Donna Cooper sees movement in the distance among bare trees and raises her binoculars for a closer look.

They are all around us, birds, even in winter, though not in the numbers or varieties that will soon arrive in spring.

Cooper, of Andover, is bird-watching this late afternoon in advance of the talk she and Lou Keller will give on Sunday in North Andover at Stevens Memorial Library.

The presentation starts at 2 p.m. Keller, also of Andover and secretary of the Merrimack Valley Bird Club, will show photographs he has taken of local birds, including a green heron, tricolored heron, red-tailed hawk and owls — barn, snowy and screech varieties.

Cooper, the club’s president, follows with a talk about birding’s pleasures and practices, including how and where to bird locally.

She has eight bird feeders in her yard. She ventures to local conservation areas. And she has traveled on Audubon bird tours. (She and her husband even traveled to the Galapagos Islands in 2000 and saw all but one of the finches of Charles Darwin fame.)

But one of birding’s great virtues is it can be done anywhere, and the activity occasionally rewards the vigilant viewer with a joyous surprise.

In October 2016, Cooper was shocked to see a rufous hummingbird shivering at her bird feeder.

“It should have been in California,” she said. 

Cooper posted the sighting online and birders flocked to have a glimpse. Eventually, the 3-inch bird was weaned away from her yard, but not before professionals weighed, measured and banded it.

On this afternoon, Cooper is birding at the 704-acre Ward Reservation in Andover and North Andover. It has 10 miles of trails and hilltop views that reveal the Boston skyline.

Eastern bluebird boxes sit posted on Holt Hill, the highest point in Essex County.

On a trail by a stone wall, Cooper notices stirrings 40 yards away among the drab brush and gray trees.

As a child watching figure skating on television, she couldn’t fathom how judges could determine a score by watching the skaters leap, turn and spin.

Now, as an adult, she understands how a skating judge, through repetition, trains the eye to see and gauge a performance.

These bird movements she sees in the distance — their shapes and flight and landing patterns — indicate the likely species and, given her grasp of their habits, she knows right where to train the binoculars for a closer look and to positively identify the birds.

She excitedly ticks off names — downy woodpeckers and bluebirds. She crooks her arm at an angle and points to a fallen tree leaning against a neighbor. And there is one of the downies, the smallest in the woodpecker family, only 5 or 6 inches long and weighing an ounce or less.

A bluejay calls from the other side of the trail. It sounds like it’s far away and high in a tree. It’s a raucous sound all of us have heard from time to time, though we might not have known it as the jay’s call.

There is something about bird calls, songs and sights that makes us forever familiar with them once we know the sounds, shapes and colors.

Cooper says her granddaughter knows when a cardinal is near and is happy to point out the bird’s presence.



What: Birding in New England

When: Sunday, March 18, 2 p.m.

Where: Stevens Memorial Library, 345 Main St., North Andover

How much: Free, courtesy of Friends of the Stevens Memorial Library

More information: or 978-688-9505



Here are some of the topics that will be covered in Sunday’s birding program at Stevens Memorial Library:

— What’s birding all about?

— Basic birding equipment you might need.

— Birding by sight and birding by ear.

— How to go beyond backyard birding?

— Resources to learn more.

A question-and-answer session will end the presentation, followed by light refreshments.



Cheap Seats is a recurring feature where we highlight places in our region to go for free or a few dollars. Got an idea for a Cheap Seats? Email Terry Date at




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