Bird Watching  |  January 18, 2019

Great Backyard Bird Count

You wake up in the morning, make your coffee, look out of your back window – you see Blue Jays and Cardinals dancing around your feeders. You hear the whistle of a Black-Capped Chickadee and as winter progresses these songs of the black-capped chickadee are becoming more prominent. Join over 160,000 individuals this February as they count their backyard birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Each year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society team together for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was the first online citizen-science project used to collect data on wild birds and display the results in real-time.

Great Backyard Bird Count Statistical Map 2018
Great Backyard Bird Count Statistical Map 2018

Counting wild birds provides critical data which can be used to analyze bird populations and create the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The data collected helps answer important questions such as “How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?” and “How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?” Bird populations are consistently changing. Data collected in the 2014 GBBC implied a significant irruption of Snow Owls across the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, Great Lake areas of the United States.

Dust off the binoculars and get your sketch books out, this year’s bird count will take place from Friday, February 16th through Monday, February 19th.  Anyone and everyone are invited to participate for as little at 15 minutes. You can count birds in your backyard or other locations such as parks, lakes – anywhere wild birds can be found! Go as a group or go alone, the GBBC is easy and convenient. Visit BirdCount.Org to register and track your results.

Helpful Sites:

Cornell Lab or Ornithology: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478

Great Backyard Bird Count: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

National Audubon Society: https://www.audubon.org/

eBird: https://ebird.org/news/counting-102/

Bird Watching  |  

Bird Watching for Beginners

Picture this, you go on a nature walk with your close friends. In the distance, you hear the calls of a bird. Your group gets excited in anticipation of what singing songbird’s path you are about to cross. As you close in on the bird you recognize it’s distinct, nasally, fast-repeated clear whistle. Peter-Peter-Peter. Almost as if it was alarming the others that someone is entering their territory. You lift up your binoculars to see a small bird that has frequented your backyard feeder stealing sunflower from the Cardinals.  A small gray bird with prominent black eyes, a bushy crest, and small beak. It jumps down from its perch to pick up a seed and flies proudly back to its branch. You tell your friends it is a “Tufted Titmouse” and now you feel like a true birder. Success.

It takes practice to become an expert birder but is a lifelong skill to have that can be passed on to generations to come. Birding is essentially a year-round game that never ends and can be played outdoors or from the comfort of your home looking out of a window with a few supplies or none. It’s your call. Let your curiosity take flight with birding. If you really want to improve your birding skills, or just start somewhere, there are several supplies you will want to keep handy.

Getting Started with Birdwatching

A good Field Guide will be your best friend as it is essential to being able to identify birds. Field guides come in many different sizes making them easy to carry in your pocket, backpack or purse. There are guides available online but the last thing you want to do is drag out your dinging tablet or phone in the middle of the woods while trying to identify a quick moving bird.

There are many types of field guides available. If you are starting your birding trek at a state or national park you may find park guides in the visitor’s center before entering the park. These are typically a pamphlet of common birds located in that park.

Traditional guides come in different shapes and sizes ranging from a 2-sided laminated card to a full 200-page book and beyond. Beginner guides are typically arranged by color of the bird making it easier for the user to flip to the right starting point but as you use these guides you will learn that your version of color may vary from that of the authors. You will find that more advanced guides are arranged by shapes or taxonomically (by scientific classification).

Gear Yourself

So you have had practice getting out in the field, walking trails and taking advantage of the free guides provided at your local park. You’ve got a hang of flipping through a guide and understanding the author’s version of “red” and now it is time to purchase gear – but where to begin?

A sketchbook or journal will be your best friend. Keep a pad handy when you are going on a nature hike as there may be multiple birds you are trying to identify at once. Jot down a sketch of the bird, colors, unique calls the bird may have or any other identifying features. When you go home and prepare to finish your birding homework these clues can help you identify what you were not able to while out in the field.

Invest in a dependable binocular that suits your needs once you feel you are ready to improve your birding abilities. See this article on finding the right binocular for eyeglass wearers. Binoculars are convenient and easily portable, can be worn around your neck, and are available in waterproof options! Sighting birds through binoculars gives a more realistic view than using a telescope as human vision is stereoscopic (using two vision channels) just like a binocular.

Put Your Skills to Work

You’ve done your homework. You’ve flipped through your field guide. You’ve made your birding purchases now it is time to put your skills to work. Remember to have fun and relax. You will not be a professional on your first attempt. In fact, with birding, you will find that you learn something new each time you step outside. The knowledge you will obtain from bird watching will be abundant. So take that first step into nature and you will reap the rewards of your hard work. Pass these skills on to friends and family to create future generations of birding enthusiasts.

Bird Watching  |  January 16, 2019

Binoculars for Eyeglass Wearers

Picking the right pair of binoculars can be a hassle – especially if you already wear glasses. The most important feature to consider when purchasing a new pair of binoculars is the eye-relief or the distance between the exterior surface of your eye piece and your actual eye at which a full view can be wholly observed. When shopping for binoculars you want to find a binocular with an eye relief reaching or exceeding 15 mm which will accommodate your glasses without losing the field of view.

Pay attention to magnification, which is a key factor to consider when shopping for binoculars – eye glass wearer or not. You must understand the compromise associated with the magnification choices. Higher powered binoculars allow you to observe more details but also offer less-stable images and narrow fields of view as well as shorter eye reliefs. The best device would be one with 8x or 10x as they often contain eye reliefs over 15mm.

Other factors to consider when purchasing a good pair of binoculars includes the field of view, eyecups, and size of the objective. You’ll appreciate binoculars with a large field of view as it allows you to focus on moving objects easier and ensure your eyes feel more relaxed. Look for binoculars with adjustable or removable eye pieces to accommodate your eye glasses. The size of the objective lenses will determine the light gathering ability as well as weight and size. Binoculars with a bigger objective offer a better low light performance.