Alan Robertson was introduced to bird-watching decades ago by his parents, who knew Joel Carl Welty, an internationally known expert and author of "The Life of Birds."
Ever since, Robertson has enjoyed photographing birds everywhere he goes. "The diversity of birds is just truly amazing," the St. Charles resident said after snapping photos of a woodpecker Saturday during the "Woodpeckers in Winter" nature program at Fermilab in Batavia.
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The program was led by naturalist and bird-watching, or "birding", expert Jack Pomatto as part of a series of "Learn from the Experts" classes offered by the Kane County Forest Preserve District and the St. Charles and Geneva park districts.
The group, which comprised 19 people, caught sight of a red-bellied woodpecker and a downy woodpecker and got a quick look at a northern flicker.
Participants also spotted the common merganser -- a "very handsome" duck, Pomatto explained -- plus a red-tailed hawk and a rusty blackbird. The latter was an exciting one because it doesn't reside here but comes through while migrating to Louisiana and Southern Mississippi for the winter, Pomatto said.
The group walked along the southern edge of Lake Law, which is open to the public, and also got to check out parts of the Fermilab property normally off limits to the public, such as the area of Main Ring Lake.
Pomatto has been a birder since he was a child and has been traveling the world for 20 years looking for birds. His favorite country? Ecuador, which boasts about 1,700 species of birds, he said. By comparison, North America has only about 750 species.
There are all types of birders, Pomatto said, from those who set up bird feeders and look out their windows to competitive types who track how many birds they spot in a day or a year.
Most in the group were either expert birders or curious novices. One exception was Anthony Bambino of St. Charles, who was there for advice on how to get rid of the woodpeckers that have been damaging his house.
"So far I have been shooing them away and filling the holes they make," he said. He also tried folk remedies like a wood owl to scare them off, but nothing has worked. Next, he might look into some kind of alternative siding for his home, he said.
Valerie Blaine, nature programs manager for the Kane County Forest Preserve District, said birding is a passion that can really change how you see the world. "Once you got the bug, so to speak, you'll notice birds everywhere."