Birding can be as relaxing or as adventurous as you want it to be. Watching out the window from the comfort of your recliner at home, a leisurely stroll in the park, or a trip to your local wildlife refuge where you don't know what kind of birds you're going to spot. Every time we go out in search of birds, it's not only fun but an eye-opening learning experience. So, today I thought I'd share a few tips to help you get started in this wonderful, inexpensive, life-enriching hobby.
1. It's easy to get overwhelmed, but don't! Learning to identify the birds you see takes time and is completely worth it. You don't just jump into learning and mastering a new language in one day. Same thing with birding.
Like anything else, birding takes practice. At first, you might not know the difference between a finch and sparrow, but in good time you will. The more you see of different birds (and the same ones, too), you'll learn to identify their differences, no matter how subtle they might be. A little stripe here, a dash of coloring there just might be the difference between two different species.
2. Be patient. Birds don't always like to cooperate with your eyes or your camera. Waterbirds and shorebirds are larger and easier to spot, but they will fly away if you get too close. Imagine how wonderful it must be to be able to spread your wings and fly away at the first sign of trouble! Ah well, that's another post for another day.
Littler birds are even more difficult to pin down. Take warblers, for instance. Yellow-rumped Warblers can be the most frustrating to get photos of (at least for me anyway.) And don't even get me started on Mountain Chickadees. I'm sure every birder has one that continues to elude their eager camera lens.Yellow-rumped Warblers are quite possibly one of the cutest little birds I've ever seen and yet I can't seem to get a decent photo of one to save my life. Maybe that's part of what makes them so special.
There's a lot of luck involved when birding, and more often than not we find ourselves in "right place at the right time" scenarios.
3. Go easy on yourself. I've misidentified birds before (and still do!), only to have someone point it out to me here on my blog or on social media. There's always going to be someone better or more experienced than you, but that's all apart of the learning process I mentioned earlier.
Birds' plumage can vary greatly between summer/winter, male/female, and young/adult. Some birds (like Red-tailed Hawks) can even stump experts because there are so many different forms and variations.
4. Get ready for an adventure. Not only are you opening yourself up to new knowledge about the wildlife around you, you're giving yourself the opportunity to see and experience the extraordinary. Spotting a Vermilion Flycatcher in a cemetery in Northern California continues to be one of the greatest experiences of my life. (Read more about that particular birding adventure here). Birds can go way off course from their migratory route and end up giving you the thrill of a lifetime!
You truly never know what you're going to see each time you raise those binoculars up to your eyes. Isn't that the reason for watching birds in the first place? The possibility of spotting something rare? You betcha!
5. Appreciate each sighting, no matter how common. No matter how many White-crowned Sparrows I encounter, I still love each and every one of them. I enjoy seeing them wherever I go--the mountains, the coast, and especially in my own backyard. They genuinely feel like friends, popping in to say hello, and I take pride in knowing that the ones with brown stripes on their heads instead of white are young juveniles.
Every bird is special and unique in its own way, and it's up to you to never take that fact for granted.
I hope you find these tips helpful for when you're just starting out on birding adventures of your own. May you see flocks that take your breath away and individual birds that remind you that there is indeed an abundant supply of beauty still left in the world.
Let's go birding!