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razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


A birder is somebody who enjoys watching wild birds as a recreational activity. You don’t have to be a bird expert or a bird researcher to get into birding – in fact, a lot of the world’s top birders don’t have any kind of scientific background at all. It’s an activity that literally anyone can get involved with, no matter your age, skill level, or geographic location. If you like being outdoors, and if you enjoy observing nature and wildlife, you might consider adding birding to your list of hobbies.

So what exactly is birding? Birding (or bird-watching, a term which isn’t used much anymore) is simply observing wild birds, usually with the aid of binoculars, and often includes making a list and a count of each species that you see. You can bird in your own backyard. You can bird in city parks. You can bird while you’re hiking or walking your dog. Birds are literally everywhere, and there’s a tremendous diversity of birds just waiting for you to find. Each species is unique and different. Once you start birding, it’s hard to stop. You will want to see every species, and many birders have a “Life List”, a list of all the birds they’ve ever seen throughout their entire life.

With the rise of the internet, birding has become so much more accessible to everyone. You can use the internet to help you identify birds, there are regional Facebook groups where you can post photos for identification, there are apps like iBird which have sounds and pictures of almost every bird species for a given area, and there’s also a great new resource called E-Bird (http://www.ebird.com). It’s a website where you can upload your bird checklists to a map, where everyone can see what birds you’ve spotted and when. It’s great “citizen science”, and anyone can use E-Bird. All you have to do is create an account and go look for birds. You can type in a species’ name and see exactly when and where it has been observed. You can click on a given location and see what species are in the area. You can compete with your friends and other birders if you want! For example, I am currently the “top birder” in my county, meaning I have seen more birds and uploaded more birding checklists than anyone in my county. Anyone can go online and look at my checklists. I also have some records – for example I saw the first Olive-sided Flycatcher ever recorded in my county, and have the only confirmed breeding record of a Common Poorwill here as well. These are records that will stand forever – my name will always be in the “official” record books for having found these things. People set new birding records all the time! I wasn’t even trying to find these birds, I just stumbled upon them while hiking around.



I got into birding about 5 years ago. I took an undergraduate class in Ornithology, where I learned how to identify most of the common birds of Kansas. From there, I took a couple jobs working with birds hands-on, and now I am completing my Master’s thesis on grassland songbirds. I love birds more than any sane person should. I love all birds – from Juncos in my backyard, to raptors that soar overhead, to little shorebirds running around the edge of ponds, I enjoy seeing them all and observing their behavior.

So how do you get started birding?
Well, the most critical component of being a good birder is learning to identify birds by sight and sound. Sound is very important, because some bird species can only be told apart by their song. I suggest picking up a good bird guide, such as the Sibley Guide to Birds, or the aforementioned iBird if you want to go digital. There are thousands of freely available resources on the web to help you identify birds, including websites with pictures and sounds.



There are so many species of birds out there, it can seem overwhelming at first. I remember when I first started learning bird identification, I thought there was no way I would ever be able to tell the sparrows apart. They’re all just little brown things, right? You’re telling me that there’s more than one kind of sparrow? Well, you’ll soon figure out that American Tree Sparrow has a rufous crown and a dark spot on its breast, while the superficially similar Chipping Sparrow is actually quite different upon close inspection, with no spot on the breast and a dark line behind the eye.

American Tree Sparrow:


Chipping Sparrow:


Many bird species also have unique behaviors – Phoebes and Pewees look similar, but Phoebes have a habit of bobbing their tail up and down while they’re perched and Pewees generally don’t do that. Yes, there are birds called Pewees (Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees) and they occur throughout North America– in fact you have probably seen or heard them if you spend any time around wooded areas! Location can also help you identify species, as well as the time of year. Some birds are year-round residents in an area. Some are summer residents only. Some are winter residents only. And some just pass through during migration. These are all clues that can help you identify a bird. If I saw a bright red bird in the middle of winter, it’s most definitely a Northern Cardinal as they are year-round residents where I live. However if I saw a bright red bird in the summer, it could be a Northern Cardinal, a Scarlet Tanager, a Summer Tanager, or possibly even a Vermillion Flycatcher.

