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How will you go birdwatching this spring? My answer has usually been, and still is, that I think, usually on a Thursday, about what habitat I feel like visiting (swamp or grasslands, mountains or shore, or maybe ...), check the weather to see which weekend day is more favorable, and go! This year it's a little different ...

This year I'm keeping a year list. I've been a birder for almost 20 years, and I've been wretched about keeping lists. I'm ashamed, now that I look back at it, that I didn't keep better lists and chronicles of my birding adventures and misadventures. I have some handwritten accounts from the early 90s that I treasure - why didn't I keep it up?

The past is past. I'm going to keep a list this year, and keep an account of my year in the real world. Ebird makes it easy, but it also changes the experience, not entirely for the better - I've checked my state ranking three times this week! Oh well, it's an experiment.

And it got me thinking about the many, many ways to go birding. Each one changes the focus a bit and makes for a different way of thinking about the natural world.

I love habitat birding. I consider myself a habitat birder. You tell me about a remote swamp in NJ or a new wildlife management area, and it's on my list. What birds might be there that no one knows about?

This year, though, there's the list. It's true, fox sparrow might pop up anywhere, but sandhill cranes - well, they do show up, I had three only a couple of miles from me last year, but to "get" them for the list, there's one "reliable" place, which I have visited twice unsuccessfully. I need to go a third time! Such repeated visits would be anathema to me in a normal year, but not this year.

But, it's fun! I'm taking a different path this year. It's going to bring me a different experience.

And it makes me think about all the other ways to go birding that await: I could do a hotspot year, staking out several known hotspots and getting a lot of birds that I often miss. I could do a regional or county year. I could focus on one habitat through the whole year. I could do a Bigby (Big Year Back Yard) Year and focus on very close at hand birds. I keep thinking about a "fringes of New Jersey" year where I explore the bordering state areas. I could try a year of group trips and see what I learn. I could take a year to really work on field marks of a relatively few birds. I don't think I could do a photography birding year - neither my camera nor my skills are up to the task.

What about you? How do you go birding? Have you ever tried a different method? What have you learned?

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Comment Preferences

    •  I vary my birdwatching according to the season. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tgypsy

      In April and early May, I will bird the four Houston Audubon Sanctuaries and the two Texas Ornithological Sanctuaries at High Island, Texas.

      On my first visit to High Island in the early 70s, in late April, as a student with an Advanced Ornithology Class, I was wandering down a path through what is now the fabled Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary, when all of a sudden a massive fall out occurred.  From a few birds one minute, there were suddenly thousands of mainly Warblers and Vireo's.  So many that if you decided to take a step you had to be careful not to step on a bird.  I saw one student on his knees, taking a picture of a Hooded Warbler, with a Kodak Instamatic Camera.  Most of us were very poor and didn't have the best equipment.  

      Fall outs generally occur when the birds have a hard time crossing the Gulf during migration.  If the weather at sea is good they will keep on flying for 50 to 100 miles and disperse into the forest known as the Big Thicket, before resting.  However, if they encounter bad weather, the birds that survive will drop onto the the first trees they encounter, which is often at High Island, a salt dome on the Texas coast.  Unfortunately, big fall outs are becoming rare and there probably hasn't been a massive fall out in several years.

      If the birding is slow at High Island, I will make a short journey to the Bolivar Peninsula, with stops at Rollover Pass and Bolivar Flats, which is also a Houston Audubon Sanctuary, or I will go North about 20 miles to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, which has about 35,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater marsh.  It is not uncommon to see 100 species a day on the ANWR, High Island, Bolivar Peninsula route in late April.  Just a little further on is Galveston Island State Park, another great birding location and there are lots of other sites in-between.

      Since High Island was discovered by birders in 1969, visitation has increased markedly.  Sanctuaries have been established and they have even build bleachers at Boy Scout Woods to accommodate the crowds.

      I do most of my summer birding along the coast but occasionally I go to the Big Thicket for a break.  Fall and Winter bring many volunteer opportunities at High Island or ANWR so I take advantage of as many of those as I can, and work on trail maintenance or invasive species removal in the AM and bird in the PM.  On weekends without volunteer opportunities I go to various locations in the Big Thicket.  You can actually see more species there in the winter because there are fewer leaves on the trees.  This is a great place for Woodpeckers.

