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Beginning in Bird Watching

If you enjoy any outdoor activity—hiking, boating, or just strolling downtown—why not add bird watching to your itinerary? Our area has an abundance of birds. The Rappahannock draws migrating waterfowl, and our woods, tree-lined streets, and backyards provide more safe havens for these amazing creatures. Read on to get started.

The Very Basics

Perhaps bird watching (or birding) is so popular because it takes so little to get started. A basic guide book, a pair of binoculars, and a notebook for keeping track of what you see are all you really need. Most of the beginning birding books will have advice on how to more efficiently categorize what you’re looking at, if the bird is an unfamiliar one.

If you’re going out and about for an extended period, plan on taking the usual precautions: a hat, water, sunscreen, basic first aid kit, and bug spray, should the season call for it.

Of course, if you wish to expand your hobby, there are always things to acquire: better binoculars, more bird books, good cameras (sometimes these are combined with the binoculars), and perhaps most fun of all, trips to other places to see even more birds. The serious study of ornithology is a terrific excuse for a trip to the tropics or a European forest.

However, it’s also perfectly lovely to simply make your own backyard a welcoming place for birds, bringing them to you. You may not see so many unusual species this way, but you will probably get a very good education on the lives of those you do observe.

The Usefulness of Bird Watching

Birding societies and individuals often work with conservation groups to keep count of area species. By being a part of one of these scientific efforts, you can help track the decline or more happily the resurgence of species of birds. Bird counts can indicate environmental problems in need of attention. They can also indicate where changes to the environment are working for the better.

Local Opportunities

Caledon Natural Area in King George County will be offering swan tours and eagle tours this fall. Caledon, a state park, has trails that can be enjoyed throughout the year, but these tours are really something special. The sight of migrating swans on the Potomac is truly beautiful. The eagle trail goes to the far reaches of the park and is not always open, to allow the birds a bit of peace and quiet to raise their young

Wild Bird Centers are a good conduit for people who really want to get into birding. They organize (usually free) birdwalks, provide educational programs to the community, and work with classrooms to teach kids to appreciate the natural world around them.Our local affiliate’s site has birding advice online: strategies, conservation tips, and practical information

Fun for the Kids

Once you get the very basics of bird watching down, plan on sharing your knowledge with the kids and grandkids. Looking for birds in the open air sure beats counting out-of-state cars on the highway and can turn a walk in the woods or by the beach into a fun scavenger hunt. Provide inexpensive binoculars for the younger crowd, and let them start their own lists of birds.

Ready to learn more? Check out our list, Books for Birders. All books and videos may be placed on reserve by our patrons to pick up at their local branches. Not local? Not a problem. Ask your own librarian for these or similar titles.

These Web sites also provide good information:

American Birding Association
A great place for birders of all ages and abilities. ABA cosponsors the Institute for Field Ornithology workshops nationwide. Their Birders' Exchange is a cooperative venture where donations of new and used birding equipment go to scientists, conservationists, and educators in Latin America and the Caribbean. The site also links to bird clubs, festivals, and trails nationwide. Young Birders offers summer camps and scholarships bird-related activities.

Backyard Birding
Baltimore Bird Club has prepared this page to help birders make the most of their backyard opportunities. Includes information on feeding, landscaping, homes, and potential problems for both birds and the people who feed them.

Bird Identification
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has photos and song sound clips for many birds of the Americas.

Bird Watcher's Digest: Backyard Bird Identification
Photos, sound files, and notes to help beginners appreciate some of the more common birds.

GoRP: Bird Watching
GORP, a well-known great outdoors site, has brought together lots of recommendations on where to go to find the birds. Includes an ask-the-expert section and a skill building section.