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My Column: Tips for Better Birding

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My latest Bird Watcher column for The Record offers some tips for better birding in 2023.


(With a photo by Barbara Dilger. Thanks, Barbara!)

You can read it here:

By Jim Wright
Special to The Record

    A recent article in Bird Watcher's Digest offered some wonderful advice for those looking to get more out of their favorite hobby. With a new year around the corner, I thought I’d share them here –  and toss in a few of my own. 

    First, here are birding writer Al Batt’s four rules for better birding:

  1. Dream big.

  2. Wear comfortable shoes.

  3. Don’t trust a poor look.

  4. Bird as if it were the first time you’ve seen a bird. 

  I’m guessing these snippets of wisdom hit home for many of us. TheRecordBergenEdition_20221222_LF03_2-page-001The advice combines the two traits that bring out the best in bird-watchers  – common sense and an eternal sense of wonder.   

  I liked these rules for another reason. They got me thinking: If I were to offer birding advice, what would I emphasize?

   I’d start with more of the basics, beginning with putting up some bird feeders and observing the birds in your own backyard. 

   If you enjoy this, invest in a field guide to our region’s birds and a good pair of binoculars. Sorry, but your aunt’s old opera glasses just won’t cut it.   

    Another tip is to go birding with good birders. Go on organized bird walks, look, and listen. It’s easy to learn from others, and you’ll get some fresh air and exercise while you’re at it.

    When you’re on your own, try to remain as invisible as you can. That begins by walking softly Your chances of seeing an unusual bird are much better if you don’t announce your presence and inadvertently spook the bird, and other birders may be able to see it as well

    Similarly, wear drab clothing unless it’s hunting season. Top birders and nature photographers wear camouflage for a reason. Why announce your presence with a bright jacket or day-glo cap? If birds had a rearview mirror, you’d be in it. 

     If you like to take photographs when you go birding, shoot first (with your camera) and ask questions later. Sometimes, a fleeting look is the only look you’ll get, and a camera will enable you to study the bird at your convenience. See Rule 3, above. If the bird hangs around, then see Rule 4. Take a good look. The delight, like the devil, is often in the details.

     If you have a spare pair of binoculars, keep them in your car. You never know when they might come in handy.

    Sign up for eBird online (it’s free, and it’s also an app) and submit your birding checklists. That’s the best way to keep track of your sightings over time. Somewhere during your avian adventures, someone will ask about your “life list,” and eBird makes it easy.

    Similarly, download the free Merlin app and use it to identify birds and their calls. 

    But my best bit of advice: Relax and enjoy yourself.


The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at [email protected].