The Audubon Society called birding the single “Greatest Pursuit Available to a Citizen of the Modern World” and “a lifelong scavenger hunt played across the entire earth.” While that may sound like quite the intense undertaking, birding as a hobby is actually rather easy to pick-up and requires very little to get in the game (spoiler alert: just keep your eyes on the sky).
Here’s everything you need to know to get started birding:
Get Outside and Start Watching
You learn best by doing so start by casually watching the sky anytime you’re outside. Consider the habitat and identify a few neighborhood spots where birds tend to congregate. Try to get in their mindset and think about what they may be attracted to. Is it a specific tree? Water feature? Other species it is gravitating towards or avoiding?
Once you find one that interests you, really try to focus on it. Note its silhouette, color, and size. Don’t worry about capturing it on film but really observe the behavior. How does it interact with its environment? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Bird watching is more than just visual cues – it takes all your senses and powers of observation. When you really listen, you’ll notice different species make different noises from singsong chirps to loud, rhymic calls to almost pig-ish grunts.
Pick up a Book (and a Notebook)
With over 800 species in North America, field guides are an invaluable tool to help you identify what bird you’re seeing. They have pictures of each species (either photographs or illustrations), maps of their flight patterns, and auditory information. The Sibley Guide is a popular book in either its full North America version or smaller, more portable Eastern (which includes Texas) and Western editions.
When you begin to try to identify a species, you’ll want to consider regionality and timing along with its physical features. Does what you think it is make sense for the area and the season? Jot some notes about its color, size, shape, and call. Record keeping is an invaluable part of bird watching as most birders maintain a life list of everything they’ve seen.
Download a Few Apps
eBird is a free online database of bird sightings that provides real-time data about species distribution and abundance. It’s a great tool to help you locate birding hotspots as it tracks aviary activity in real-time and reports trends back to the larger scientific community. You can also digitally record your sightings if you’d prefer to document your list electronically.
Other helpful apps include iBird, Merlin Bird ID, Audubon Bird Guide: North America, and Song Sleuth, each which has its’ own unique interface and prompts to help you identify what you’re watching. By narrowing down the shape, color, location, and sound, they’ll suggest a few options for what bird you may have spotted.
Learn the Lingo
As with any hobby, birding has its own unique vocabulary and slang. Juvenile refers to the age of the bird while immature refers to its plumage type (or us if we’re making up inappropriate species names). Then there are the participants. Birders are people who actively hunt down rare birds for sport while bird watching is a more passive backyard activity. There are lifers (those who chase the rarest of the rare), listers (those who prefer checking birds off a list instead of focusing on a select few), and stringers (false reporters). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Invest in Some Gear
It doesn’t cost much to get started birding, but spend a few hundred dollars on an entry level pair of binoculars (Vortex and Zeiss are two favorites). While it may be tempting to grab a pair for under $100, it’s worth spending $250 to $300 for vastly superior images, lifetime warranties, waterproof housing, and lightweight designs. To see even further distances, some birders have telescopes, which have magnification above 20x, some even with eyepieces that can zoom up to 75x. But that’s well beyond what you need just to dabble.
If you’re interested in nature photography, you may be surprised to learn you don’t need any sort of crazy expensive telegraphic lens, you can actually use your iPhone with a digital spotting telescope that your phone clips right into.Of course, if you’re a more serious photographer, nothing compares to a great zoom lens.
Meet the Community
Birding may seem like a solitary endeavor, but everyone in the community is fairly welcoming and shares a common bond. Look up beginner bird walks at your nearest nature center or Audubon Society, which has more than 450 active chapters across the country. There are a number of annual events, clubs, and festivals for birders to meet other birders, which is generally more fun than going out on your own.
Where to Go Birding in Beaumont
If you’re fascinated with the idea of birding, Beaumont is the perfect place to give it a try. Located on two migratory flyways, a number of rare birds are present throughout the year, which means a lot of sightings without too much difficulty or waiting around. The city also makes it super easy with a number of tools available on their website to get you started. There are itineraries, resources, and incentives for you to get out there including the birdie passport, which is a fun multigenerational weekend activity the whole family can complete together.
Beaumont’s location is also awesome because you can explore four different habitats in one day – woods, wetlands, marsh, and shore. To see the largest quantity of birds with the most minimal effort, head to Smith Oak Sanctuary, a rookery where the colorful Spoonbills and egrets’ nest. You can watch what appears to be right out of Wild Planet from various observation decks. Boy Scout Woods in High Island Sanctuaryis another popular birding spot which actually had stadium seating set up along with photography blinds to camouflage your cameras. People camp out there all day watching various habitats. And of course, Cattail Marsh right in town is a wetlands boardwalk and bayou with prime viewing platforms.