May is when the birds return to much of the United States and Canada. This Saturday, May 13, 2017, birders around the world will be counting and documenting bird sightings as part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Global Big Day event. The event is not just for birding enthusiasts, anyone can participate and count birds from any location.
"One of the great things about birding is that you can always find a bird nearby no matter where you are,” said Sherwood Snyder, birding enthusiast and director of product management here at Wildlife Acoustics. “Birding is a very accessible hobby. Depending on your schedule, you can spend fifteen minutes or many hours searching for and observing birds. I never leave home without binoculars!”
Sherwood has a few recommendations for those interested in participating in the Global Big Day or for anyone who would like to get more involved in birding.
A high-quality pair of binoculars is essential to get a better look at a bird and confirm its species. You can spend thousands of dollars on optics, but with new manufacturing technologies, a very respectable pair of binoculars can be purchased for between $300 and $400. Arguments abound on the best magnification for birding, but he recommends full size binoculars with either 8x or 10x magnification.
Smartphones are in nearly everyone’s pocket and there are a number of great birding apps that help improve birding skills. For the Global Big Day, use Cornell’s eBird app to upload sightings and participate in the count. Wildlife Acoustics’ Song Sleuth helps identify a bird by its song even if it can’t be seen. Not only will the $10 iPhone app record and help identify a singing bird, but it also includes a reference guide from David Sibley with drawings of each species, presence information, zoom-able range maps, identification tips and sample recordings.
As fantastic as apps and electronic resources are, they can’t quite replace a comprehensive printed field guide. Field guides provide an experience of exploration much like birding itself and are organized for easy comparison of similar species. The Sibley Guide to Birds is a master work that presents each species with amazing illustrations and detailed information to assist in identification in the field and the general study of birds. Eastern and Western specific guides are also available that are a little easier to carry in the field.
Note-taking is an important skill in birding. Birders often keep multiple lists, from their “Life List”, of all the species they have ever seen, to the birds they identified in a single day. Notebooks are also valuable for making quick sketches of a bird in the event it flies away before you can take a photograph.
Capturing a photograph of a bird is no replacement for intense study of the bird’s behavior, but it can be very helpful for confirming a bird’s identification. Digital images allow you to zoom in on the subject and study its details for an unlimited time. Often the challenge is getting a good enough photograph. Sherwood recommends a good, lightweight, point and shoot camera with a zoom range of over 600mm and a fast focus time.
Armed with these tools a new birder will be ready to participate in the count, embark on their life list, and enjoy all the fun and pleasures of birding for years to come.