A Basic Guide to Birding

If you type in “what are the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S.?”, you’ll get a response you probably weren’t expecting. Birding ranks in the top 25 most popular outdoor activities in the U.S. The activity isn’t too complicated beyond what its name suggests, but there is no denying that it is a nearly billion dollar industry with a friendly community that spans the entire world.

In this guide, we’ll give you a general overview of birding and the best practices and equipment for you to consider when planning your next outdoor adventure.

What is Bird Watching?

We’ve compiled the massive history of birding (also called bird watching) for you to see just how far back this hobby has existed and how it seems to have flown under the radar literally and figuratively. Nearly 40,000 years!

It seems simple enough, but birding goes beyond the act of watching the thousands upon thousands of species of birds around the world go about their day. The activity will depend on how far one is willing to see a type of bird. Sure, you see starlings, ducks, and geese almost every day, but have you ever stopped and just watch them more than a couple of minutes? Perhaps you’ll notice something interesting about their behavior that you didn’t see before. For birds and humans, the sky is the limit regarding what you might see on any given day.

Who’s up for it?

There is no barrier to entry concerning age for birding. Families of all sizes and individuals of all ages are known to engage in birding on the regular. Not only is it a cheap hobby to get into, but it also combines one’s love of the outdoors with the desire to see wildlife in their native habitats.

Prices on travel and optics will be the largest concern. It depends on whether you are looking to just see the birds or take pictures of them, which will raise the question of what type of optics you should buy. The birding community is split about 50/50 in terms of who sees with their optics (binoculars/spotting scopes), and who takes pictures (cameras).

Equipment

While it’s perfectly fine to see birds with the naked eye, there’s no telling what conditions, locations, and distances you’ll be encountering. For these reasons, optics such as the following are used to view birds in their natural habitat without the risk of disturbing them—

To keep your valuable optics safe, a safety harness may also be in order if you are planning to go near uncertain terrain. A typical safety harness fits around cameras and binoculars. You’ll have to be even more cautious when handling a spotting scope or telescope on uncertain terrain. A tripod for your spotting scope or telescope will be absolutely necessary.

To get the most out of each day spent bird watching, consider investing in a Perception HD 20-60x60mm Spotting Scope or a pair of Perception HD 10x42mm Binoculars, both sold by Upland Optics.

 Finding Birds

Birding can be a little intimidating at first. You want to see all the birds within a given amount of time but there’s only so much light during the day. That is why some communities, particularly the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology, have built apps and tools specifically for helping you find birds.

To be successful at birding, the first step is identifying the bird you’re looking at. Here’s a quick how-to on identifying birds on the go. Field guides—usually picked up from a chamber of commerce, ranger station, or nearby bookstore—will usually detail most if not all the birds in the area.

Bringing birds to you

You can expect that not all birds are going to appear when you want them too. Some are shyer than others, and the sight of a big lumbering human like yourself will easily frighten them. Getting birds to come to you does seem like the more economical reason, and you can still get a wide variety of birds to visit depending on where you live.

There is a way you can bring them to yourself. Most of us are quite enthralled by the sight and smell of food and shelter, and so are birds. Birders skilled in woodcraft and overall construction place birdhouses, baths, and other structures to draw birds to within feet of their own houses.

  • Bringing a birdhouse out into the wilderness with you would be a little tedious.

A hummingbird, for example, is drawn to the nectar given off by certain flowers, and some birders put their gardening skills to good use by planting the flowers that are most desirable. Houses, baths, and plants range all over the place regarding price. As long as you provide an incentive for the bird to come to you, you’re all but guaranteed some visitors in the days and week.

Seasons and Travel

One aspect of birdwatching that you should take into consideration is the change in season. Birds never stay in one place for too long (unless you’re a penguin on Antartica), and usually, migrate towards warmer climates (unless you’re an owl who stays in a hollowed out tree for the winter).

You can’t count on a bird being in one place all the time unless it has a massive population worldwide. Rare birds will pay closer attention to the seasons than others and thus are harder to track.

Traveling is what will separate the amateurs from the life long enthusiasts. If you want to have the best possible chance of seeing rare birds, you will need to plan your traveling far in advance and study the migration and flying patterns of these particular birds.

  • If you dig deeper into your travel search, you’ll most likely find cabins and houses marketed specifically for birders that coincide nicely with certain migration times.

Listings

When you first decide to invest in birding, consider if you plan to pursue it as an amateur or professional. There is nothing wrong with either path, but keep in mind the latter will involve more time and money.

If you plan on seeing the most birds possible in your life time, it will be important to take detailed lists of the birds you’ve seen. Why? Two species that look identical could be different on the slightest level. You don’t want to spend lots of money to see a particular bird when you’ve already seen the same bird!

Some things to note about the birds you saw can be—

Name and family (scientific name)
Location
Body make up
Color and feather pattern
Migration pattern
Social interactions
Hunting habits

Not only will your lists help you determine which birds you haven’t seen but they will help other birders in the same situation or who are just starting out.

Community

The birding community is a vast and expansive collection of people around the world who are dedicated to helping you get started. We can almost guarantee you that there is a birding organization not too far away from where you are right now.

The reason why you probably don’t hear much about birding is similar to the activity itself. Keeping noise to an absolute minimum is necessary to get some of the more rare birds to emerge from their homes.

We’ve made a list of communities that are ideal clubs to help you get your birding career get off to a flying start.

What does Birding do for the environment?

We’re glad you asked! Birding is not only a popular hobby, but it also aids aviation and wildlife experts in keeping track of all species, particularly those that are threatened and endangered. Wildlife officials routinely utilize those lists, mainly the dates and times, to make correct judgments on habitat preservation and restoration.

Your work can be of great impact and we appreciate your concern for the wildlife.

 

Birding Communities – Discover What’s Happening in Your Local Nest?

As a hobby, birdwatching offers so many options, it’s hard to narrow them down. One way to come up with a new plan is to take a tip from the birds. Many birds live in flocks. There are benefits to this. When living in groups, birds can share food finds, predator watches and individuals cultivate friendships while passing along useful survival information.  All of those birds can’t be wrong. Why not dust off the binoculars, grab that field guide and commune with local birders!

Where to find birdwatchers

optics den birding binoculars 4We know how to locate birds in the field. But, there are birdwatchers in your region as well. Set those binoculars on these tips and discover what’s flying in your area!

  1. The American Birding Association is chock full of resources. This non-profit was founded over thirty years ago to further, promote and increase public interest in birding. The American Birding Association is dedicated to hobby birdwatchers and those in the recreational birding arenas. The ABA is also a conservation minded organization that encourages the public to be environmentally savvy and to have the tools to become backyard (and global) naturalists. The ABA Mission statement: “The American Birding Association represents the North American birding community and supports birders through publications, conferences, workshops, tours, partnerships, and networks.”

The ABA sponsors exciting lectures, workshops and ornithological excursions through their “Conservation and Community” program. Join other birders and naturalists with these hands-on activities geared to promote wildlife and habitat awareness and to help you become a better birdwatcher. Join international birding trips and adventure safaris or meet with your local members to discuss the nesting and population variables in your hometown.

