Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How I got over myself and got into birding

For me, birding began with a few feeders at my house: a simple crook from Wild Birds Unlimited, a square red feeder with hummingbirds on it, and a cheap seed bell from the grocery store that it took the birds weeks to find. It was a set-up that cost less than $50, but ended up being priceless once the birds started coming.

I could see all the action from my sofa and I would try my best to snap photos of the ones I thought were the coolest.

Baltimore Oriole
I figured out that Baltimore Orioles would hang out in my area during the summer, so I got a special dish for them and filled it with grape jelly (trust me, they can't get enough of it) and waited. The first time I heard that unmistakable Oriole chirp, I was a goner. Those bright orange beauties are still my favorite.

Red-headed Woodpecker
I could attract some pretty neat and striking birdies to my house, but when I first started birding beyond my own back yard, I was kind of at a loss. Where do I go? How will I find them without a feeder to attract them? Will people think I'm weird? All legit questions many birders have... 

Here's how I sort of figured things out:

1.  First and foremost, get over any notion that people will think you're strange for being in public places with binoculars and a camera. These are your tools, if you choose, but not required. Besides, it's been my experience that once you show the naysayers the amazing pictures you captured, they'll think it's neat too, and they will be full of questions for you.

Prothonotary Warbler
2.  Read. Because birding is a hobby enjoyed by millions, there are countless books written about it. Once I started getting really into it, I bought a few at Half Priced Books and they have been invaluable. Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season by Sally Roth was, in my opinion, the best. Over the course of a year I read up on each season and was able to fine-tune my feeders to get the most out of my hobby. I knew I was getting a lot better at birding when I was able to speak about it confidently.

Indigo Bunting
3.  Shop! Who doesn't love that, right?! At one point, I was visiting my local Wild Birds Unlimited store almost weekly. They knew me in there, knew what seed I needed and asked about what had turned up in my yard that season. They have a wealth of knowledge about migrations, setting up feeders, fending off squirrels and how to keep starlings from decimating your feeders. Want to know something? They can't wait for you to ask! And stores are nationwide!
Black-capped Chickadee
4.  Go somewhere new. The world is a big place and every region has different birds that either over-winter or call it home year-round. Getting out of the city was the best way for me to find birds that had eluded me when I lived in Ohio. In Tennessee, some of them are abundant all summer long! Not sure where to find the birds? Look for the nearest wildlife or nature preserve in your area. Chances are it will have trees, a body of water and some peace and quiet. Hey, that's all birds really want in life! Once you're there, I often say birding is like fishing: have a little patience and the birds will come to you.

Summer Tanager
5.  Find a flock! A quick internet search will likely find you one, if not several, groups of people in your area who are just as excited about Birdcast reports, seed clusters shaped like raccoons, and spotting a new bird for the first time.

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