      On work days, part of my job is to record the birds visiting the plant site, 16 acres with bird feeders outside my office window.  I've seen 84 species so far, so you might say I bird almost every day.  I am horribly behind with my eBird recordings.

      This year it is my hope to do more camera work, but all I have is a very good scope and very poor cameras with very cumbersome attachments to the scope.  However, I still get a decent shots on rare occasions.

  •  Wherever I am, I am birding. That is to say, when (16+ / 0-)

    I see birds or bird sign, or suspected birds, or hear birds or suspected birds, I try to get a better look and, if possible, an ID. My wife and I have taken guided birding trips, both extended ones abroad and one day jaunts here, with all the gear and whatnot, and we "go birding" in the sense of taking gear and guides to target locations specifically to spend time dedicated to birding, but our binos and guides are never far away, whether we are at home, on the road, or off visiting some other locale.

    Should we be "vacationing" somewhere, we will invariably wander around checking the areas assorted habitats, regardless of the purpose for which we are there. We even take our stuff on our frequent wine tasting and purchasing trips. Heck, my first Pileated was at a winery and I know of one that is literally crowded with Acorn Woodpeckers.

    I do try to remember to keep lists, and have reduced my e-Bird input backlog to non-terrifying proportions. For me it isn't competitive, but simply for the information, what is where when, and is it early, late or missing this year. I have no idea of my totals except that I can give a pretty good account of what has visited the yard, what is resident in the yard and what has bred in the yard. In fact, the local Nuttals is in the Spruce right now.

    They say that you are never more than 4 feet from a spider. Similarly, I find that you are seldom somewhere where there are no birds outside, horizon to horizon, so you might as well check them out.

    BTW, Great BackYard Bird Count is this weekend, 2/18 through 2/21. It requires as little as 15 minutes on any one of those 4 days, or as much time as you want.  LINKY

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 08:48:41 AM PST

  •  We just go to specific places (11+ / 0-)

    Then look to see what is there. Riparian birds, shorebirds, forest birds, etc.

    Of course, by doing this, we tend to see the same old crowd, unless we get lucky enough to see somebody new.

    To get new birds, we need to expand our travels -- down to the desert, up to the Sierra, etc.

    What we need to do more of is to look at current listings of other birders to see what they are finding, and where those birds are hanging out.

    That's the way we found a nesting Pileated last summer.

    That was funny.... We had seen a note online that somebody had seen a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers building a nest in a tree cavity in Mt. Madonna County Park, near San Jose. The poster gave some general directions, so we set out.

    Before leaving, we had the sense to look up and listen to their sound, so we were both very glad to hear the woodpeckers very soon after we got on the trail. We knew we were going the right direction.

    Soon we were in the area described by the poster, and were walking very slowly and quietly down the trail. While standing still and peering at the trees, from 30 yards away in the woods came this quiet hiss: "Psss..... woodpeckers?"

    I about jumped out of my pants with surprise, as the guy who had first found the birds was hiding behind a tree watching them again!

    After the initial shock and surprise wore off, he was kind enough to show us the woodpecker hole, and we eventually got some very good views of the Pileated couple expanding their tree-cavity nest.

    •  There's what my husband calls the Patagonia effect (15+ / 0-)

      When someone spots a rare bird in a particular location, then you get all the vagrant chasers and enthusiasts flooding the area with eyes scoping out all the action. Then naturally ALL the birds in an area are discovered and reported, making the area look like a "hot spot". When in reality those species have probably been there all along. It just needed the concentration of birders to flush them all out.

