Beginning Birders Need a Buddy

Aiken Birders_MtEvans-CO_LAH_6401Is there a bright, new bird at your feeder? Have you suddenly noticed the large number of hawks circling overhead? Perhaps one of your new year’s resolutions is to get more exercise, and you need some motivation. There are plenty of reasons someone decides to start looking at birds. However, once you’ve made the decision, or realized an interest, how do you get started?

Recently, I was chatting with a new acquaintance when I happened to mention that I enjoyed going birding. Her face lit up. It turns out that she and her husband, now retired, were looking for something new that they could do together, and had decided to start watching birds. She had a new pair of binoculars and a field guide, but she was feeling a bit lost. Needless to say, we had a long conversation!

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Birding Together

Lesser Goldfinch_BCNC_LAH_6460This past weekend, I discovered the joy of birding all over again. It all started with an email I received as Answerer-of-Emails for our Audubon chapter. It seemed that a group of retired missionaries was holding a reunion at a local conference center, and some of them wanted to go birding. Could we offer any advice?

I looked at the dates, then checked my calendar. Nothing vital was scheduled for that morning. So I wrote back and explained that sure, we could offer advice, but perhaps they would rather have a few local birders on hand to lead the trip?

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How to Help a Newbie

birders_clearspringsswa-co_20100306_lah_9330“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.

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Duck! Birding Around Hunters

It was a brisk fall day. A friend and I were hidden among the cattails, binoculars in hand, field guide open between us. We were both new at birding. The wide assortment of ducks bobbing out on the reservoir, nondescript in their eclipse plumage, was giving us fits. That’s why we had come–to learn how to identify fall ducks.

Scanning the opposite shoreline, I was ticking off mallards, shovelers, gadwalls… and gasp! What was that man doing with a gun!!? He had it pointed straight at us!

We hastily decided that this was neither the time nor place to be learning our waterfowl. Backing out of the vegetation, we turned and hurried for the car. It wasn’t until later, when we were in the car heading home, that we realized what we should have known all along. It was hunting season. Reflecting back, it’s unlikely the hunters even realized we were there, outfitted as we were in khaki and olive drab, skulking in the thick riparian foliage.

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What to Give a Birder

dscf0371This is not another list of what to buy your favorite birder for Christmas. There are plenty of lists like that already; every birding magazine and website seems to have one. Most suggestions seem more helpful to the makers of the products featured than they are to the gift giver… or the recipient.

See, the problem is that birding doesn’t really require a lot of stuff. Sure, you spend your wad on good optics, and you need a field guide or two. But one of benefits of birdwatching is that you don’t need a lot of gear. Once you’re set, you can get on about the business of watching birds, which is really the point. Birders do not collect birds—they collect sightings of birds.

Not to miss an opportunity, many manufacturers have come up with “birding accessories”—things like special tote bags for your book and binos, many-pocketed vests, volumes on where to go birding, and journals with bird drawings on the cover. I’m sure all those are useful, but they’re certainly not regarded as must-haves. An old fanny pack, internet access, and a 99¢ notepad work just as well.

Instead of telling you what to buy for your gift list birder, I’m going to make a suggestion for a gift you can’t buy. No one ever said that gifts have to cost a lot of money.

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