March 23, 2011

Wisconsin Birdwatching 101

Five easy tips to help you get into birding

Sandhill CranesBirdwatching is probably the most accessible outdoor activity there is. It’s also one of the most rewarding.  And you don’t need to travel far to experience the very best in birdwatching—Wisconsin just happens to be one of the best birdwatching destinations in the United States.

Here are five easy tips to help you get started in what just might become a lifelong pursuit

  1. Learn to identify common birds by sight – Before embarking on your first birdwatching expedition, get a bird identification guide and thumb through it, looking for easy-to-identify birds you might see in Wisconsin, such as robins, cardinals, blue jays, crows, red-tailed hawks, starlings and red-winged blackbirds. Once you have a good grasp of these birds, move on to harder to identify birds, such as the various sparrows. If you get really good, you can venture into the world of warblers. Once in the field, don’t be surprised if it’s a bit of a challenge putting names to the birds that you see. Over time, you’ll learn to note certain field marks and eventually know hundreds of different types of birds by sight. It just takes practice.
  2. LoonLearn bird songs – The best birders use both their eyes and ears to identify the birds that are around them. Many birders hear a particular species before they find it with their binoculars or spotting scope. A good place to start learning some bird songs is at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  It’s probably the single most useful tool on the Web for beginning birders. You’ll be surprised how quickly you pick up on what makes each bird call unique.
  3. Buy or borrow good binoculars – Binoculars open up a whole new world to birders. A simple walk through the woods can become a birding adventure as you scan the treetops and undergrowth and find dozens of different types of birds. Without the binoculars, you’d only see a fraction of the species that are out there. Spotting scopes are another option for birders. But beginners should start out using binoculars, which are easy to use and carry.
  4. lesser yellowlegsDon’t forget waterfowl and shorebirds – Most seasoned birdwatchers would agree that seeing a rare species of warbler is a real treat. But some of the best birding is found by the waterside. Wetlands and lakeshores offer a chance to see a variety ducks and wading birds, many of them large and quite impressive. Watching a blue heron fishing in the shallows or an elusive sora rail lurking in the reeds is high entertainment for any nature lover. So, when you’re choosing a place to go birdwatching, look for locations with wetlands, ponds or lakes.
  5. Let yourself fall in love – Love? That’s right. If you spend enough time birdwatching, there’s going to be some particular species of bird that you fall in love with. Maybe it’s the way the black-capped chickadee braves the coldest days of winter. Maybe you’ll be captivated by the swagger of the mockingbird. Or perhaps you’ll fall in love with the graceful neck of the glossy ibis. Don’t fight it. It’s going to happen.

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