Bird watching can be a little like fishing. If you sit for hours without a nibble on your very first try, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. But once you’ve landed a big one you could be hooked for life. And once you get started, you soon learn that a little knowledge and the right equipment can make all the difference.
Birds may seem like nondescript brown “jobs” lurking in the trees — job, because it might take some work to figure out what they are. But that perception can quickly change under the influence of a mentoring parent or teacher whose infectious enthusiasm can kindle in you a lifelong love of birds and wildlife.
Sometimes the initial spark comes with that first glimpse through a good set of borrowed binoculars. Quality optics can bring to life the subtle hues, iridescence and dazzling colors you otherwise get to see only in bird book photos.
If you’re a beginner, getting the hang of spotting, identifying, and snapping photos of birds takes a little practice — but here are a few tips to help you hone those skills.
Get a good field guide and suitable binoculars
This is equipment you’ll want to have right from the start. A field guide will help you identify birds and learn what to look for locally.
You’ll also want a good pair of binoculars. Good birding binoculars can be a little pricy, but they’re worth it. They should offer at least 7x or 8x magnification and be easy to focus. Try them out at a local birding store to see what suits your needs. You can also find a helpful guide at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, www:birds.cornell.edu/allaboutbirds/gear/binoc.
Learn the species common to your area
Identifying birds gets a lot easier if you know which ones you’re most likely to see. It can vary with habitat, season and region. A local checklist helps you narrow down the possibilities. Kitsap Audubon offers a checklist online at www.kitsapaudubon.org that provides a seasonal guide to the birds you’re likely to see in Kitsap County.
Make careful observations, take notes
When you spot a bird, make mental notes about its size, color patterns, behavior and type of habitat. Once the bird has flown away, jot down these mental notes before you check your field guide. You’ll have time to search your field guide later, armed with detailed notes to aid identification. You can also learn more about each species from such online resources as the National Audubon Society website: www.birds.audubon.org/birdid.
Add a bird feeder or bird-friendly plants to your backyard
You’ll want to explore all the natural areas in your region for different types of birds, but your backyard can also be a great place to sharpen your skills and become familiar with the birds in your own neighborhood.
Join other birders
Getting out in the field with experienced birders is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to build your birding skills. Kitsap Audubon offers monthly field trips to local birding hotspots that are open to all skill levels. It’s also a great way to meet other birders who enjoy sharing their love for birds and wildlife.
With the right equipment, a bit of research, and help from other birders, you’ll be feeling more confident in no time. There’s always something new to see and learn.