Do you want to be a better birder? Would you like to meet more people who share your interest? Are you curious about some near-by birding hotspots, but you’re not sure exactly where they are, or how to get there?
While birding is fine as a solo pursuit, there are times when hanging around other birders is just a lot more fun.
One day, about eight months after I first became interested in birds, I was finishing up a walk around the ponds at our local nature center. I stopped by the visitor center to see if anything special had been sighted recently. The volunteer behind the counter saw my binos and asked if I was a birder.
When I explained that I was new at watching birds and could really use some guidance, she invited me to the next monthly meeting of the Aiken Audubon Society, our local Audubon chapter. She went on to describe the program that would be presented that night, and told me that it was all free and open to everyone. Did I want to go?
I showed up on my own, no small feat for an introvert, and was immediately greeted by the same volunteer I’d met at the nature center. She introduced me to several more people, and pulled out a chair next to her for me to sit down in.
I don’t remember what the program was about—I take better notes now—but I do remember being fascinated. I returned the following month, dragging my non-birdy husband with me. That evening the chapter president presented an excellent program about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, complete with professional-quality photos showing thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. (It made such an impression on Pete that he offered to take me there the following fall, and he did.)
I love to learn, and here was a chance to hear speakers on all sorts of bird-related topics. I quickly became a regular attender.
Then there were the field trips. While you can certainly learn to ID birds on your own, you’ll learn much more quickly, and with much less frustration, if you have help from a more experienced birder. You can assemble your own group of friends and pick a destination, but at that time I hardly knew anyone else who was interested in looking for birds.
Aiken Audubon (and most other Audubon chapters) offers regular field trips to a wide variety of habitats. They’re frequently led by very experienced birders. And the best part is that beginners are not only welcome, they’re encouraged to sign up!
Having extra eyes means you’ll see more birds, and having experts along means you’ll learn how to ID what you see. My birding skills grew rapidly, as did my life list. At the same time, I found I really liked a number of the other birders, and I made new friends.
Eventually, the chapter president rotated off the board and a new president took his place. It was my friend, the nature center volunteer. I mentioned that if she ever needed help with the newsletter, I had some skills in that area. Sure enough, a few months later the newsletter editor “retired” and I got a phone call. I happy agreed to take on that responsibility. Then she told me, “Oh, by the way, you’ll be on the board. We meet on the first Wednesdays…”
So here I am, six years later. I’m still an appointed board member in charge of the chapter’s newsletter and website (despite my profound ignorance of web programming!), I attend nearly every meeting, and I go on as many field trips as possible. While I’ve given of my time as a volunteer, I’ve gained much more in the way of birding skills, knowledge, and friendship.
Not every place has an Audubon chapter, but most towns have some sort of bird-related organization. Whether it’s the Denver Field Ornithologists, the Boulder Bird Club, or some other group, there’s probably a flock of enthusiastic birders who meet nearby. I encourage you to go and see what you’ve been missing. As you’ll discover (if you haven’t already)—birders are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!