Reconnect with your inner birder

How do we get more into birdwatching?

A reader asked that question. If you’ve been watching birds for a long time, you have to think back to when you first became involved in this activity.

It’s important to understand why you asked the question in the first place. What piqued your interest in birds? It was a male house finch with its red head that caught my eye.

When one particular bird claims your attention for longer than a few moments, you’re hooked. You want to know what the bird is called. Where did it come from? Is it common or rare?

The best way to answer these questions is by using a field guide for birds.

There are many good ones on the market. They range from guides that cover all of North America’s birds or just the birds in the western part of the country. Others focus on the Northwest or Washington state. Several are designed to cover the birds commonly found in different regions of the state. Book stores and stores that deal primarily in bird-related items usually carry a good selection of guides.

My first field guide sat on the kitchen table for years. Yes, I used it when a new bird was seen in the yard but that wasn’t the primary reason it sat there. I loved looking at the pictures and thinking of the day when I would see some of the beautiful and interesting birds shown in the book.

This lengthy poring over the illustrations paid big dividends when I spotted one of these avian celebrities. I had looked at the drawings so many times that when I did see the bird, I could immediately identify it.

Familiarity with your field guide is important when you become more involved with watching and identifying birds.

A good pair of binoculars is required to really enjoy this activity. Birds that visit our feeders are easy to see but once you venture farther afield in the pursuit of new species, binoculars are important. Hawks and other raptors fly overhead, perch high in trees or on tall cliffs. Water birds are often far from shore. Sandpipers are small, move fast and travel in large flocks. Tiny warblers dart in and out of trees and bushes and are difficult to see well with the naked eye.

Learning to use your binoculars is as important as studying your field guide. It’s not only children who struggle with finding an object with binoculars. Speed in finding your subject and speed in bringing it into focus are equally important. Eventually, you will want to own a good spotting scope to make it possible to see birds too far away for binoculars.

Once you have your optical gear and your well-studied field guide, the next step is to “go a birding.” The world is yours. You can bird almost anywhere. Start close to home in a nearby park or visit a wildlife refuge. For special fun, join a local birding club. Audubon chapters offer a great variety of field trips and the old hands in the group love sharing their knowledge with beginners.

A new year is waiting and there’s great birding ahead, so get out and enjoy yourself – beginner or old-timer. Happy birding.

Write to Joan Carson, P.O. Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. (or e-mail joanpcarson@comcast.net)