      Mr. S is the birdwatcher. I tag along because other than trips to sewage ponds and dumps, most birding spots are quiet, picturesesque and a good hike away from modern life.  And yes, virtually all of our vacations include birding outings, some of our trips are deliberately chosen for birding opportunities.  I have found that I can entice Mr. S to somewhere for a vacation if there is decent birding nearby. As a matter of fact, right now he is on a bike ride to a nearby canyon (next to a cemetary, another great birding locale) to check out a rare (for here) empidonax spotted on a weekend birdwalk sponsored by our local Audubon chapter. He's got a life list, a year list and an enviro-list when he sees the bird on a bike ride or hike with using a car to get to the locale.

      I think my favorite birding has been at the Salton Sea (seasonally specific lol) because I love watching all the snow geese  and sandhill cranes fly into the alfalfa fields.  Although Klammath was great, too with the thousands of tundra swans.  But the best part of birding can be the serendipitous nature of finding a fascinating bird right there in front of you, where ever.

      The road to excess leads to the palace of Wisdom, I must not have excessed enough

      by JenS on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 09:25:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  For desert birds, I highly recommend the (9+ / 0-)

      Anza=Borrego Desert State Park. It has a lot of migrants and some unusual residents and a lot of small hot spots. You can check it out some in the California State Parks web pages as well as at  ABDNHA. We go there just about every spring, and usually get to see at least a little bloom as well. It is huge with tons of diverse ecosystems.

      One interesting area with surprising bird life and migrants was covered in  This Diary

      That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

      by enhydra lutris on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 10:28:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I plan trips for birding. (11+ / 0-)

    Some trips are for singing, some are for visiting with friends and family, and others are to visit a place on my bucket list.
    Sometimes I travel to see a new place and to do bird watching.
    For three months in 1998 my husband and I drove across Canada west to east in a Class B motor home, took the ferry to Newfoundland, and returned via a birding Elderhostel in Acadia National Park with the Appalachian Mountain Club (probably our best Elderhostel).   The scenery, the wild life, the birds, and our time together made it one of our best trips.

    Every two or three years I consider where there are birds I've not seen and make plans and time to go there. In 2009 I went to Ecuador and the Galapagos.  While in Ecuador I learned that it has more bird species than any other country based on its size.  There is nothing like the Galapagos. The trip was outstanding because every day I saw new bird species.

    This summer I'll be on a singing tour in the British Isles but hope to spend some extra time finding a bird hotspot in England, Ireland or Scotland. I'm open to suggestions!

    •  In the UK, nearly every lake (or loch) (8+ / 0-)

      near the shore and even farther inland has a hide for bird watching, and sometimes it's too crowded to just drop in. Osprey watching and chronicling is huge in Great Britain, and Loch of the Lowes is famous for the Lady, who survived great difficulties last season and is the oldest known nesting osprey there. We are hoping for her safe return this year, with everyone on both sides of the pond keeping fingers crossed. The story of EJ and Henry at Loch Garten will whet your appetite, too. Try this LINK to get started; you can get to live cams from there. Have a ball!

      "That story is not worth the paper it's rotten on."--Dorothy Parker

      by martyc35 on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 10:44:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I guess I'm more of a bird lover (13+ / 0-)

    than bird watcher in that I don't keep records or take trips solely for birding. Happy news to report:  I live on the northeast coast of Florida and my ospreys just returned to their nests @ 3 days ago.

  •  Though I'm not a "real" birder, (11+ / 0-)

    I have gone out of my way in past to see birds, mostly when I lived in South Texas. Of course there are a lot of shore birds along the Gulf of Mexico, and plenty of wildlife refuges. Others migrate up from Mexico and down from far, far away. Has everyone see that wonderful movie, "Migrations?"

    Now I'm a full-time eldercare giver for my mom, and we sits in front of a picture window in a house on a bluff overlooking the river. From there we see lots of birds, but in a completely passive way. We have a permanent pair of pilleated woodpeckers and two other types of woodpeckers. We see herons, eagles, hawks, and two kinds of buzzards (black and turkey, I think). Sometimes the buzzards make a big flock and roost, usually on the other side of my tiny town. One night some friends slept out on the deck, and a few buzzards got up on the roof and were hollering down at them.

    Thank you for the series. I'm looking forward to learning a lot:)

  •  I try a number of different ways. (10+ / 0-)

    Everyday - My yard, my office, our cabin... looking out for my "neighbirds".  