 

  1. The National Audubon Society has 22 regional affiliates and 450 local chapters. You can’t go wrong associating with one of the most recognizable conservation organizations in the world! Plug in your state and see where the nearest Audubon center is located. Visit the sanctuaries and parks set up for naturalists and many will also have sophisticated visitor centers with ornithological research stations and varied events throughout the year.

optics den birding in your local areaThe “Audubon Near You” website has a regularly updated news blog that reveals legislative work, conservation efforts, groups engaging in environmental missions and more. Audubon encourages it’s members to be active in the environmental movement, and joining this organization can get you wonderful “hands-on” experiences where you can contribute and meet fellow hobbyists as well as professional researchers.

Read through the online magazine and learn about current topics and findings in the naturalist world.  Audubon allows you to be active locally while working globally, connecting and being kept aware of what fellow birdwatchers are up to.

Joining the Audubon Society is a fulfilling experience. Join local trail walks or fly to international fundraising galas. Whichever you choose, you will become a part of the “National Audubon Society’s mission to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.” 

  1. Bird Watchers Digest has a Bird Club Finder that assists you in finding a bird organization near you!

Optics den birdersdigestVisit the “BWD Bird Club Finder” to locate a club in your area. Scroll down to your country and click on “Find Clubs.” From there you will select your state and a list of links will appear in the Results page. It is so easy and a great resource for birders who will be traveling out of state. You can get in contact with your destination’s birding club and see what will be happening in that locale. Fantastic! The resource is an international one; however, the lists for birding destinations outside of the United States are still under construction.

Check the events page as festivals, lectures and other intriguing birding goings on are listed and updated. Head on out to the Snow Goose Pacific Flyway Festival or the Everglades Birding Festival. There is always a bird watching event on the radar so check back frequently.

  1. Social Media organizations like “Meetup” have a special birdwatching section. Meetup is a fun site that connects special interest hobbyists to groups and organizations that have the pursuit of interest. If you like birding, hiking and rock climbing, Meetup is the one-stop resource for you.

Visit: http://birdwatching.meetup.com/

 

If local gets mundane…

Love to travel and want to add your favorite hobby to that jet-setting pastime? Well, you can. Ecotourism is an extremely popular and vibrant industry. One organization, founded by renowned birder Knud Rasmussun in 2000, connects birders in 150 countries.

optics den birdpalIf you suddenly have an inkling to hit he bird trail on your Jamaican beach vacation, no worries. Click on birdingpal.org and a local birdwatching fan will find you the perfect spot to view Red-billed Tropicbirds or Caribbean Flamingos. This site is a wonderful tool to get the most of your “short” vacation time, meet likeminded individuals and gain new friends.

Designed by Vince Murray, the site is simple to use with “a clickable world map on the front page [that] prompts a birder to simply select a continent and then a country they are interested in traveling to. A page then opens, listing local birders with their name, availability, location, languages spoken and a note about themselves and/or birding in their area. A birder can then email one or more pals for information and ask about the possibility of a being taken out to the local hotspots.”

 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sports a Citizens Science Program that relies on you and your birding buddies to record populations and data. Over 200,000 members provide invaluable research. Choose from several of their guided programs ranging from urban bird counts, school projects, Project FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, started in 1988. Cornell allows you to be an active “hobby ornithologist” while helping scientists track  events unfolding in the natural world.

 

No one is going to be bored or lonely in the birdwatching nesting grounds.  You’ll be spoiled for choice and too busy to care! Keep us posted on your exciting projects and any clubs that we should know about. Happy birding!

Feeders and Fixin’s for Birdwatching in Your Backyard

The best place to start your birdwatching hobby is in your own backyard. Whether you design perennial beds in suburbia or turn over the back forty with country pleasure – there are birds in them there hills!  Birds really are everywhere and they are just waiting to be found. All you have to do is look and listen.

 

Attracting species to your viewing area is easy. Just set out some “habitat” and “necessities” and the birds will be flying in.

 

Backyard Birding Ideas

optics den birding binoculars 3

credit – johnmorlu.com

Bird feeders and accessories are readily available. You can visit your local hardware store, grain supply store, garden center or visit a specialty bird supply store. Choose from the wide variety of bird feeders and which material suits your weather or feeding needs.

 

Materials: Feeders come in glass, recycled plastics, metal, traditional wood and combinations of these. Weight will be an issue. A heavy feeder with a volume allowance for 5 pounds of seed will require a sturdy mounting pole or branch (weather and wind will increase the effects). Remember that inexpensive plastic versions will fade, crack and discolor. Squirrels will chew wood and thin plastics.

 

Note: Quality plastic feeders are crafted to resemble faux-wood – they are fade resistant and ready to stand up to gnawing squirrels.

 

You may also want to consider suet combo feeders, nut feeders, sunflower trays and mixed seed tubes. Select a feeder that will last many seasons, as the cheapest isn’t always the best type to buy.  Combination, or all-in-one stations, tend to be much more expensive. Plus, if suet cages are fixed to the feeder, this will make cleaning the station a chore. Cheaper really is better! Buy two separate feeders – the suet cage and the seed feeder – for a frugal purchase that requires less maintenance.

 

optics den birding binoculars 4The first consideration will be to determine what bird species visit your area.  Consult your bird guides or check out websites like the National Audubon Society’s (don’t forget to search through your local Audubon chapter’s website) or the University of Wisconsin: http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/G3176.PDF.

 

Cornell’s Ornithology Lab has a fun and interactive bird identification guide (with songs included) – http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search.aspx.

 

Spend time sitting in your yard, or watching out the window, to note which birds are hanging around. Observation is a key element for bird watching and it is your best tool. Stroll nature preserves and research sightings in local parks and nature ways. Bring a birding guide, or birding app, to identify what birds you spot.

 

What Feeder to Buy

Bird feeders are made in a variety of models in order to provide the best feeding delivery of the seed provided. Feeders come in tube, hopper, barn or ranch hopper, lantern-shaped hopper and many other fancifully shaped forms (including, cats, fish, birds and outhouses).  Feeders hang from a crook or limb, or mount to a pole or post. Other designs are engineered to attach to windows (great for apartment birders).

 

Knowing how and where you will be posting your stations narrows down the BEST ones suited for your bird species and needs. If you are planning to fill and check your feeder on a daily basis, buying a smaller model will be cheaper and it will give you the opportunity to monitor feeding selections and amounts.  If you expect a high population of bird visiting the feeder, particularly in harsh winter areas, a larger hopper will be your better choice.

 

optics den birding black oil sunflower seeds bird seedAlways pick a feeder that will offer the seed that birds in your area will want. Supplying black oil sunflower is a sure bet in every region.  Thistle, safflower, corn and red millet tend to attract the fewest birds.

 

Feeding style by species:

  • Cardinals, blue jays and grosbeaks are perching feeders; they will want a station that has a lip, large perch loops or bars, or a tray/shelf feeder.

