Getting Started with Birding

Birding has become one of the largest growing hobbies in the United States. It attracts people from all professions and backgrounds, and from all income levels. It is a healthy pursuit, allowing people to hike, breathe fresh air, and view lovely scenery, all while chasing a quarry that can be colorful, active, and sometimes just downright cute. You can even watch birds from the comfort of your own armchair; just put a feeder in the front yard and settle in. It is also a renewable resource, especially if you put up some bird houses!

There are a few things you will absolutely need if you are going to get serious about the hobby. First in my opinion is a good bird guide to your area. There are several, and they are all good. Most of them are perfect pocket size. Some of the good ones are:
The next tool is optics, and the old axiom holds true: buy what you can afford. Truly good optics can cost a small fortune, and are made by companies like Nikon, Canon and Swarovsky. The last mentioned is very popular, and all of them can start at $400 US and go up from there. Mid range is good, from companies like Bausch and Lomb, Bushnell and others. Some of these can range from $100 US and go up to about $600. All will work just fine. If you are just getting into it, and don't want to spend so much, look in the local Mart store. I bought a pair of binoculars at Wal-Mart for $16 US, and use them all the time. If I drop them, (and I dropped a $100 pair a while back), there is little loss, since dropping a pair of bins ruins them. These $16 pair work fine, and I can ID birds quite nicely with them, so don't be afraid to start out with inexpensive equipment and go from there. Remember that some of the more expensive optics have lifetime warranties that coverall but the utmost brutality: you get what you pay for. A few things to consider are:
You are well supplied and outfitted, now what? You will likely want to start a life list. Most bird handbooks have a list of all birds in the region, and little boxes to check them off. I use my Peterson's for this, as all the birds are listed in the front of the book, and I can keep track of what I have seen. You might also want to look for birding groups in your area. Some old timers are happy to take a fledgeling under their wing, but be warned; some life long birders are difficult to be around, and have little time for the neophyte. It has become a way of life for them, and anything else is foolishness. You can hang around folks like this and learn from them, just be warned. A little note; I  enjoy newbies, and look at everything out there, not just birds. I may not be the best birder out there, but I have a good time.

Another note here, and it is good for the experienced as well as the fledgeling. When you see a bird, and think you have found something rare or out of its range, CHECK YOUR ID AGAIN and again and again. It most likely isn't what you think it is. Get someone with experience and bring them to the bird if it is still there. Look at everything in the book that looks like it and is common in your area. Most likely you will find it is really a common bird after all. If it is indeed rare, you will have a small measure of fame. If not, and you proclaimed it as a rare one, you will look like a fool, and no one will listen to you after that. I was listening to a radio call in show about birding here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The host had a couple of local experts fielding the calls and a lady was saying she saw  Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in her back yard all the time. You heard utter silence from the experts, and they tried to tell her it just wasn't probable, that they were very site specific (old growth Longleaf Pine forest with hardwood undergrowth, something NOT found in the mountains of NC) They tried to tell her they were likely Downy's or Hairy's, but to no avail. I think she said she saw Ivory Bills too.... (Pileateds are common here.)

When looking at a bird, a good rule is to really really look at it. I never get the bird guide out until the bird has flown. In most cases I can ID it from memory, because I have tried to get in my mind as many field marks (wing bars, flash patches: don't worry about these terms, as they are described in the first few pages of any good birding handbook) as possible so that when I get the book out, I have a good idea in my mind of the bird's appearance.

So there it is. Get your bird guide and binoculars, go out and bird, and above all, enjoy it!