Range maps such as this exist for EVERY bird species, and they are very helpful for identification.




When you start birding, you’ll become an expert naturalist in no time! Pretty soon, you’ll have friends and family members describing birds to you and showing you pictures to identify. Most of my bird ID skills come from spending time outside by myself just observing birds and taking pictures. I go birding with groups sometimes, or with a friend. If I see a bird I don’t know, I take pictures or take notes. What kind of habitat was it in? How did it behave? Did it make a sound and if so, what was the sound like? Was it alone or with others of the same species? Then I go home and look it up, either in my bird guide or online. Most birders are self-taught!

Here’s my county record Olive-sided Flycatcher that I just saw the other day:


You can start birding by yourself or join a birding group. One thing about birders is, we are all a bunch of nerds who LOVE to go on about birds. I would be thrilled if someone asked me to help them learn birds or take them birding, and I don’t know a single birder who doesn’t feel the same way. Birding has kind of got a reputation as an old people’s hobby, which is totally not true! Some of the best birders I know are in their early 20’s. It’s really an activity for everyone. Almost every county or big city has a group of birders who go on weekly or monthly “bird walks” that anyone can join, and most have email listservs or even Facebook pages. Look up Christmas Bird Count for your area, and go with a group this winter! All you need is a pair of binoculars and a love of the outdoors.

To recap why you should start birding:
1. It gets you outdoors and interacting with nature, and can be good exercise too!
2. Birds are everywhere and you'll never come back from a birding trip empty-handed.
3. You'll learn a lot and want to keep learning more about birds.
4. It's fun to be the "bird person" that people ask for bird ID help.
5. There are birding groups everywhere and it's a great way to meet people!
6. You can bird anywhere, alone or with a group.
7. Keeping a bird list gives you a real sense of accomplishment.
8. New websites like E-Bird let you share bird sightings with everyone, and you're contributing to our scientific body of knowledge and understanding of birds when you do this.
9. Birding can be a fun friendly competition if you want it to be, or it can be a solo activity.
10. You can start at any skill level, even if you know nothing about birds.
11. The sky is the limit with birding - you will always have more species to see, songs to learn, and places to explore. You never stop learning when you're a birder.
12. Birds are just awesome!!!!

So go ahead, ask us anything about birding! Why we do it, what our favorite bird is, where we like to go, how we keep track of birds, tips and tricks for bird ID - myself and other birders on this board will be happy to help (and there are quite a few of us)! I am not a serious birder – I am more of a hobby birder. I just started keeping bird lists about a year ago. Before that, I did go birding, but it was just to enjoy being outside and to take photographs (which is another awesome part about birding, you’ll get some awesome photos of cool bird species). Now that there is E-Bird (and a little bit of friendly competition), it’s so much more fun for me to keep lists. And every time I learn to identify a new species, I feel like I have accomplished something. I will forever know what that bird looks and sounds like. I get a little twinge of excitement every time I see a species and I know what it is instantly. To me, that’s really cool.

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 15:56

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BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


Nice OP. I might just add a point about optics. You'll need some sort of binoculars to get going, but this doesn't need to be a huge investment. You'll probably want to stay away from the super cheap models, but you can get very good options starting at ~$200-300. Feel free to ask for recommendations. When you first get started, it's best to stay away from the super-compact ones as well as the ginormous models. Something in the 7 or 8x (magnification) by 40-50 (objective lens diameter) is great, since it will usually give a bright image, enough magnification to see field marks but wide enough to actually find the bird when you raise the binoculars to your eyes, and not too zoomed in that your jittery hands make it hard to see anything. Most models in this price range and above will be waterproof- you definitely want this.

There are times when you will need more magnification, for example, shorebirds, distant perched raptors, ducks far out on the water etc. However, if you go with birding groups or to popular birding locations, you'll often encounter other birders who have scopes. If you really get hooked you might want to invest in a scope but this should not be your first priority if you are just getting into the hobby.

