Birding 101

Begin a journey of a lifetime,
follow the life of birds into the splendor of the natural world.

Background

  Ever since going on a field trip with Dr. Tom Quay's Ornithology class, in 1973, my eyes and ears have been tuned into the world of birds.  Whatever the reason you are here checking out this website, I can guarantee you that birding will enrich your life.  Birding is whatever you want it to be, and my hope is that it will increase your love and understanding of the natural world.

Where do you begin? Well,  it depends on where you are and where you want to go.  There are basic needs, starting with, of course, a location to "bird", some equipment (such as binoculars), and some type(s) of reference materials.  Ears and eyes wide open are also very important.  Many birds are small and shy.  Learning their songs will allow you to identify otherwise seemingly invisible birds.  Learn to be quiet, be still, blend with the environment.   If you have hearing loss, focus on the visual, if you have challenges with mobility, birding can also be very rewarding just sitting in one place.  (see Big Sit)

What is Birding?

Birding is .....

  1. any activity a person or persons participate in that educates them about birds and their place in nature.
  2. looking at a wild bird and trying to identify the species
  3. identifying bird songs
  4. observing bird behavior
  5. researching what you observed
  6. keeping a record of your observations, most often done today in eBird.
  7. sitting in a chair and recording your observations, sometimes done for as long as  8 hours, called a BIG SIT.
  8. running out at a moment's notice to find a reported rare bird
  9. calling in sick so you can run off to find that rare bird
  10. collecting and reading bird books
  11. field trips, alone or with a bird club
  12. bird photography
  13. sitting on your deck at night listening for owls or migrating birds
  14. kayak birding, bike birding, car birding
  15. attending bird club meetings and outings

Getting started

General suggestions

  • learn to identify birds by shape, color, size, sound, markings. 
  • keep it simple, don't spend a bunch of money
  • start with Sibley as your field guide
  • find experienced birders to walk with, but don't feel overwhelmed by their amazing skills. It comes with time
  • start in your yard or nearby park. You do not need to take off on a Costa Rica birding adventure the day after you buy your first binoculars.
  • learn birding ethics

Yes, there are rules

What you need, what you may want

  • Eyes and Ears
  • Binoculars - if you have a pair, use them. If not, I recommend going cheap and testing upscale models in the field by asking other birders for a look.  Then, begin shopping for your lifetime binoculars. 
  • field guide - digital and paper editions
  • bird song and call recordings
  • spotting scope - especially when birding waterfowl.  Same advice as above, perhaps buy a used scope first, then spend time peeking through fellow birders scopes until you settle on your personal preference.
  • backpack - you want to keep your hand's free
  • water and a snack - birding outings can be quite the adventure, so be prepared.
  • waterproof shoes, waterproof everything - stay warm, or cool,  and dry
  • Camera - any camera will do.  Not exactly..........
  • an eBird account - see the separate section about eBird
  • a Facebook account to follow local, state, national and international bird clubs     

Learn more about

Where to go birding

Locations

  1.  My recommendation - begin in your own backyard or nearby park.  This allows you to better focus on technique, the process of finding and identifying a bird. 
  2. Local birding hot spots
  3. locations requiring overnight  travel

For a comprehensive list of North Carolina birding sites, click here.

Learn to use eBird to locate birding hot spots.

What to do when you get "there".

You can arrive at a good "birding site" and feel disappointed rather quickly. Not a sound, no movement, nothing is there, it is a dead zone.

Be patient. An area that seems devoid of all life can come alive quickly.  Often it pays to sit still (see Big Sit) for a short period of time. Get your binoculars clean, have a snack, look through your field guide for expected birds. 

Or, walk really fast until you find the birds.

Triangle Birding

Birding Sites in the Triangle - for very comprehensive coverage of the Triangle, click here for the CBC list of Triangle birding sites.    Here are my suggestions for beginners. 

Wake County

  1. Prairie Ridge Ecostation, easy access off I40 near the RBC Center. 
  2. Lake Crabtree County Park - easy access off I40; Yates Mill County Park
  3. Umstead State Park - best access off Hwy 70 (Glenwood Ave.) 
  4. any of the Greenway trails, such as Lynn Lake, Shelly Lake, Neuse River Trail
  5. Falls Lake recreation areas

Durham County

  1. Eno River
  2. Sandy Creek Park
  3. Duke Gardens
  4. Falls and Jordan Lakes

Orange County

  1. Jordan Lake

Reference Materials

The Birding Community

Fellow birders

  1. Carolina Bird Club
  2. Audubon  Wake - Durham/Orange
  3. ABA

 

And then, along came eBIRD

eBird has radically changed the world of birding. 

and more techie stuff......

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