Friday, June 28, 2019

5 More Birding Tips for Beginners

Wings and Daydreams northern California birding photography blog

Last month, I offered some birding tips to keep in mind while you start the wonderful adventure that is birding. (You can read that post here.) Because this hobby is the ultimate learning experience, I thought of a few more bits of advice that might help...

1. If you find yourself having trouble identifying a bird you spotted, keep in mind that it could be a juvenile. Some species of birds start out looking nothing like the end product. Take, for instance, the Black-crowned Night Heron shown below. Even though their body shape is similar, their markings make them look like completely different species. There is a heron rookery on the auto tour of the Colusa NWR and we're lucky to get to see them in both stages of life.

You might wish the bird to be a different species, just so you can add a new bird to your lifelist, but sometimes it's just a youngster growing into his own. Take comfort in knowing that birds go through that awkward adolescent stage just like humans. For example, it takes Bald Eagles a few years to grow into their regal plumage. So, if you can't ID a particular bird, consider that it might just be a teenage version of one you already know and love.

Get yourself a good field guide and familiarize yourself with the birds in your area and what they look like when they're immature and adult. The one pictured below has birds separated by color which was extremely helpful to me as a beginner. Stan Tekiela has a ton of guides for every different state which you can purchase HERE.

The Merlin Bird ID app has also been awesome for identifying birds I'm not familiar with. It's free and you can download it HERE. The iBird Pro Guide is packed full of information about birds, too.

2. Don't make assumptions. Check again. Even if you think it's "just a blackbird," zoom in and double check for sure. I'll give you two examples of when I was guilty of this and almost missed a sighting. Phainopepla. I thought it was just a blackbird in the distance. Then we saw white on the wings when it flew away and heard another one make a sound we'd never heard before. Luckily there were several in the trees, fluttering from one branch to another, so I could get a closer look. Check it out, otherwise you might miss a great/rare sighting.

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Female Phainopepla (the male is black)
Example number two: My first American Kestrel. I thought it was a sparrow in the top of a tree. Nope. It was an American Kestrel, North America's smallest falcon. I had no idea a bird of prey could be that small!

American Kestrel
Bonus example: Western Meadowlark on a telephone wire. Again, we thought it was "just a blackbird" when we looked up. We'd never seen a Meadowlark on a phone line before and had only ever seen them on the ground and occasionally in trees. Birds will continue to surprise you no matter how long you've been watching them. That's one of the things that makes birding so fun!

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Great Egret

3. Keep track of your sightings. In a journal, a blog, etc. On a really good day at the refuge, you might see dozens of different species in the span of only an hour or two and remembering everything you saw can get overwhelming. And, for future reference, label the folders of photos on your computer by date and location so you can easily refer back to when and where you saw a bird.

4. I found it helpful to switch from binoculars to a camera. Instead of taking the precious time to focus and find a bird through binoculars and try to remember identifying details, now I simply use my camera, snap a few photos, and that way I can identify it later on the app if needed. That's the great thing about digital cameras--the photos are free and you can take as many as you want without having to wait for your expensive film to be developed. There will be plenty of blurry, non Instagram-worthy shots, but no one has to see those!

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Llano Seco Unit, part of the North Central Valley Wildlife Management Area

5. Go on your birding trips whenever you can, all different times of day. Most people recommend spotting birds in the early morning and late evening, but we manage to see them at all times. Find what works best for you and switch it up occasionally for a change of scenery and lighting. Cloudy days are even better than bright sunshiney ones so you don't get that harsh glare from the sun.

All righty, that's it for today. I hope you can take something away from these tips and get the most out of your birding adventures!

Happy Birding!
Rachelle Vaughn

Let's go birding!
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