 

  • Birds like juncos, titmice, doves and game birds enjoy dining from under the feeder. The smaller songbirds (plus cardinals, jays and redwing blackbirds) will also use a tray feeder. If you live in a dry climate, like the Southwest, roofs and drainage will not be an issue, but for most other areas roofs and drains keep wet off the tray and prevent stagnant clumps of moldy seed. Squirrels also love tray feeders  – so keep this in mind!

 

  • Consider purchasing two stations and at least two different styled feeders. This prevents squabbling and ensures a variety of seed choices are offered. The classic tube hopper style is great for most feeding areas – it will attract finches, chickadees, warblers, sparrows and nuthatches. These feeders are filled with seed mixes and the preferred sunflower seeds.

 

Always buy quality seed.  Clean, mold and insect–free seed holds the nutrition and maintains the health of your birds. Never purchase dusty, debris-filled, “buggy,” moldy or “cheap” mixes (red millet, corn).  Birds will waste undesired seeds leaving you with a mess and an unhealthy scattering of molding seed under the feeders.

 

  • Combination feeders blend several food holders into one attractive station, but as mentioned… they are expensive. They usually come with one or two suet cages that are affixed to the ranch-styled feeder. Some are hopper filled and others have the covered trough or shelf. These designs serve the needs of many species. One drawback of the suet cage combination is that…well, the cleaning gets complicated as the suet grease saturates the feeder and cleaning becomes a real chore whether you choose plastic or wood. The larger the model – the more awkward it is to fully clean.

 

Do your pre-purchase research before investing in your feeder. Like the squirrels at your feeding station you will certainly find yourself spoiled for choice!

 

Note: Never feed suspect, moldy or rodent infested feeds. Always clean and completely dismantle and scrub your feeder on a regular basis. The health of the birds depends on great quality feed and clean feeders.

 

Thistle and Suet Feeders

  • optics den birding thistle feederThistle feeders are designed to hold only one type of food. Thistle, or nyjer, feeders come in a mesh feeding sock to allow the finches and nuthatches to nibble upside down — their preferred feeding position. Some tube thistle feeders are constructed without perches to frustrate sparrows. The ports on thistle feeders are extremely small, so only the tiny nyjer seeds will work with any of these feeders.

 

  • Suet cages or log holders provide the suet enjoyed by woodpeckers, finches, bluebirds and nuthatches. Choose special trays to set out bluebird nuggets, peanuts and mealworms (bowls are sold that will hold live waxworms and mealworms).

 

  • Fruit and nectar species have their own cafes! Buy bolt-type feeders that hold oranges and apples for orioles. Nectar feeders are built to hold the liquid mixes that attract hummingbirds. Some of these also support orioles. There are a wide variety of functional and decorative “liquid” bird feeders with reservoirs composed of either plastic or glass. Choose those with ant moats or bee deflectors.

 

Nectar feeders require frequent and thorough cleaning – a chore that will be made easier with a properly designed feeder.

 

Nuisance Species Solutions and Squirrel Feeders

If squirrels, blue jays and starlings become an issue at your main feeding station there are solutions.  You can buy seed coated with hot pepper, squirrel domes and deflectors … or unique feeders. Brome’s “Squirrel Buster,” foils large birds and squirrels (http://bromebirdcare.com/about/) by deploying a weight tripped mechanism to keep squirrels and larger birds out.

 

optics den birding squirrel in jar feederOften the easiest way to deal with squirrels is to give-in and buy these wily guys their own diner. There are clever and delightful squirrel table feeders (shaped like benches or picnic tables) that use a bolt screw to hold ears of corn — these will also attract blue jays.

 

The style of bird feeder you choose is only limited by your personal taste! Whether you bird from a city balcony or hang feeders from the oak trees in the field, there will be hundreds of designs to choose from.  In that case, we need to get shopping…those feeders aren’t going to choose themselves!

 

What feeder do you use? Did you find a unique station, a decorative one or a whimsical feeder that truly delights? Leave your tips, thoughts and words of advice in the comment section!

Best Maps and Apps for Birders!

High-flyin’ has gone high tech. Who hasn’t heard of tweeting? The Internet was made for the birds… and for birders. Social media is the perfect resource to share your birding adventures information and tips, learn from others in the birdwatching community and get “connected” to a wide resource for ornithology. This is the best century to be a birder.  You can interact with enthusiasts and scholars from across the globe…and in live time. Hit the rain forest through live streaming or watch a conservation effort in Japan. If you are a passionate birder, find out how to get featured, join an organization or plan a fascinating expedition with a research organization.  Let’s get started.

 

eBird

optics den birding binoculars ebird screenshot

credit – cityraptors.com

When the Cornell Lab of Ornithology teams up with the Audubon Society – expect great things. eBird is the app that hatched when these birding brains combined to launch a “ simple and intuitive web-interface [that] engages tens of thousands of participants [in French, Spanish and English] to submit their observations or view results via interactive queries into the eBird database.”

And that’s hard to beat. This interactive, international and ecologically intellectual site will keep you busy. Loaded with gear tips, research findings, bird population tracking, global monitoring and findings and so much more … you have to get involved.

eBird features a hands-on format for you to join the vast birding community, post your sightings and observations and read about what fellow birders are recording. Once you sign up you can begin to add your data in order to “maximize the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers…For example, in May 2015, participants reported more than 9.5 million bird observations across the world!”

Because conservation is everyone’s responsibility, you will be able to actively contribute to this project, and that is amazing! The groups are arranged in specific portals with information being gathered by region, project or species. Read about the Franklin Gull population counts or what activity is occurring in your country or region. Here are a few highlighted topics from the View and Explore Data page:

 

This page prompts you to choose from a global location to see what is happening – it is broken down by hemisphere.

 

A global map pinpoints where the birds are. Literally. Data on the species observed is posted in real time.

This is another interactive feature that allows you to click on a chosen area to learn about what species you will be able to witness. Choose which country, and then which topic, you wish to observe from an entire state, to one preserve or wildlife area. This chart is a phenomenal resource for birdwatchers, as it allows you to expand your field excursions and interests.

Watch this map light up (yup!) as an individual submits their birding data. A yellow button illuminates the map just as a birder posts! Only one word can describe this page – cool.

 

Other Favorites

The people who publish the hard copies of our preferred field guides also provide equally useful apps. These apps “one up” the texts as you can receive immediate bird sighting information from fellow birders, as well as quickly access bird calls —all at the handy reach of your smart phone (which most of us ALWAYS have available). If you suddenly hear the melodious whistle of a yellow warbler while leaving the post office, no worries, identify that little guy on the spot!

Here is the list:

Peterson Nature Apps

Available for Apple and Android users, Peterson producers have created a fantastic array of useful identification apps that allow you to instantly compare species by plumage, sex, song and age.  This app collects all 8 guides in one, allowing you unparalleled bird identification. Here is a video displaying the apps user interface.

The screen will present several photos of the birds including their vocalization and location! Link to the sightings published on ebird and fashion your own checklist adding in important information such as season and weather conditions. Peterson also offers a great support network when you hit any technical snags.

