Reaching the birding zone
BRECKENRIDGE – Contrary to Colorado Mountain College’s flyer about the April Rocky Mountain Birds class, instructor Mark Opincariu is not a bird guru. The self-described naturalist eschews the title, saying “there are certainly a lot of people around that have traveled far and wide and who are better identifiers than me.” But tallying bird species is not the point of birding, Opincariu explains with the flair of a naturalist Zen master. Rather, participants should come to the first class on Friday, April 13, with a desire to connect with nature. “The instructor’s role is to be a channel and not to draw attention to yourself,” Opincariu said. “It’s about the students’ pursuits and their self-discovery.” Those intangible goals materialize in the outdoor world. Opincariu said he likes the aesthetic nature of natural history versus field sciences. “You’re not bound by scientific motive or pursuit in natural history,” Opincariu said of natural history, which he defines as the understanding of the natural environment. “In science, when you start talking about aesthetic you’ve lost your objectivity.” The nuts and bolts of finding and identifying birds are still necessary tools, and Opincariu will expand on those – along with a healthy dose of humility, which Opincariu said is necessary because “birds tend to flit around” – at the Colorado Mountain College class. “Birding, as much as any other natural history pursuit, offers opportunities for lessons in humility,” Opincariu said. “The birds don’t cooperate. The birds aren’t there for us.” But they are visually observable, Opincariu added. He said birding is one of the most accessible channels to pursue natural history, and his April CMC class will cover basics like optics and field technique in a variety of places. “One of the course goals is to be able to identify habitats where birds live so students can understand places where they’re likely to see birds,” Opincariu said.
Opincariu’s first brush with birding was in an ornithology class at his alma mater, Colorado State. He received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the institution. “Going through that program I realized what I was attracted to, and what it felt like was teaching,” Opincariu said. At CSU, Opincariu worked as a teacher’s assistant, and has been instructing at Elder Hostel since then, an organization Opincariu said provides educational opportunities -academic- arts- and activities-based -for people 55 and older. Now that he’s taught countless groups, Opincariu said people start birding for different reasons, including an inclination toward compulsive behavior. “There’s some people out there – “bird listers” – who any time they hear about a rare bird sighting, that’s it, they’re online, they’re buying a plane ticket and away they go,” Opincariu said. “That’s kind of the antithesis.” According to Opincariu, May is the best month for spotting the widest variety of birds in this area. And what is the best way to take in as much as possible? By getting in the zone, Opincariu said. “We’ll just listen and look and see those things that are usually part of the background canvas,” he said.