(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Katie Andersen has lived in Erie her whole life. And that’s about as long as she’s been birding, too.

“I’ve been birding since I was a little kid. Like, literally. I was 2 weeks old when my parents took me out birding with them,” Andersen said. “It’s something that’s always been a part of my life.”

For those unfamiliar with birding, it’s a hobby where people observe birds – their behavior, their sounds, their appearances. Sometimes, it involves photography, sometimes not. Many birders keep a journal of all the birds they’ve seen since they began birding, called a “life list.” With such a long tenure of birding, Andersen’s life list is extensive.

“It’s somewhere in the 1,000-birds range, worldwide,” Andersen said. “Most of the U.S. is pretty well covered, but there are a couple areas I haven’t visited yet. I haven’t been to California, yet. I still need a lot of the sea birds. I’m not on the ocean much.”

At about 8:30 a.m. on Friday, April 29, Andersen was leading a group of birders of varying levels of experience. One birder had only been birding a couple of years and hadn’t heard of a life list, and another birder (a longtime birder herself) gasped when he asked what a life list was. They walked a few steps, stopped to listen to the birds, and raised their binoculars in unison as a thrush landed near the trail.

Andersen gave a short talk about the bird — a hermit thrush, a fairly common species in Erie, but still a rock star to the birders on the trail that morning. After she described the bird’s distinguishing and identifying markings, she logged the bird in her phone. They had identified about 35 birds already that morning.

“It’s kind of about what I expected with it being as cold as it is,” Andersen said. Cold weather isn’t ideal for birding.

In the background a bird chirped its song. Andersen identified it by song alone.

Four birders were walking with her. The group had embarked on their slow, meandering trek at about 7 a.m. and they continued identifying birds until 9 a.m. After a brief break in the parking lot, Andersen would lead another group of about four or five people on another birding walk from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Katie Andersen will lead birding walks at Presque Isle State Park in May.

For 25 years, Andersen had worked at Wild Birds Unlimited in Erie. About 12 years ago, she became involved in a popular birding festival in northwest Ohio called the “Biggest Week in American Birding,” then she became involved in the local birding festival at Presque Isle, “Festival of the Birds.” That festival is organized by the local Audubon group. Erie Bird Observatory asked Andersen if she would lead local walks this year.

“If I could only just be birding and make a living from that, I would be so happy,” Andersen said. “I love talking birding. Especially with people just starting out, and I love seeing them realize what a treasure we have here. I’m getting a kick out of this.”

Spring is a good time to go birding in Erie, Andersen said. She watches the forecast, but she also goes beyond that when she’s setting her birding expectations. She said she watches radar from both Cleveland and Pittsburgh and turns off the filters so she can see the birds moving.

“You’ve got these birds on their way north and they come to this barrier at Lake Erie, and they think, ‘I don’t know if I want to cross this — I might just stop here,'” Andersen said. “We get treated to all these cool migrants. Some you may only see for a few days here as they’re passing through.”

Birders walk a trail on April 29 at Presque Isle State Park.

During the birding walk on April 29, conversation was as abundant as the periods of silence when they waited for the sounds of a new bird. Sure, they talked about birding — what bird would they most like to see that they haven’t yet seen? — but they also talked about traveling and their professional lives. They were connecting not just with the birds, but also with each other.

“There’s a social aspect,” Andersen said in a separate interview. “I like to bird alone, but I also like to bird with people. I’ve made a ton of friends all over the world that I probably wouldn’t have connected with without birding connecting us.”

The birding walks are held on Fridays and Saturdays. The first walk begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 9 a.m. The second walk begins at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 11:30 a.m. Sam Meigs will be leading walks May 6-7 and May 13-14. Andersen will be leading groups again on the weekends of May 20-21, and May 27-28. They’re not difficult hikes, she said.

“The birding we’re doing is not a high-impact workout. It’s not going to get you massive calves or anything like that,” Andersen said. “It does depend on what the birds are doing. There are days where the birding is so excellent that you don’t even leave the parking lot.”

The birding walks are in conjunction with the Erie Bird Observatory. Andersen noted that Erie Bird Observatory banding stations are open to the public Thursdays through Sundays at Fry’s Landing at Presque Isle State Park. The stations are weather dependent.

“If the weather’s great, it’s awesome to see the process up close,” Andersen said. More information about the banding program can be found online. Additional information is available on the Erie Bird Observatory’s social media pages.

Andersen said she loves birding because it’s relaxing and helps her connect to the world around her.

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“It’s kind of a way to just step back from thinking of everything you’ve got going with life — work and all of that… It lets me just be in the moment and exist in the moment,” she said. “It’s always been a part of my life with my parents making sure we got out into nature and making sure we pay attention to the world around us.”