The Sibley eGuide to Birds

Get Sibley’s detailed paintings on your phone. Each depiction is superbly crafted and has each bird’s points “highlighted” for unique characteristics such as “black crown and rufous coverlets.” The app is available for 5 platforms including Kindle Fire. With over 6,600 illustrations of over 800 species, their calls (2300 songs) and hundreds of region maps, this is a phenomenal electronic field resource.  Features are similar to those offered by Peterson’s Guide.

  • Comparisons of birds and their similar calls
  • Variations in plumage by age (weight and size), season (when applicable) and sex
  • Maps that reveal sightings by season, habitat, rare sightings and migration patterns
  • Personal log feature with the ability to compare annotations with other birders in your area

 

Other apps are available from premier nature and conservation groups including:

National Geographic Birds

optics den birding binoculars national geographic appOver 900 species are featured with 3,000 detailed illustrations. The National Geographic app features range, season and migration maps. It has the log application that lets you set in your sightings by day, area and by species sighted (including the bird’s image) with your own personal info recordings. Enjoy real-time birding as well as these extra perks — interactive quizzes and games, a birding tips and gear resource….and must-see birding hotspots assembled by the ornithologists at National Geographic.

Audubon Birds

Visit the webpage for Audubon’s new app. A video is provided to walk you through the features of their popular and top-notch e-birding guide. Audubon provides you with their “new updated library of professional color photographs that show the diversity of birds as you see them, in their natural habitat, by gender, age, and seasonal plumage variations (with over 3,150 completely new, high-resolution images).”

 

This is a comprehensive birdwatching guide which includes personal log tracking, range maps (including winter and rare sightings), expert resources, comparison features and easy to use identification tools with over 8 hours of bird calls! Audubon never disappoints!

 

Whichever app you choose, don’t let too much time pass. Get out into the field and find those birds.  And with these handy birding tools, you can begin logging your sightings anywhere and anytime!  Share your favorite app with us and let us know what birds are flying in your neck of the woods!

Bird Identification How-To – It’s so Easy!

optics den birding binocularsPeople love to find a favorite hobby.  Needlepoint, gardening, tennis, golf…while these are well-known past-times, none can compare to the fastest growing interest group in the US and Canada. Yup. Hmmm. So, just what is this hobby?

 

Birdwatching.

 

Toss away those penny magazines and turn off your TV. Park the golf clubs in the garage and throw those tennis balls in the locker room. Birds are the new celebrities. Uncover those binoculars and find your favorite walking shoes – there are avians afoot…nope, “there are avians a-wing!”

 

It’s time for you to become a birder.

 

If you want to find an activity that embraces conservation, outdoor activity, exercise and self-improvement goals you have found it. Birdwatching can be enjoyed by anyone from the age of 5 to 95, from high-energy athletes to those with specialized goals.  Jump into birdwatching to the level and expense that suits your free time and budget. Hit the stores to find that ideal  “5 grand” camera… or just pull out the lawn chair from the back porch.

 

Many people get “into” bird watching after setting up a bird feeder or birdbath.  Once we see the amazing variety of birds winging in – it’s no wonder we can’t resist getting hooked on birding.  This is the most fulfilling way to begin your birdwatching hobby.  Purchase reasonably well-made feeders. Chose those that are NOT made of plastic, as squirrels, rodents and weather exposure will degrade your feeder; often within one season.  Buy good-quality seed mix (those without dust, debris, sticks or too much red millet and corn) and sunflower seeds. If you are not sure which seed to use, you can never go wrong by setting out black oil sunflower. These seeds attract nearly every species of bird including many insect eaters like nuthatches and stunning birds such as cardinals and grosbeaks.

 

Have a good field guide with you as you sit and watch the birds feeding.  Birdwatching becomes more fulfilling as you gain expertise. Follow these tips to find out just what you need to do!

 

But… birdwatching is all about listening.

 

Bird Investigation Department

The first step to success is doing… nothing.  Be still and wait.  Observe the environment, being particularly aware of movement and activity around trees and brush. This is crucial to locating the birds.  You need to be very “present.” You are a tracker, aware of your “now.” Listen for leaves moving and branches twitching, watch for moving tree limbs, note any movement in your peripheral vision – you are now a BSI – bird scene investigator.

 

Sherlock Holmes was right. “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”  Once you view yourself as an integral element of nature, the “loudness” of what is happening around you becomes readily noticeable. You will hear birds before you see them. Songbirds are master vocalists. Enjoy the song of the Wood Thrush below.

 

 

Ornithologists use bird songs as their primary bird identification tool, and as the most efficient way to record populations. Do what the ornithologists do, focus on one call and notice the uniqueness of its volume, pitch, rhythm, tone and notes.

 

Birds sing to attract mates, hold territory or to find each other. Songs vary by season, daily conversational needs, time of day and by the bird’s age.  You can learn the distinct calls and begin to understand what each bird is saying! Learning the variety of calls by the birds that frequent your yard is important and

uncovering how and why songbirds vocalize is fascinating. Birds and humans share the FOXP2 gene (the language gene). And just like people, many birds must learn their language in a critical period of childhood…or nestling-hood! The baby birds listen to their parents vocalizing and then begin repeating the song until they have it “down pat.” Listen for those birds that continue to add to their vocabulary by mimicry. We think of parrots doing this, but catbirds and mockingbirds are master impersonators.

 

When to listen

Early morning and twilight are “hot” times for singing. Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers an easy-to-use, song guide identification search on their website. Peruse through the photos, behavior and location areas to help you quickly locate a species you want to see or have just sited. There is also a link to the Macaulay Library and its internationally renowned archive of animal vocalizations.

 

Tips

Begin your birding adventure by familiarizing yourself with the birds likely to visit your watching spots. Most of the available bird information pertains to the United States and Canada – so a simple search will yield fast results.  Visit bird club websites and youtube channels top see what birders in your area are discovering.

 

Learning how to recognize bird species is just like any form of learning – never limit opportunities to pick up information. Nature shows on television, bird journals in local newspapers, and local naturalist groups all ideal resources. One of my favorites resources though is a video blog by Lab of Ornithology. Below is the first video of the series.

 

 

Jot down bird physical characteristics

  • Feather shape and color, beak shape, leg and foot shape etc.
  • Learn the term used for these in the ornithological field guides.

 

Terms (points of a bird): crown, tufts, coverts, primary feathers, rump, throat, breast, shank or wing bars.

 

Classifications.

Birds are categorized into groups – this makes field identification easier. Break down your sighting into where and what. Was the bird found at the shore, in the water, in a tee, flying in flocks or soaring? Was it flying alone or in a formation? What was the bird doing… was he scratching in the leaves (Rufous-sided Towhee) or was she eating your blueberries (Catbird)?

 

Types of behavior patterns and habitats:

  1. Bird of prey or scavenger – hawk or owl versus vulture.
  2. Perching birds or walking birds – blue jay versus bobwhite or starling.
  3. Water or shore bird – hooded merganser or loon versus crane or sandpiper.

