‘2021 Tahoe Big Year’ is one for the birds | SierraSun.com

‘2021 Tahoe Big Year’ is one for the birds

Tahoe Institute of Natural Science Staff
American Kestrel.
Photo by Jared Manninen


Great Blue Heron.
Photo by Jared Manninen

Feeling stuck inside and yearning for adventure? Do you want to learn more about the local animals that reside in Lake Tahoe’s wild landscape? Interested in a scavenger hunt that introduces you to new scenery while spending hours immersed in nature? Birdwatching may be the perfect fit for you … during the pandemic and beyond.

For many, 2020 was a year spent picking up new hobbies and resurrecting old ones. Whether you tried baking bread or learning ukulele, hobbies are a great way to increase self-esteem, boost your mood, and improve well-being. As we continue to stay home and social distance through the start of this New Year, you may be looking for new interests that do all that and more.

Birding is an activity uniquely situated to provide plentiful health benefits (for which the COVID-19 pandemic has universally amplified the need) while conforming to the guidelines and restrictions of the pandemic itself.

Research has shown that spending time in nature reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness, even while socially-distancing in the process. Interaction with wild animals in their own habitat can decrease physical symptoms of stress, such as fatigue or difficulty sleeping, as well as boost one’s mood. Some health care providers specifically encourage the pursuit of observing animals in nature for patients suffering from anxiety and depression. Recent research shows that life satisfaction is greater for those living in environments of higher biodiversity, and with over 300 bird species that have been recorded around Tahoe, there are a lot of birds to see.

Tahoe locals can capitalize on these health benefits and have a lot of fun by joining in on the 2021 Tahoe Big Year, in which participants scour the region to find as many bird species as possible. Registering for this free, year-long event gives participants a platform to track all the bird species spotted throughout the year, while competing with other birding enthusiasts to see who can find the most species. However, the Tahoe Big Year is not strictly a competition, but is also a space for the entire community, from first timers to experts, to learn about and experience the Tahoe region’s diverse bird community and rich birding opportunities.

Participants have access to expertise and advice from TINS staff and each other through monthly virtual get-togethers, presentations, and other learning opportunities. Past Big Years have greatly strengthened Tahoe’s birding community, and we hope to make the 2021 edition as social as possible through these virtual events, birding list-servers, and the Tahoe Birding Facebook group.

The event is free and open to anyone, though those who become a member of TINS (starting at $35/year) will enjoy additional perks during the Big Year. For example, TINS members who have logged at least one bird species each month are eligible for a monthly prize drawing. Generously donated items such as Patagonia fleece and down jackets, hats, and field guides will help you be better prepared to enjoy Tahoe’s nature in every season. Let’s go birding.

To register and dive into birding with both feet, or to learn more about the Tahoe Big Year, visit tahoebigyear.org.

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