While there is no wrong way to go birding, experienced birders plan their birding carefully, whether it is just for an hour or two, a half or full day or even longer. Birding is more than just going for a walk and happening to see birds, and if you are prepared you can see more birds, find new lifers, learn more from the birds you see to enjoy this hobby more with every step.
Why Being Prepared Matters
Birding can be a very different hobby with very different requirements depending on where you go, what birds you plan to see, the time of day and season you go and what your experience level is. By planning your birding – from casual bird walks to more intense, focused hikes – carefully, you can maximize the birds you see and minimize any problems or inconveniences. Likewise, an unprepared birder may miss great opportunities to see new birds, may find themselves in dangerous situations and could be unprepared for the local conditions. Planning is the key to enjoyable and exciting birding, and with practice, it may only take a few minutes to adequately plan for any birding trek.
Four Easy Steps to Go Birding
No matter where, when or how you plan to go birding, these four easy steps can help you make the most of your excursion.
- Identify Your Birding Goal: Do you want to see the greatest number of species in one area, or the most species in a certain time frame? Are you looking for one specific bird, or do you hope to count large numbers of birds? How you prepare to go birding will vary depending on your overall goal. By understanding what you want to accomplish, you can better determine where and when to go birding, as well as what equipment you may need to be successful.
- Choose Your Location: Birds can be found in any location and in any type of habitat, but once you know what your birding goal is you can better choose the right location for the birding you want to do. If you want to see migrating waterfowl, for example, you need to visit a far different habitat than if you are hoping to spot a rare woodpecker. As you choose your location, also keep the difficulty of the terrain in mind and whether or not you will need a map or bird guide for assistance.
- Gather the Right Supplies: While the basic tools of any birding walk may include a simple notebook or checklist, a field guide and a pair of birding binoculars, you may need more specific equipment depending on why you're going birding and where you plan to be. If you plan to look for raptors in a large open area, for example, a spotting scope may be useful, but it would be more of a burden to take along if you're planning to bird in a dense forest. Use your birding goal and planned destination to decide what to put in your field bag for each individual birding trip.
- Choose Your Timing: Knowing when to see the birds is just as important as knowing what birds you're looking for, where to find them and what supplies you'll need to see them. Depending on the habitat, season and climate, the best times to see birds can vary greatly based on their foraging patterns and other behavior. Studying the birds you are likely to see by reviewing field guides can help you decide when it may be best to go into the field, and you can also browse local birding hotlines and sightings reports for tips about the best times at specific locations.
Expect the Unexpected
Even with the most meticulous planning, it isn't always easy to know how to go birding most effectively. After you've decided why, where and when you want to go birding and you've chosen your supplies to do so, there are always unexpected surprises in the field. These can be good, such as a rare bird sighting or wonderful photography opportunities, or they can be bad, such as crowds scaring away the birds or poor weather limiting birds' activities. When you have planned appropriately, however, you can learn to be flexible with your birding to take advantage of the good and the bad surprises to make the most of every bird you see.
Photo – Birder © Steve