Spring migration is over, and the birds are all focused on mating and raising their families. The weather is too darn hot outside to be enjoyable, especially when one is hauling binos, field guide, water, scope with tripod, notebook, lunch, and possibly a camera. Then, to top things off, the sun is coming up at an hour when even birders would prefer to catch a few extra zzz’s. The early birds can have their worms.
Of course, most of us won’t let a few inconveniences like that stop us from birding. Sure, we may have a bit less enthusiasm, but we’ll still traipse around in the hot sun if there is the possibility of seeing some birds. But wait. You don’t have to suffer in the heat. There are a few things we can do to make our excursions more bearable.
God invented mountains so we would have a nice, cool place to go in the summer. Since I’m blessed to live in Colorado, I have plenty of mountains to visit. I can even see them from my front door. A lot of the birds spend their summers in the mountains. Juncos, Wilson’s Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, even American Robins head for the hills when the weather heats up. There are also birds that are true mountain residents. On my last trip to higher elevations, I spotted Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers, Red Crossbills, American Dippers, and a Fox Sparrow. I missed seeing the ptarmigans, so I’ll just have to try again.
If you don’t live near the mountains, how about the beach? Especially on the west coast, where the prevailing breezes blow off the ocean, temperatures at the beach are at least ten degrees cooler than they are inland. There are always plenty of gulls—maybe this is the year you’ll learn to distinguish all the youngsters. If you go before the crowds arrive, you should pick up some shorebirds as well. Birds on busy beaches are accustomed to people, and you can get a good look without running them off.
If you can’t be cool outside, consider birding from inside. Many nature centers have large picture windows with feeders strung up right outside. You might not add any species to your life list, but the arrangement is perfect for photography. The building acts as a blind, plus again, the birds are used to people. I love to sit and take pictures in cool, air conditioned comfort. The House Finch at right is one photo taken this way.
How about birding from your car? National Wildlife Refuges often have auto routes that allow you to creep along in first or second gear, scanning for ducks, herons and other refuge visitors from your rolled down windows. If you turn the A/C on and direct the flow of cool air at your feet, you can stay pretty comfortable while you hang your scope out the window. Because the birds only see the car silhouette, not yours, they ignore your presence.
Finally, there’s one sure-fire way to avoid that scorching sun beating down on you. Go birding at night. Owls aren’t the only nocturnal birds you might find—how about nighthawks and poorwills? Mockingbirds, the American Woodcock, and some herons are also active at night. Remember your flashlight, and be a bit careful. Birds aren’t the only animals out in the dark.
There’s not much we can do about summer’s early sunrises or the fact that the birds are breeding instead of migrating. But at least we can cope with the heat. Grab your gear and go find some birds, and don’t forget the bug spray. Oh, didn’t I mention mosquitoes?