 

Once you narrow these characteristics down, you can identify your subject. If you see a similar silhouette of a bird at your feeder – deduce from that: medium size, crest, black eye ring, red plumage = cardinal and not a blue jay!

 

Tools

  1. Binoculars

Optics Den Banner Optics Perception HD BinocularsCheapest is never the best! Choose lightweight binoculars that are designed for birdwatchers. Binoculars are a must for viewing birds in order to pick up on details such as feather patterning and color, beak shape and small details. An great value buy for birdwatching binoculars are the Banner Perception HD. They are small and mobile while also being waterproof and really durable.

 

  1. Field Guides

A good birder’s guide is necessary for quick identification. Don’t rely on online sources, as they will not be “handy” or “at-hand” when you need to locate a bird quickly.  This is particularly true if you are in the field. Books offer tips and identification information, delineating species by type/silhouette and similarity – birds of prey, water and shore birds, game birds, swallows, finches, warblers or woodpeckers. This makes finding your recent sighting a snap.

 

Cornell University’s “Lab of Ornithology” recommends the following books: Birds of North America (Kaufman Focus Guides), Peterson’s Series and The Sibley Guide to Birds.

 

  1. Clubs and Societies

Join a birder’s club! Check out online “clubs” and organizations. The Audubon Society has chapters in every state. Contact the Audubon Society to see what is available in your area. Your favorite birding supply stores have blogs and birders available to answer your questions and offer tips for attracting more songbirds to your yard.

 

More Resources

Visit some of these websites.  Learning about birds is easy and fun. The Internet is blossoming with fantastic sites that you can enjoy and interact with. It’s time to get birding!

The Modern Birder’s Best Field Guides

 

optics den birding binoculars 1

credit – johnrakestraw.net

Put down your trowel.

Bird watching has beat out gardening as the fastest growing hobby in the US and Canada. A recent study in Canada revealed that 1 in 5 people has become …. a birder! It’s hard to think of one activity that finds a child on grandma’s lap watching a chickadee at a feeder, and a booted hiker traversing a canyon to spot nesting golden eagles.

Everyone can be a bird enthusiast.

For the backyard ornithologist and the adventurous eco-traveler, there are two things a birder needs in their kit. The first is a good set of binoculars… and the second is a good quality field guide.  The most famous of these species portrait collections appeared in the 1830s. And the artist was? John James Audubon.

Audubon’s pivotal artistic avian masterpiece was set in motion during his childhood in France – when, like the rest of us, he became enchanted by the allure of birds. Audubon’s Birds of America is the product of a tenacious and dedicated ornithological genius. But are paintings more complicated to “read” than photographs?

Why photos may be the best choice

If you have ever purchased a painted field guide, you already know how difficult it can be to read those pictures.  Printing processes alter the colors of the original paintings – making the accuracy issue even worse. When you have similarly marked species (is it a female house sparrow or a white–throated sparrow… a Wilson’s Warbler or a Yellowthroat?), the clarity of photography ensures quick and easy identification.  Pack the photo guide and leave the paintings for your home décor! There are some hybrid photo/artwork selections that blend the best aspects of both illustration methods and these are listed in the last section.

What are field guides?

Field guides are the go-to source for bird watchers. They provide information on species, juvenile and sex associated plumage, body posture and movement habits, habitat, behavior, song, flight patterns and feeding styles. That is quite a bit, but all this information is necessary to help an observer deduce, usually through the process of elimination, what feathered beauty is in front of them.

 

Online versions for homework

optics den birding field guide binoculars

credit – audubon.org

Online bird identification guides are perfect for getting a thorough understanding of the species in your area. These websites have photos and video, song recordings and behavior pointers to help you develop a knowledge base. They also have great links for you to get more birding information. The song sections are worth studying as bird watching is mostly about bird listening!

Here are a few resources from top ornithological sites:

Audubon

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The American Birding Association

 

How to use your guide

Break down the identification steps by moving from generic to specific. Take note of the size and silhouette (outline) of the bird. The video below explains this process extremely well.

 

 

A wren has the size and plumage color of a sparrow but has a very different “perky” silhouette.  Field guides that categorize their book’s sections by family are the best choice for beginner birders and for quick researching in the field. You won’t find a Painted Bunting in Vermont or a Least Sandpiper in Kentucky.

If you plan to bird watch in a specific location, purchase a local guide. Peterson prints editions geared to regions.  Check out their birds of western and eastern North American selections. Visit or contact your local bird societies or wild bird supply stores. These resources will have a wide selection of guides to search through.  Find books that cater to individual families, species or habitats:

http://www.birderslibrary.com/features/shorebird-guide-comparison.htm

https://www.audubon.org/news/review-crossley-id-guide-raptors

http://blog.aba.org/2014/07/understanding-rarity-rare-birds-howell.html

 

Where to buy

Home and garden centers have bird supply sections. Often these stores carry a selection of bird watching books.  Contact bird watching clubs or larger organizations (Audubon has local chapters and shops), including your neighboring university, to decide which guide works best for your birding needs. You can also purchase guides online. The newer editions are often of higher picture quality and have been updated with new research as well. There is a bird book for every budget.

 

Mobile birding

Check out the new apps available for your cell – talk about mobile bird watching! Lighter than any text and available at the tip of your fingers – you have photos, depictions…and real vocalizations to compare. You can even play these calls while in the field to attract those species. This gives “tweeting” a fresh interpretation – you can have fun with a whole new kind of cross-species social media as you chat with these peeps!

Try these apps:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chirp!-bird-song-usa-+/id364891918?mt=8

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/birdseye-bird-finding-guide/id324168850?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D6

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/audubon-birds-pro/id333227386?mt=8

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/national-geographic-birds/id315268465?mt=8

 

Recommended Field Guides for Bird Watchers

optics den birding binoculars 2

credit – birdwatchingdaily.com

The Sibley Guide to Birds (2nd edition): Yes, this one has paintings, but this guide contains many useful sections including, habitat maps including rare sighting areas and normal ranges, phonetic descriptions of calls, migration patterns, migratory species, taxonomic order and common name search terms. David Sibley’s masterful  illustrations have been digitally reproduced eliminating much of the earlier accuracy issues. This New York Times bestseller has been purchased by millions of birders – they can’t be wrong! Some readers have commented on the small print, but this book contains a vast amount of pertinent tips for the majority of serious bird watchers – and the price is in the budget range. Combine a rich publication such as Sibley’s with a photo illustrated guide.

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America: Stokes is an old standby. This field resource is illustrated with photographs – making quick and accurate live observation simple and easy. Birds don’t hang around or come into clear view for identification, so we are often left with fleeting glimpses.  Figuring out what popped into view is simpler with clean photographs and explanations of song, flight and behavior antics. New editions come with a CD recording of bird songs, 853 species represented and over 3,000 photographs.  Copies can be grabbed for under $25 – this guide is a bargain.

Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America: If you want a handy book to cart into nature with you – this is the one.  Designed and organized for use in the field – the birds are arranged by family rather than taxonomy – a big help when you need to identify a bird by size, shape and silhouette.  Range and migration maps face the page with the bird’s depiction- making range elimination or inclusion easy.  The addition of a tab feature allows instant navigation through the various possibilities, from wading birds to warblers. Renowned naturalist and conservationist, Ken Kaufman, has combined the clarity of photography with the markings enhancement of illustration in his groundbreaking guide. Purchase the new editions with current findings by the American Ornithology Union, updated species lists and range maps.

Try these as well – National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America for handy use while in the field, and the Tory Peterson guides, oldies (the first edition was printed in 1934) and still goodies.

 

Well, those birds aren’t waiting! Drop us some more tips and suggestions for getting the most out of this fantastic past time.

What Hobby Began 40,000 Years ago? Birdwatching!

optics den birding cave paintingHumans have been bird watching for a long time. 40,000 year-old bird paintings beat out John James Audubon’s paint to canvas depictions by a slight stretch.  Our fascination with the avian species was key to helping date some of the oldest known artwork set onto the cave walls in Arnhem Land, Australia. The red ochre illustrations of the emu-like birds unfurl a thread that ties our two species together.

 

It isn’t just our fascination with a concept such as flight – the birds in those ancient paintings were flightless. It is the entire concept of “birdness,” which holds our desire to connect with these intelligent and resourceful creatures – they seem to hold the keys to a wisdom we can’t begin to search for.

 

Every culture watches birds. They are resurrection icons, deities, representatives of courage, strength and messengers to and from the spirit world.  These symbolic interpretations aren’t hard to miss. Watch a red-tailed hawk catching a current’s uplift – and the answer is there.

 

Writers in antiquity compounded the first true ornithological studies.  Birds appeared in the Indian Vedas, in Persian, Chinese and Japanese writings. The classical world delved into the feathered forum. Aristotle spoke of bird migrations and behavior in his Historia Animalium, and several passages concerning avian habits and appearance would be familiar to birdwatchers today! Aristotle should have availed himself of the e-book format —“the bird called chloris from being yellow beneath, is of the size of the lark, and lays four or five eggs; it makes its nest of symphytum…and lines it with straw, hair, and wool. The blackbird and jay do the same…the nest of the acanthyllis is also artfully constructed, for it is folded together like a ball of flax, and has a small entrance.”

 

You may need to bring your dictionary.

 

optics den birdingChristianity emerged in Europe and brought with it a compounded ideology of Levant teachings and resident pre-Christian beliefs. Birds feature prominently in Christian iconography, texts and practices. The Book of Genesis (Judaism) presents the story of the post-flood Noah releasing a raven and a dove from the ark in order to see if land had reappeared (the dove returns with the famous olive branch).

 

St. Francis of Assisi is regularly portrayed with a small bird. Assisi was especially connected to birds and he referred to all animals as his brothers and sisters. In 1220 he penned his “Sermon to the Birds.”

 

The modern age witnesses a dichotomy for feathered fauna. Intrigued by technology and driven to turn the wheels of science, 18th century society began to relegate birds into “specimens” and curiosities.  Driven by analysis and categorization, birdwatching was done at the end of a gun, rather than through the lens of field glasses (which were invented in the 17th century).  Stuffed specimens were packed aboard ships destined to eventually collect dust.  Interestingly, the 18th century hatches the first truly modern concepts of animal welfare, vegetarianism (practiced by Ben Franklin) and natural history movements.  These benevolence and “awareness” groups intertwined with other pressing causes such as abolitionism, human rights and poverty alleviation.  The modern interest in birdwatching as one geared to limit human environmental impact, to preserve avian species and to prevent habitat loss began in the mid-1700s.  Expansion into “unspoilt” ecosystems, and a rising understanding and quest to capture wisdom in nature through reason led by empathy, set the building blocks for our passions for birds and the natural world.

 

The founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley, claims that faith will “lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyards, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.”  This voicing for nature as a thing to be cared for and honored is echoed in the words of the father of the naturalist school, John Ray. It is echoed in the writings of Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.  Early ornithologists include Gilbert White and Thomas Bewick.

 

optics den birding 1The 1820s saw the introduction of avian art painted by the popular naturalist John James Audubon. Audubon wanted to depict the essence of the birds as they were in life AND set into their habitat instead of the tradition of fixing subjects in static poses. It was the Victorian era’s widespread access to print media, the invention of photography and the trickling down of “hobbies” to the emerging middle classes that heralded what we would recognize as bird watching.

 

In 1905 the Audubon Society (named in honor of J. J. Audubon) was formed as a true conservation organization. Founded by George Grinnell, the society quickly collected high-profile subscribers to spread the plight of birds whose populations were being decimated by humans – some species were hunted to extinction. However; the first birdwatcher’s (the term birdwatching wasn’t coined until 1901) field guide for species identification was printed in 1889 by Florence Bailey.

 

Optics Den Banner Optics Perception HD BinocularsThe rise in birding and naturalist clubs proliferated after the 1930s.  Scientific ornithological studies and the conservation based birding clubs saw a slow merging during the 20th century. Roger Peterson’s 1934 field guide made birding available to the general public. The popularity of binoculars enhanced the hobby after the 1940s, and now our century is enjoying this billion-dollar pastime!

 

Birdwatching is one of the few hobbies that blends biology, conservation, animal welfare and plain ol’ fun into one package. As a birder, you can choose how much and in what direction you want to take your hobby. You can hop a plane and join fellow ecotourists in the Amazon or hang a bird feeder in the maple tree outside your window.  You can start as a toddler and continue birding, as John James Audubon did, well into your wiser years.

 

What are you waiting for? 40,000 years of interest can’t be wrong. It’s time for you to join the birdwatching club. It’s fun, ever-changing, holds endless possibilities and benefits everyone including the economy, wildlife and nature.  After all, this hobby is for the birds!

Backyard Birding Big Impact —Why Our Hobby is so important!

optics den birding albino robin

credit – seed-solutions.com

Want to set up a hobby that promises excitement AND  benefits every time you have fun? Well, you have come to the right place! Birdwatching promises to bring you the “goods” every time you gather your gear – which can amount to just you scanning and observing.  It’s that easy to be an ecologist and to do your part to conserve bird species and important wildlife habitat. Birders know that the element of surprise is always just around the corner… or in the nearest holly bush or apple tree. There is a rustle in the branches and an indigo bunting lights up your day. Ever see an albino robin or watch a pair of cardinal fledglings trying their wings? You will, once you take the time to really observe your surroundings with the intent of seeing a bird.

 

Keep a diary of the following:

  1. Species of bird seen. Record these on a still camera, video or by simply jotting down what bird you have observed.
  2. Time of day and season (early spring, late spring, summer, early fall, fall and winter) Include any unusual sightings as well. Local bird clubs will want to hear from you!
  3. Population count for each bird species.

 

What to do

Birding is one of those hobbies that requires nothing but a desire and the ability to sit and wait.  The first step is to identify bird habitat – where you are most likely to see the birds in action.  Birding is local, regional, “timely” and seasonal. That means you will see certain species doing certain things (foraging, territory collecting and nesting) during predictable times of the day and year.

