Birdwatching has gained steam over the past year, with folks watching for different birds from their back porch and beyond. If you’re ready to take your hobby to the next level though, that means stretching your wings beyond your neighborhood.
We asked expert birders to help guide newbies through planning their first birding adventure in a productive and inspiring way. With the right resources and a little research, it can be a great experience. Here’s what you need to know.
Attend a bird walk
Bob Duchense, guide for the Maine Birding Trail and birding columnist for the Bangor Daily News, said that a guided bird walk will help you to further develop your skills as a beginning birder.
“Go out with someone who knows what they’re doing,” Duchense said. “Maine Audubon does walks and a lot of land trusts have walks. The people who are leading those walks absolutely love to teach beginners.”
Going on bird walks might also help you to find a community of birders that you can bird with — if that is what you are interested in.
“I’ve met plenty of friends through being on bird walks,” said Nicholas Lund, outreach and network manager at the Maine Audubon Society. “There certainly is a community you can find that way and I would say that’s the best way to do it.”
That said, Lund said birding is also a great hobby for alone time.
“I would say too that it’s a good hobby for people who don’t like to be with other people,” Lund said. “You can really sort of immerse yourself in everything man has to offer without having to make small talk.”
Duchense said not to be intimidated about speaking up — and being wrong — when you are going on bird walks.
“No one should ever be embarrassed to make mistakes,” Duchense said. “The saying that best captures it is if you want to make fewer mistakes, make more mistakes. That’s how you learn.”
Choose your events wisely, though. For beginners, a birding festival — like the Rangely Birding Festival at the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust — might be overwhelming, said Amanda Laliberte, programs and communications manager at the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust.
“Most of the birders that go to festivals are intermediate to advanced,” Laliberte said.
Pick a bird
If you have a favorite bird, plan an adventure around it that will keep you excited about birding.
“One thing I tell beginning birders a lot is to find a species that you’ve never seen and you want to see and figure out how to go see it,” Lund said. “Through that you develop the skills of how to identify things.”
There are certain birding experiences that will really get you hooked on the hobby that beginners might want to consider. Lund recommended canoeing in a marsh, or watching powerful predators like peregrine falcons, ospreys and bald eagles in action. He also said that hawk watches during the fall in places like Cadillac Mountain can be breathtaking because you can see hundreds of birds.
“You go and stand on this high promontory and you watch raptors migrate by,” Lund said. “A lot of the best bird experiences are the ones that give you a sense of the scale of things, the mass of things.”
However, Duchense warned that hawk watches can be frustrating at times for beginners because it can be hard to tell the difference between different hawks.
“Experts can pick out the differences right away and the newbies are perplexed and wondering, ‘How did you do that?’” he said.
One experience Duchense said might be overwhelming for beginners is shorebirds.
“I don’t recommend anyone start with shorebirds because that’s really tricky,” Duchense said. “They all look alike. Most of them go up to the Arctic to breed and then they all come south together in big flocks on the beach. They can be mixed flocks and that can overwhelm people.”
Get out yourself
One of the best things about birding is that you can see birds anywhere you go — so, the experts say, get up and go.
“That’s really the number one thing to recommend is to get out there,” Lund said. “Following the birds is really a celebration of habitats.”
Around Bangor, Duchense recommended the Bangor City Forest, particularly for warblers.
“Walk the road part, or the path,” Duchense said. “If I were walking right now, I could find 10 different species in a half an hour. If you want even easier, walk Essex Woods. Going around those wetlands you usually have a lot of ducks right out in the open, and then there are birds like bright orange Baltimore orioles in the trees and yellow finches and birds that are relatively easy to see.”
If you are going out to see birds, you might want to do a little bit of research about what birds you might see where you are going. Duchense said to start by looking at what birds are usually found in that habitat — but don’t get too deep into the weeds.
“You can get yourself overwhelmed,” Duchense said. “Let’s say in August a lot of ducks come into Essex Woods. Brief yourself on what ducks Maine has and you might be able to pick out some of them. That will help anyone pick out things faster.”
Laliberte also recommended reaching out to an area land trust. Rangeley Heritage Land Trust, for example, has a birding trail with 13 different spots through the region that are known hotspots for all sorts of birds.
Lund said that the ability to get out and explore is one of the best parts of birding.
“In terms of gaining first hand experience it’s probably best done through going on trips,” Lund said. “It’s the best way to commune with nature because birds are all around us at all times in every habitat and every time of year. There’s always something new to discover and a new bird to see.”