Birding is a blissful way to spend a day with your pals, and If you were to pick any month to try seeing birds, May is a GREAT month for birding: Migratory birds have arrived from South and Central America, and they are all vocalizing, in breeding plumage, and making babies!
It doesn't matter where you are in the northern hemisphere--this time of year you will hear birdsong even through the din of city noise. I love to get out with my buddies, and sometimes my son, to get a closer look and listen to our feathered neighbors.
Last week I also had the chance to raise money for bird conservation while out birding. May is a big fundraising month for bird organizations. I joined the Board of Directors for Seattle Audubon Society (SAS) last month and right away we set a date for our group birding day for the annual fundraiser known as "Birdathon."
Birdathon premise is this: We dedicate a single day to seeing or hearing as many different bird species as we can identify in a single 24-hour period, and ask our friends to give pledges to our organization accordingly.
As friends and family were welcome on this group trip, I invited my twin sister Gilia and friend Emily to join. There were about 15 of us among 6 cars, and I volunteered as a driver. Our car was all gals, ranging in "birdie" experience from "born-to-it" (sis and I), to "master birder" (fellow SAS board member Jen) to "brand new" (Emily).
Quick geographical summary: We started in an urban park in Seattle at 7:30 a.m. and ventured east across the Cascade mountain range for a total trip of over two hundred miles, ending in Vantage, WA on the Columbia river at about 4 p.m.
To give you an idea of the terrain we covered, think lush lakes near salt water (Seattle), old growth forest (Cascades), dry montane (Cle Elum), agricultural (Ellensburg) and shrub steppe desert (Whiskey Dick and Ginkgo).
How do we know where to look?
Our trip leader was an experienced birder, who has been to these areas multiple times to know them as great places for seeing a variety of birds. Washington State also has a fabulous guide to birding, put out by the Washington Ornithological Society, called A Birder's Guide to Washington. Your own state may have such a book, or you might try finding bird lists online for nearby parks and natural areas to have a starting point for what you might see where.
Here are some tips for where to look for birds:
- Near water. Birds rely on water for food (bugs, fish, everything else). Think rivers, ponds, lakes, marshes, deltas, lagoons, beaches. Fresh water, brackish water, salt water--you'll find birds near water.
- Forests. Birds rely on healthy forests for food at every level of the canopy, so look on the ground, in the branches and in the air.
- Agricultural areas. Birds are easier to see in agricultural areas as space is wide open. Birds are attracted to waste grain, the insects and rodents that are also attracted to that waste grain, as well as the water provided by irrigation.
These ideas should get you started even if you are a beginner! The above three habitats have never failed me, no matter where I am in the world, wondering what bird I am looking at (cos' believe me, I am a beginner birder the minute I leave Seattle!).
Click here for the list of what we saw, and where.