 

Depending on where you live – urban, rural or suburban, coast, desert or mountain – the locale and its available resources and fixtures will dictate what species will be visiting.

 

Even urban areas provide resources for songbirds, waterfowl and birds-of-prey. A city-dweller can affix a seed tray or nectar feeder to a window and watch for titmice and hummingbirds. Urban park systems are stopover ports for migrating birds and a variety of waterfowl descend to their ponds.  Keep an eye to tall buildings to see soaring red-tailed hawks and dynamic peregrine falcons.

 

optics den birding

credit – backyardchirper.com

Suburbanites have intriguing options. Set out bird feeding stations including mixed seed, sunflower, suet and nectar feeders. Always provide a water source as well. Avoid large expanses of lawn (and never apply toxic chemicals), and be sure to break up your backyard into resources with islands of shrubs and other plantings.  Here are some bird friendly flowers and plants —honeysuckle, holly, viburnum, crabapple, dogwood, bergamot, hosta and butterfly bushes. Provide nesting spots and cover trees such as yew, arborvitae and other evergreen varieties. Once you set up this “bird” habitat you will be amazed at the variety of songbirds that visit your yard.

 

If “rural” includes your neck of the woods your birding possibilities expand. This is also true for those in coastal, mountain or prairie areas. You can provide the same resources as the suburban birdwatchers – set out water sources and feeding stations. Rural and wooded zones are home to a tremendous ecosystem. Keep a log of wild turkey, bobwhites and gallinaceous species, birds-of-prey including owls, hawks and eagles, pileated woodpeckers, thrush, warblers, orioles, bluebirds and so many more!

 

If you are a farmer with a hay field consult your local Audubon center or conservation society. Hayfields are a critical breeding ground for endangered field birds such as bobolink and killdeer. Leave center islands uncut and ensure a large swathe of grass is left along the perimeter of fields.

 

Coastal homesteaders will categorize a wide variety of shore and pelagic birds. Warmer Gulf zones will see gannets, brown pelicans, frigate birds, terns, albatross, boobies, sanderlings and sea ducks. Other hotspots for shore and ocean birds include stretches of the Pacific, Chesapeake, Eastern shoreline and even central lakes regions. The species recorded will be determined by the migration times. Be sure to check these migration maps to ensure best viewing during peak times.

 

optics den birding whooping crane flock

Credit – windturbinesyndrome.com

Storms, weather patterns and other environmental aspects influence the times and peculiarities of migration tracks. Birds flock into hotspots at irregular moments in varying numbers. These migration tracking websites provide you with the latest updates – you don’t want to miss out on the Whooping Cranes soaring into the Aransas National Refuge!

 

The United States, and both the North and South American landmasses, are home to four internationally significant flyways. Learn more about them to witness the fantastic flow of birdlife through your area. There is a flyway that passes over every “band” (north south) of the US.

 

  • Atlantic Flyway (sea and shorebird exodus zone – home of the Chesapeake Bay)
  • Mississippi Flyway (called the “Sea of Birds”)
  • Central Flyway (famous for it’s Sandhill Cranes)
  • Pacific Flyway (critical shorebird habitat area stretching from Alaska to Mexico)

 

Here are a few resources!

 

  • Waterfowl (ducks, loons, geese): Ducks Unlimited offers regularly updated maps that pinpoint what species, population and weather reports are in effect in a specific area. This detailed map is a great resource for birdwatchers recording waterfowl populations.
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology “Bird Cast”: The ornithologists at Cornell University use good old-fashioned observation and population records with high-tech tracking to get accurate reports of migrating birds. The information is used to provide

scientists with crucial population and conservation information as well as welfare impacts caused by human activity. The records prevent bird suffering by proactively making “decisions for placement of wind turbines and identifying nights on which lighting of tall buildings could be reduced to prevent the deaths of millions of birds.”

 

  • Audubon’s “Flyways of the Americas”: This interactive and detailed online map illustrates each of the four flyways (Eastern, Mississippi, Central and Pacific). Click on each area to learn more about the spring and fall migration patterns, which birds are the celebrities that draw in the birdwatchers and why these habitats are important.

 

What you can do

Record in your birding log book the species and population of the birds visiting your area. Log into the Audubon, Cornell or conservation departments and organizations in your region. Many of these groups rely on the information provided by local birding enthusiasts. The records you collect are crucial to monitoring habitat, environmental influences and human activity on the preservation initiatives. Join your favorite organization and become a field volunteer.

 

Birdwatching is a wonderful hobby that inspires us, and that allows each of us to perform a beneficial action to help conserve wildlife! When birders provide the habitat, knowledge and resources to set-up a powerful foundation for conservation, everyone wins!

 

The Audubon society reminds us that we can make a difference. “We’re in a race against time — to give birds a fighting chance in a changing world.”

How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Birding

optics den birding binoculars 5Binoculars, field glasses, telescopes. We see them in action adventure films, high seas capers and spy thrillers. The first telescopic lens was attributed to the research of Hans Lippershey (1608), who marketed his device in Holland. Much of the fanfare surrounding 17th century optics focused on the inventions of Galileo — Galilean optics.

Exactly.

Galilean optics refers to the telescope designed by, of course, Galileo in 1609. Comprised of a plano-convex lens and a plano-concave lens at the eyepiece, this technology was able to magnify viewed objects by 30x. Not bad. It allowed Galileo to see the moon’s craters. And if that isn’t exciting — modern day improvements on Galileo’s creation allow you to see that yellow warbler in the apple tree at a hundred feet away. That’s just as intriguing as looking at dust pits on the moon.

Sir Isaac Newton of the “falling apple gravity” fame, reconsidered earlier designs and came up with a novel approach involving the use of mirrors. The mirror lens collected the light and used reflection to gather that light to a focal point. The power of the mirror’s ability to do this allowed for magnification possibilities far beyond those of standard lens capabilities. Telescopes moved from double-digit magnifications to those in the millions.

The modern binocular, which consists of two “telescopes,” didn’t appear (pun intended) until the early 19th century.  An Italian inventor, Ignatio Porro, saw the light and used prisms to concoct his binocular in 1854. Curiously, Lippershey was originally told to fashion his single-style field glass into a double – binocular – design in 1608! Everything old is new again. Unfortunately, none of these inventors had bird watching in mind. Now that really is astounding.

 

What do binoculars do best? Magnify birds!

Optics Den Banner Optics Perception HD BinocularsHaving a hardscrabble pair of quality binoculars is as important as a good field guide for birdwatching.  The problem is, many birders focus on their “homework,” identifying birds, learning calls and habitat (all important) but don’t spend any time researching binoculars. Bird watchers want birds, not technology. No one wants to waste time with a bunch of optics lectures when there are avians waiting outdoors. Besides, you don’t want to require a degree from MIT to figure out binoculars, just pack any old pair that’s easy to use.  That approach is not a good idea. Here is why.

