When you read my blog, you might assume that my favorite hobby is quilting. Or maybe knitting. Or cross stitching. But actually my two very favorite hobbies are reading and bird watching. I do both of these far more than quilting, knitting and cross stitching combined.
Today I'll be sharing with you why I enjoy birding so much and my favorite birding supplies. Next Monday I'll be sharing tips + tricks and my favorite birds I've been fortunate to see!
Chop & I met in a bird identification class in college. I was fascinated by birds, the fact that they are literally everywhere and I knew nothing about them. I wanted to learn all about them so I could paint them. He was a wildlife biology major in college. I loved the class, we'd walk around and learn about different local birds and Chop & I got to know each other. I loved listening to him talk about birds and his life outdoors- it was unlike anything I'd ever known. New England city girl meets rural Northern California boy.
As our relationship grew, I became absolutely obsessed with bird watching. I constantly was picking Chop's brain, asking him questions and just being genuinely curious (bordering on obnoxious) about birds. Our weekends typically involve car trips to go bird watching. But even just walking around town we keep an eye on whats around us! I've gone from being completely oblivious about birds (ok, nature in general ;)) to being very aware and conscious of my surroundings. It brings an awesome sense of joy because literally anyone can go birding! You can live in a city and still see great things (next post I'll share with you a good story about this!), one thing I see often on instagram is that "I get to see lots of neat things because I live in a rural area" and while that's partly true, it's more that I'm aware of my surroundings now. Bird watching makes you become very deliberate in what you see when you are driving, walking, etc. I think at this point, I might take birding far more seriously than Chop does. Bird watching to me is sort of like a very advanced game of hide & seek! However, in the grand scheme of bird watching, we are very laid back. We don't have super expensive equipment, we wear tshirts & jeans, we bring coffee with us, we don't belong to any organizations - it's a just a combination of enjoying of what we get to see and being outdoors together.
We are very fortunate that our home is less than ten miles away from a wildlife refuge. Often times we'll run over there in the evenings, even just for an hour. You never know what you'll see. I typically keep lists each time we go, I write each and every bird I see from the time when enter the refuge until we leave. I keep track in my Filofax Personal Domino because it's what I always have in my bag. Chop uses a Rite in the Rain. I previously used the notes app on my phone but this is working more for me right now.
If you are a smart phone user, there are some neat apps available! If I see a bird that I've never seen before, is not typically found in a certain location, or something really unique I use an app called Lifebirds! It will let you add a bird to your list with the GPS coordinates and notes. I know this isn't something for everyone but I found it really handy last spring. I'm looking forward to comparing and seeing if I can catch a glimpse of some of the same birds that migrated through last year. Another great app is called Merlin Bird ID, it's a very beginner friendly app for bird identification. You start by adding your location, then the date, then the size of the bird, the main colors, where the bird was and it creates a list of possible birds! It contains a bunch of photos and descriptions. I liked using it in Texas because a few times I didn't have a field guide with me and I wanted to get a general idea of what the heck I was looking at! There are many field guide apps available, Chop has a few, I personally do not, mostly because my phone is almost always full. ;)
My all time favorite birding book is The Sibley Guide to Birds. If you buy one birding book- make it this one. It is a chunkster (624 pages!) and will take up space in your bag but it's lush. The introduction alone is worth the book: it has equipment for birding, variation in appearance, learning calls and songs, etc. So.much.information. And Sibley is a fantastic artist. Typically I'll bring this with me in the car but I don't often carry it with me when I'm walking. I'll explain a little bit more about this in my next post! This book has taught me a lot. For example, I was feeling concerned that the local white pelicans were becoming deformed! They started getting these giant lumps on their bills...well...Sibley informed me that the lump is normal- it's a sign that the bird is in breeding season, lol!
I recently got Chop The Bird Watching Answer Book, mostly as a joke because I ask him questions nonstop. It's a pretty fun little book, it has information on birding etiquette, nests, migration, etc. It's written in a very friendly and conversational style- super beginner friendly!
And then my most recent fun find...bird flash cards! I like to quiz myself on how fast I can ID them (have I lost you yet, Dear Reader? Clearly this a new kind of nerdiness I'm sharing with you today!) Obviously these aren't necessary but they are fun. I can imagine kids would enjoy them too!
Birding doesn't require binoculars but they are helpful! Some folks bird by ear, I prefer seeing them. I have poor eyesight and struggled for years trying to find a binocular that worked for me. I have to wear sunglasses during the day, sometimes I wear contacts, sometimes I wear glasses. I wanted something that felt comfortable, crisp and fast/easy to adjust in all those situations. My biggest suggestion is to visit your local sporting goods store and try out as many pairs as you can. We have a bunch of pairs, often when you purchase a rifle scope they'll come with binoculars so I borrowed pairs from Chop or my father-in-law. And they were really nice but they weren't quite right. I was the Goldilocks trying to find the just right binoculars. Finally one day when we visited Bass Pro I spent a good few hours trying different pairs and I found a pair that works great for me! They are called Leopold Yosemite BX-1 10x30mm Clamshell. They weren't super expensive in terms of binoculars (around $140) which can range from $100 to $2,500. I tried a range from $70- $1,000. I went into it with a $300 budget and this was the pair that worked best for me. Amazon has some similar pairs here. Audubon has a post dedicated to binoculars that is helpful in terms of explaining optics but I truly think that the best thing you can do is ask friends or family if you can try their favorite binoculars or visit a sporting goods store. I also knew that I can't hold things in my hand very long so I picked a light and compact clamshell style pair. I couldn't be happier with them. They are quick to focus, nice and crisp and not bad in low light conditions. Also they came with a great warranty which is important because...clumsy happens!
If you maybe aren't into nature (I understand!) but want to see some great birds in your facebook feed, here are some of my favorite pages! I like the following three pages if you are local- they'll share refuge photos of birds, scenery and the occasional farm dog! My favorites are Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, California Rice Commission, Sacramento Valley Water. Not local but other great bird related Facebook pages are: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, David Sibley, InkDwell, MetisBirding, Project Feeder Watch, USFWS Migratory Birds, USFWS Refuge System, Pheasants Forever (yes- hunting related but also conservation.)
My blog post next Monday will share a few birding stories and my favorite tips + tricks. I'm not a pro by any means but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and if it's something I can talk about, I'll add it to Monday's post :):)
(this post contains affiliate links to amazon)