    Day trips - There are a number of places I try to get to at least once year (more if possible) for a day of birding.  Places like Pt. Reyes, Elkhorn Slough, Panoche Valley, Mines Road, Bodega Bay, Solano County/Woodbridge Road.

    Longer trips - Yosemite for a few days, mixed birding and other outdoor fun.  This year I'm fortunate enough to get there 3 times.  Down to SoCal for wildflowers and birds in the spring, when I can.  I have not had the time or resources for longer birding trips in the past several years, but other nice trips were Arizona, Skagit, etc.  Florida probably next on the list, but maybe Alaska or Texas.  It's been a long time since I was able to travel internationally for birding, but it was great to go someplace completely different.

    "Hands On" - working with the Raptor Observatory, doing Christmas Counts, helping biologist friends with their projects.  Things that combine increasing my own knowledge with contributing to the bigger body of knowledge.

    Some of these approaches lead to seeing many species or large numbers of birds; some are a limited number of birds but in greater depth.  The nice thing is that there's no one right way to do it.

    They only call it Class War when we fight back.

    by lineatus on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 10:17:53 AM PST

  •  I'm putting in a vegetable garden this year. (9+ / 0-)

    So I think that just being out that extra hour or two a day, will give me some good birdwatching.  I do keep a list of the birds I've seen around our house and it's up past 60 species now, so I can't complain about the location.  Now, if we can all just co-exist with the new gardening project!

    It's good to be moderate - but only in moderation.

    by Anubis Bard on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 10:27:51 AM PST

  •  South Texas (9+ / 0-)

    The Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival is in two weeks--it's fun.  We usually go out on a boat once a year to see them.  Last year their food supply was so good they were focused on eating and were not moving around much when we were there, but they did whoop, which was awesome.

    There is also an Attwater's Prairie Chicken festival in this general area, and if you get there before dawn you can go out to the lek and see them dance their crazy dance.  Their booming carries a long way.  It was a thrill last year.  

    I'm not an advanced birder, just lucky enough to live someplace that has some big ones.  There is at least one green jay in our county now, and I'd love to see it, but I can't see as well among the leaves.  Mr. Rocketito is going to start teaching me warblers this year, if I can pick up that visual skill.  Until then I'll be watching my favorite--birds of prey, especially the Cooper's hawk that hunts in my yard.  The blue jays always let me know when s/he is about, which makes it easier.

    Babe, you're just a wave, you're not the water. --Jimmie Dale Gilmore

    by rocketito on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 11:04:11 AM PST

  •  I am a bird watcher of opportunity (5+ / 0-)

    usually of what birds land in my yard, or what I see out and about in the neighborhood. I have gotten to where I scan the tops of the street lights  and telephone wires, to see who is using them as a way station.  Saw some interesting birds driving on the turnpike today. Amazing what you see when you are really looking. Down here in florida I live in migratory bird path. If I had a camera for all the bird photo ops I miss, I would be happy, but hard to drive a car and snap photos at the same time.

  •  I have a variety of approaches (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martyc35, matching mole

    At home, I like to be able to see birds just looking out the window so I keep several bird feeders, including a hummingbird feeder on the window right in front of my computer. Binoculars and camera nearly always close at hand for unexpected flyovers and such.

    In my larger backyard, which I consider any place I can get to within an hour or so, I have favorites places that I like to check out for local birds. I tend to work long days/weeks so spending time outside on the weekend looking for birds (and other citters) and taking photos almost always provides a peaceful respite, even when the birds don't show.

    For vacations, we look for both great places and opportunities for birdwatching and photography. We are boaters (whitewater rafting) so rivers are a big draw for travel. Birding from a moving boat can be challenging - should I pay attention to the next rapid coming up around the bend or should I try to figure out what hawk is flying overhead?

    I fell in love with the outdoors and beautiful places first. Now, birds help me get to know a place in a much deeper way. Not to downplay the role geology, botany, and other critters play in the process but birds are so fascinating and varied, they are endlessly fascinating.