You need to purchase a pair of binoculars that:

  1. Don’t require a Ph.D. to understand.
  2. Are easy to use.

If you run out and buy the cheapest and smallest pair for sale at your local dime store – you will be disappointed. They won’t do the one thing we birders absolutely require in a pair of binoculars.

Birdwatching binoculars need to be able to focus QUICKLY! Ah, most of us have been there. We grab grandpa’s clunky double-telescopes, rip off the covers and run to the window to get a close look at the pileated woodpecker drumming on the old maple.

You’re flipping aside that darn neck strap and turning the stupid focus grips. This is a horse race, darn it, you don’t have all day. Come on…come on, focus you %^^&&. The pileated woodpecker got sick of those binoculars too…and flew into the forest. Yup.

What you WANT:

  1. Light-weight binoculars that will fit in your gear and not require you to weight lift in order to use them in the field. If you have ever focused a pair of heavy lenses for long-term species’ observation, your arms feel like you are a losing contestant on a reality show. “How long can you hold your arms up? BEEEP, time’s up.”
  2. The binoculars must be designed well enough to register brightness/light in many field conditions, including low light.
  3. The binoculars need excellent acuity. They must be able to focus on a distant bird and provide you with exquisite clarity. You need to be able to distinguish feather patterns, plumage color (produced through a lens’ prism coatings) and fine details.
  4. Focus, focus, focus. Unlike the birder using grandpa’s spyglass, you want a pair that will focus quickly and sharply. If you ever tried “following” a bird as he winged his way by, you know how important this is. It is very easy to “lose” sight and track of a moving bird.
  5. Magnification is a variable. For most enthusiasts choose a pair that will deliver 7 or 8x. The higher the magnifying abilities the heavier the binoculars. For birders that will be doing optics den how binoculars work birdingfrequent and dedicated distance sightings, invest in a tripod set-up.
  6. Distance and power is not always an advantage. Backyard and homestead birdwatchers that want to get “up close” to the visitors at feeding stations will want to consider binoculars that offer a close-focus feature.

 

For specific information on how binoculars work click here – Optics Den.

 

Note: People who use spectacles know the trials of propping binoculars in front of their eyeglasses. Your glasses make the experience frustrating. The image is hard to get into focus and you may only get a clear view of the center, and even then, you are squinting and everything is wavering.  This is because binoculars are designed by how far your eye is from the piece! Your glasses change this distance. Purchase binoculars with “eye relief” features – 16mm (for low prescriptions only) —20mm. Or, wear contacts when you go birdwatching!

 

Porro Prism and Roof Prism

Porro prism binoculars are the old-standard. Just like your father’s Buick, these hinged field glasses with the off-kilter lens path still do the job. And if you require a low-priced pair for simple and occasional backyard viewing purposes — these will certainly give you contrast and clarity. They are worth their weight, and price, for hobby birders.

Roof prism binoculars replaced the porro over 40 years ago.  These sleek, modern “flat-bridge” designed glasses allow for a straight line from the eyepiece to the objective lenses. Requiring more precise manufacturing techniques their price reflects that. Most binoculars are roof prism, but be sure to buy a quality pair (and the $$ will reflect that).

If you have simple needs and/or a low budget – purchase the porro models.

Your purchase

Binoculars are like cars. You can buy a Toyota or you can buy a Porsche. It’s up to you and your budget. Visit a local birding store or sporting store to talk to the experts about your needs. Always mention that you will be using the binoculars for birdwatching and also whether you will require a pair for backyard spotting or serious field observations. There are so many variables beyond price, that only an expert can assist you in getting the perfect pair of binoculars that will last “forever.” Try out the field glasses to find the design and model that you feel the most comfortable using.

For more information on which binoculars will work for your needs visit the Optics Den. A specialist is waiting to assist you.

What are your favorite binoculars? Leave us a comment and let us know what birdwatchers are using today!

Best Places to go Birding in California

Bird watching is a tradition that spans many generations. Nature-lovers tend to gravitate toward birds in particular because these species are so diverse across their preferred regions. In fact, California is a favorite area for bird enthusiasts because of the unique terrain it offers. Beaches, deserts, mountains and forests are all found within California, so every bird species must acclimate to their surroundings. Grab your favorite pair of binoculars and visit one of these top places to go birding in California!

Point Reyes State Marine Reserve

Head north of San Francisco, and you’ll discover a preserved world meant for birds and marine animals alike. Perch yourself on a rock or nearby bench to see about 470 bird species. You’ll notice different species as the seasons and weather change. On cold mornings, you might only see a few hardy species. Warmer days tend to bring out more birds because they can warm their wings in the sunlight. It’s also possible to marvel at the sea lions nearby as their sounds tend to waft across the water.

Lake Balboa

When you’re in northern Los Angeles, the idea of birding in an urban metropolis might seem unusual. However, Lake Balboa is a distinct area right in Van Nuys. This area is actually a flood control space that’s designed to have a lake perched right in the middle of it. You’re not limited to the standard pigeons and seagulls at Lake Balboa either. You’ll be greeted by cormorants, herons, ducks and Egyptian geese on a regular basis.

Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve

Just off of the coast of Southern California is the Channel Islands. There are several islands that dot the coastline, including the famous Catalina Island. You can take a boat out to a more remote island called Anacapa. In this area, you have the pleasure of seeing birds, including black oystercatchers, island scrub-jays, San Miguel Island song sparrows, brown pelicans and western gulls. Because the area is relatively far from Southern California’s urban sprawl, these birds have a chance to nest and live out their lives without much contact with humans.

Yosemite Park

This world-famous national park is known for its rock formations and waterfalls, but nearly 250 types of birds live here too. In fact, it’s possible to see these birds in almost every part of the park. The advertised viewing areas are often too crowded for true bird-watching, so it’s important to take advantage of those hiking trails. You only have to walk a short way until you come to an open clearing. Sit down and wait for the birds to fly through as they go about their day.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

There might be an old tale about the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, but it’s actually the hummingbirds that you want to look out for. These amazing birds will zip right past you in search of their next meal. Ideally, look for a secluded bench with bright, tubular flowers nearby. Every hummingbird is attracted to long flower shafts, so that they can use their beak and feed on the nectar.

William R. Mason Regional Park

If you’re still in Southern California, you can also head to Irvine where the William R. Mason Regional Park resides. This region used to be farmland, so there’s many birds who call this area home. The park is relatively large, and you can find a seat almost anywhere you please. Watch out for hawks, warblers, roadrunners, towhees and the Nutting’s flycatcher on your outing.

Bolsa Chica State Reserve

Nestled beside Huntington Beach, the Bolsa Chica State Reserve is a main area for migrating and nesting birds. Depending on the season, birds could be laying eggs or coaxing their chicks out of the nest. Look for western grebes, peregrine falcons, egrets and about 300 more bird species. This area is worth a second look if you’re a local to the area. Different birds populate it nearly every day.

As you take off to one of these destinations, don’t forget your binoculars, hat and identification book. A birding enthusiast should always have these basics on hand, so that they can spot the rarest species out in the field. Every bird outing can be a treasure hunt for unique species in the area.