm and peaceful.

Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Becky Suomala, with New Hampshire Audubon, led the bird-watching tour through Odiorne Point State Park in Rye.

But birding expert Becky Suomala says there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

“Birds are most active in the morning,” Becky says. “They’re getting around, feeding and you get the best chance to see them. They sing a lot more in the morning too. So you can hear them and then you get to spot them.”

Becky is a senior biologist with the New Hampshire Audubon Society. This morning, I’m joining her on a bird watching trip. 

The New Hampshire Audubon is hosting 15 trips across the state today to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day, but Becky says the Seacoast is a special place to be.

“It’s a great spot,” Becky says. “We’ve got the river just to the north so you’ve got a little bit of a barrier so migrants sometimes put down here. So it can be a great place to see a lot of different birds.”

Anyone is welcome, even a total newbie like me.

And as other birders begin to arrive, I realize Becky’s right. There’s a lot more going on than I thought.

(Click and drag to look around in this 360 video. Zoom in/out with the + and - buttons.)

Bird Watching at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, N.H. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The tour hasn’t officially started yet, but about a dozen or so people gather around excitedly to point out bird after bird. They whip their binoculars back and forth, calling out the names of so many different species, that I can’t keep up.

Pretty soon Becky leads us along a trail into a wooded area of the park. It’s here that she shows me a top birding technique. Becky calls out to the bird using a sound called “pishing.”

“[It’s] a noise that sometimes birds find curious so they will come in and respond to it,” Becky says. “Other times it scares them away, and other times nothing happens.”

Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR
The Morning Edition team looks out at a nearby cormorant.

Several seasoned birders are here today. Zeke Cornell from Bow has seen over 200 species of birds in New Hampshire so far this year.

“Birding turns out to be a black hole for time and energy,” Zeke says. “You can go as deep as you want. There’ll be people that’ll get on an airplane to go see something because they've not seen it and it’s in the American birding area.”

Zeke has no desire to get on a plane, but he will get in his car and travel all over New England to see a rare bird. He says he’s not in it for the competition. He just really loves getting outside, especially in the spring.

“[There are] more hours, early hours, birds coming in,” Zeke says. “I just feel alive myself. It’s great.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Jillian Price from Exeter has also been patiently waiting for the spring to arrive.

“It’s great to be able to go outside, and just enjoy the sun and see what I can find,” Jillian says.

Jillian says she goes birding every week around her house. But it takes a lot of practice to be able to identify birds and she’s still learning.

Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Becky Suomala of the New Hampshire Audubon Society discusses the bird-watching basics with NHPR's Radio Field Trip.

“It’s something that I’m trying to achieve, but it’s still so much that when I go on trips like this, people just hear a little chipping sound and know what it is, and I have no idea,” Jillian says. “It’s just – it’s a chip. Everything says “chip chip” once and awhile. So it’s hard.”

She says learning the different sounds takes patience and a lot of practice.

I definitely have to rely on Becky and the others to know which birds we hear along the way.

But there's at least one bird call even I can identify, and that's the sound of a crow flying by.

(Here's a video slideshow of a few birds on this trip. Can you identify them by their song?)

*Birdsong clips from N.H. Audubon

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
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