    ... no one can put the ocean in their pocket ... ~ Melissa Harris-Lacewell

    by tgypsy on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 09:18:59 PM PST

    •  In my early twenties (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tgypsy

      I almost fell while water skiing because I was looking at an osprey!   I don't imagine you try to take photos while you're rafting.  Even in the calm water I'm usually paddling in taking pictures from my kayak is quite challenging,  You have very limited ability to turn or back up if the subject moves.

      "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

      by matching mole on Wed Feb 16, 2011 at 06:43:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have tried on a few occasions on flat water (0+ / 0-)

        but the results are generally not very good. In whitewater, the camera gear has to be put away to avoid getting soaked.

        Once on the Rogue River, we were floating along when an Osprey splashed into the water no more than ~20 feet from the boat. It missed the fish but we were close enough to watch it shake the water out of its feathers as is took off. Quite a sight! Birding while water skiing sounds more than a little scary...

        ... no one can put the ocean in their pocket ... ~ Melissa Harris-Lacewell

        by tgypsy on Wed Feb 16, 2011 at 06:59:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I wander a lot. (0+ / 0-)

    I suppose I'm in the I'm birding everywhere I go category.  I keep binoc's and a small scope in the car and when I see something interesting I'll take a look. Fortunately there are are lots of great birding places right where I live.  I hope to introduce some of the to you as the season progresses.  

    I go to the Nisqually Wildlife Reserve at least once a week or more depending on the weather and my mood but I rarely  plan even that.  However this summer I'm dedicated to spending several weekends camping out at the Washington coast which is around 50 miles away.

    Today's story is about "our" trumpeter swan.  Last fall a lone trumpeter landed in Capital Lake and decided to stay.  Some  were concerned that it might be sick or injured but it always seemed OK to me.  It could fly and was eating.  It just hung out looking like an aircraft carrier beside the flotilla of ducks and canada geese that it  always surrounded it.  

    As season changes more and more of the ducks and geese are gone and he lake is looking kinda empty.   We've had a series of southerly wind storms come through one right after another and wave after wave of ducks have hitched a ride on the tail winds to their northern breeding grounds.  So yesterday afternoon I say the swan swimming all by itself and wondered if it was going to stay all alone all summer.

    Well this morning as I was driving to a work site at 8:30 I noticed two swans swimming in a side pond off the main lake just by the road.  I didn't have time to stop and take their picture and when I came back at 11:00 they were both gone.  

    I walked along the lake to see if I could see them anywhere but they're gone.  It appears that "our" beautiful white bird found a flight companion, maybe even a mate, and departed for it's summer quarters in the arctic.  

    A trumpeter swan is so big and so pretty that you don't have to be a bird watcher to notice it.  Hundreds if not thousands stopped to watch and take pictures and just enjoy it.  Walkers would stop and ask what it was and I'd let them get a close look in the scope and then tell them about the wigeons, buffleheads, mergansers, ring bills and other ducks that surrounded the big guy.

    Last week I saw a dad with a little boy, maybe five years old out birding.  Dad was showing him how to use the binoculars and telling him about the big white bird and where it came from and the little boy was all excited about it.  

    It was a great father and son moment and  
    maybe "our" swan and the time he spent with his dad will be a "spark bird" for the little boy.  I just read that 28% of birders get involved because of a particular bird that sparks their interest, often when they were young.  And that it may be years before it manifests itself but when the time is right the memory bursts forth into a passion for birds.  

    So have a safe trip pretty birds and a wonderful  summer in your summer home.  Hurry back next fall and bring the kids.  We'll be watching for you.    

    DK-3 it's been good to know you.

    by YellerDog on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 02:30:01 AM PST

  •  concentrated birding at Magee Marsh (0+ / 0-)

    Like everyone in here, no doubt, I am always birding, pointing out hawks to the kids as we drive, etc.. Every spring my buddy Dan from Indianapolis meets up with me at Magee Marsh in Northern Ohio and we dive into the woods for 4-5 days, counting warblers. We usually end up getting about 28 or so species. This will be our 19th year up there and, after all these years, we spend as much time talking to birding pals as we do actual birding.

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