Spring Birding Made Easy
- March 09, 2016 |
Some folks consider birding the best scavenger hunt available to mankind. Last year, we explored Backyard Birding Made Easy. This year, we’re going to apply those principles to birding in the great outdoors. In celebration of the National Parks System’s 100th year, we’ve included a few tips on where to seek out and how to successfully identify birds in the woods and along the trail in a National Park nearest you.
My family got started birding like most folks do. We hung a Mason jar bird feeder filled with sunflower seeds from the roof of our back porch, sat back, and waited for the birds to come. Soon, we had a wonderful variety of neighborhood birds visiting us. To our great delight (and the utmost entertainment of our family cat), White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Eastern Bluebirds, Cardinals, and the occasional Oriole visit us throughout the year.
One of the many joys of birding is that it’s so easy to do. All you really need is a field guide for your region of the country. Our copy of Peterson’ Field Guide to Feeder Birds in Eastern North America is dog-eared by the picture window nearest our bird feeder. It helps to have easy access to your field guide so you can quickly compare the book’s illustrations to the bird you want to identify before it flies away.
If you’re looking for more detailed pictures of birds, maps, and migration information, Mast Store offers National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. This is a helpful book to have on hand when traveling outside your local area.
Another good way to educate yourself about our avian friends is simply by familiarizing yourself with birds by watching programming about the subject. David Attenborough's fascinating series Life of Birds has tremendously rich and fascinating information to offer.
Heading outside, binoculars are especially helpful, and you don’t need an expensive pair. Mast has a couple of brands to choose from. Take a peek by clicking HERE. Some folks skip binoculars altogether and rely on their camera’s zoom lens to get a closer look. Taking pictures also helps make accurate identification easier. If you’re having trouble using your field guide on location, email photos of the bird in question to birding friends. Maybe even video a quick snippet of the bird’s call if you can. Juvenile birds often look different from their mature equivalent, and experienced birders are skilled at recognizing which is which.
Grab a birding buddy. It’s much easier to learn about birding if you go out with someone who is more experienced. Identifying a bird call or looking for a bird in a tree canopy with a skilled birder helps build your birding skills, and quite simply, it’s more fun. If you don’t know birding folks, many areas have Audubon Clubs that go on group outings to look for birds. The Elijah Mitchell Audubon Society in Asheville, NC hosts birding walks at the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary the first Saturday of every month from April through September. Click HERE more information. Click HERE to find the Audubon chapter nearest you.
Western North Carolina native, Meghan Webster, has been birding for about 14 years starting with her first trip to Yellowstone National Park. This past fall, she and a group of friends hiked to Mahogany Rock Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the hawk migration. The huge vistas and rock outcroppings offer wind currents optimal for hawks migrating south. The High Country Host offers a wealth of information about the annual hawk migration in the Boone, Linville, Blowing Rock area HERE.
Meghan advises, “Spring and fall are the best times of year for birding. This hobby is so enjoyable because it taps into the height of beauty during the transitional seasons as the birds migrate. The Sinks on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is incredible for spotting gorgeous carpets of wildflowers and spring birding. The Sinks are named for the sinkholes created by limestone rocks weathered into unique geological formations over many years. This special feature creates a unique habitat for wildflowers, warblers, and songbirds migrating north after the winter. Be sure to catch the neotropical migrants at they come back to our mountains.”
In South Carolina, avid outdoorsman Mark Yeatts spends many weekends enjoying the Congaree River (near Columbia, SC) from his kayak. “Birding there is fantastic,” shares Mark. “The Pileated Woodpeckers that live along the river are huge and sound like they’re taking a sledgehammer to a tree. Recently, I saw one that I’d guess was 1-foot tall with over a 2-foot wingspan. I’ve spotted many Herons and Egrets along the banks of the Congaree. Osprey dive right into the creek when they’re fishing. King Fishers are super quick and nimble fisherman, too. They’re impressive to watch,” Mark marvels.
You don’t have to set out for a major hike deep into the woods are high on a mountain top to spot birds. A few hours in a nature center, local park, or any outdoor area will do. Select a bird from your field book that is expected to be in your area during season you plan to go birding and simply go look for it. It's a thrill to be able to identify a bird for the first time.
Watchable Wildlife in the National Parks has a list of resources to help get you started in the park nearest you:
Bird watching in the National Parks
Birds of the Blue Ridge Parkway
Birds of the Great Smoky Mountains
Birds of Congaree National Park
Challenge your birding skills by identifying bird songs HERE.
If you live in a high-density urban area, The Urban Birder is a great resource.
[Woodpecker feather photo by Mark Yeatts]