“I’m interested in learning how to watch birds. How can I get started?”
The question was music to my ears. Who doesn’t love to share their passion with someone else? It wasn’t so long ago that I was a new birder, trying to juggle a crummy pair of old binoculars with a mysterious field guide, all while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep an eye on the bird I was trying to identify. I’ve come a ways since those early days and even though I still have much to learn, I’m eager to pass on my limited birding skills.
Encouraging new birders isn’t just a way to stoke our more-knowledgeable egos. The more birders there are running around enjoying birds, the greater the support for conservation efforts aimed at maintaining healthy bird population. More birders means more access to birding locations, new birding trails, and an additional source of income for those in rural-but-birdy places.
It would be easy for me to give my friend a lecture on choosing proper optics, explain which field guide I think is the best, or preach the Birding Code of Ethics. Maybe I’ll eventually get around to each of these lessons. What I did tell her was where she can find lots of birders.
I invited her to our local Audubon chapter’s monthly programs. They’re informative, full of enthusiastic people, and open to the general public. Even better, they’re free! For a trivial fee, the county nature centers also offer birding classes for all ages.
Then I told her to check out our website’s list of field trips and sign up for at least one. I also mentioned that field trips are sponsored by our local nature center and by the folks at the wild bird store in town. There’s nothing like getting out in the field with a bunch of experienced birders ready to help you get a fix on that warbler, or navigate that confusing field guide.
Finally, I offered to go with her, both to the meeting and on the field trips. I remember how hard it was for me to brave that first trip. I was convinced that the old pros would laugh at my fumbling. Instead, they were generous with their time and attention. I want to pass on that kindness.
I don’t know what kind of binoculars my friend owns, if any. If they aren’t up to par, I’ll arrange to borrow a pair from another birder. She probably doesn’t own a field guide, but we can use mine. There’s no rush to get all the accessories. What matters is discovering a world of wonder as close as the neighborhood park—or even in our own backyards.