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Lifelong birders - Pam Kondos, left, with her sister, Paige Reynolds. Both select birds that elicit happy memories with family as their favorites.

Birding sisters enjoy lifelong hobby together

By Lynn Kaiser Conrad

Contributing Writer

Paige Reynolds and Pam Kondos are sisters and avid birders. They started learning about birds at an early age because their mother was a bird enthusiast and a naturalist. Their mom was a member of the Audubon Society, was recognized in Virginia for her bird knowledge, and planned family nature vacations before eco -travel was even a thing.

There are three years between Paige and Pam and each share vivid memories of their youth and their love for bird watching today. They are passing this loving legacy onto more generations within their families.

“I remember when I was five years old, and Mom was talking to me about Mourning Doves. Because of their name, I thought they only sang in the morning,” Paige laughs. She admits these birds make sloppy nests and they are quite common, still, the Mourning Dove is her favorite bird because it was the first bird she could identify by sight and sound. It was also the beginning of a lifelong love. 

At eight, Paige was determined to write a bird book and she used a pencil to illustrate birds, and their nests and to label them. 

Pam explains that each serious birder keeps a “life list” of the birds they have observed during their lifetime. Both Pam and Paige have multiple field guides which cover birds in different regions of the world. There are about 1,100 bird species in the continental United States, and both Pam and Paige have seen hundreds of them. 

Birding was such a part of their lives growing up that their mom named her car Chickadee and their father had to go to the chiropractor for neck adjustments because he injured himself staring at the high branches of trees searching for birds.

When the sisters were young, the family took a trip to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. This year is Hawk Mountain’s 90th anniversary. It is known for the autumn migrant raptor bird count. Paige and Pam remember birders, scientists, and volunteers spotting birds and calling out, “Ridge one, Coopers Hawk, ridge two, Red-Tailed Hawk, ridge one Bald Eagle.” That way all observers could see the raptors and hawks. It was an exciting adventure. Birders brought a variety of spotting scopes, field glasses, and binoculars.

Pam took ornithology when she was in college, but there was no career path at that time for someone majoring in such a specific field, so she majored in biology and made birding an avocation. Pam has taken specific trips for birding both domestically and internationally. Paige took a road trip once to the Mississippi River to see the Smew, a rare white duck with black markings.

When asked about their favorite birds, Paige and Pam don’t select exotic birds. They select birds that elicit happy memories with family. Paige loves the Mourning Dove and the Red Cockaded woodpecker, which is endangered. She saw this elusive bird at a nature reserve in Louisiana with her daughter.  

Pam’s favorite bird is the graceful Osprey because she used to watch them all the time on the Chesapeake Bay where she lived. Pam also loves the Swallowtail kite because it reminds her of the first time she saw one with her father. 

Paige cannot tell you how many bird calls she knows, but like the mockingbird, who has nearly 200 vocalizations and mimics a variety of other birds, Paige, too, can not only identify dozens of songbird calls, she can mimic them, which is a nifty trick when the grandchildren visit.

“Wood Thrush is the most beautiful songbird in North America, and we are lucky enough to have them here in Pickens County,” Pam said.

For those who want to become birders, both Pam and Paige offer some advice. “First, buy a pair of binoculars and go on organized bird walks with a guide,” Pam said. 

Paige adds that whenever you are outside, look around for a new bird or sound and have a field guide or journal and make notes. She also suggests learning the calls of common local birds as well.

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