Photography can be a useful tool for the beginning birder as well. Sometimes field marks are difficult to pick out in real time but easier to see when reviewing an image in the field or back home. Photographs are also becoming a great way to document unusual birds. However the multi-tasking can be hard sometimes. If you have a DSLR, you'll want at least a 300mm lens. Bridge/P&S cameras can be used for documentation as well, although they are generally have a harder time focusing on small distant objects.

BeastOfExmoor
Aug 19, 2003
"Mr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash when he was high, high before he ever took those pills, and he's still too proud to die.."

Great first post.

A couple things I would add.

Most of the statewide/regional birding reports still happen on regional listserv's (email lists). Most of the major ones are archived at this site: http://birding.aba.org/

It can be interesting to see what people have posted recently in your area, although it can be a little obtuse if you're not that familiar with birds and what birds are common, uncommon and rare in your area.

For North America, The Sibley Guide to Birds is the current "standard" field guide. There is a large version that covers all of North America as well as smaller Western and Eastern versions. I would recommend the small versions to start for anyone starting out for a few reasons, the main one being that they added text descriptions that aid significantly in IDing and finding the species. They also have more accurate maps, are more portable and are cheaper.

Sibley really is the gold standard at this moment in time, but if you want to check out a photo guide the Stokes Guide.

Edit: If you need optics, the biggest bargain on a starter pair of 8x42's right now is [urlhttp://www.binoculars.com/binoculars/general-use-binoculars/8x42ed.cfm]these 8x42's with ED glass on clearance for $100.[/url] Great reviews for the price.

edit 2: There's a good photography thread in the Dorkroom and the Critter Quest thread sees some bird action as well.

BeastOfExmoor fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 17:28

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


You definitely don't have to spend a fortune to get a good pair of binoculars. I have been using a pair of Leupold Cascade 10x42 binoculars for about 3 years now and I love them. I think they cost around $300. They were recommended to me by a top ornithologist. Another good mid-range brand is Eagle Optics, and I know of a lot of birders that use them. You can get crazy with binoculars if you want to - I know people who use $2,000 + Swarovski binoculars. Personally I would NEVER spend that much. I have used Swarovski binoculars and the difference is noticeable especially in low light, but to most people, not worth the extra cost. Checking pawn shops for used binoculars isn't a bad idea either. They don't become obsolete, the technology hasn't really changed that much over the years. I know a lot of people that are using 20+ year old binoculars.

Honestly what I think is the most important thing to think about when buying binoculars is - how do they feel? If they're too heavy or bulky you aren't going to want to carry them around for too long. I have a binocular harness that I use instead of the included strap, and it was less than $10. It keeps the weight off your neck and you won't even notice your binoculars.

As far as photography goes - I'm totally guilty of trying to juggle a camera and binoculars at the same time. And keeping a checklist too, haha! I'm no good at photography though, I just bought a Canon Powershot SX50. It's not a DSLR but has a 50x zoom which is why I wanted it. This camera is quickly getting a reputation as a "birder's camera" because it does a lot of things a DSLR can do, without the bulk and cost. The 50x zoom is crazy, and definitely good for ID. I've gotten some fantastic pictures with it, obviously not as good as with a DSLR but definitely good to my eye.

I often use my camera instead of binoculars. It actually has more zoom than my binoculars. But it's much slower, often the bird is gone by the time I get my camera zoomed on it. It really is great to get a picture of a rare bird though. If you're just starting out birding and you see a rare species, you may not get it put into the record book if you can't prove without a doubt that you know what you saw. A photo can't be disputed.

---

Here's an article that just came out about ebird and how it's really been a game-changer for the field of ornithology. Never before have so many people contributed so much data about birds. People are doing some really cool things with the ebird data.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/s...ef=science&_r=1

Here's an older article that shows some of the "heat maps" in motion.

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2...d%20week&st=cse

Most of this data was submitted by ordinary people who just love birds. I love when science becomes more accessible to everyone.

Here's a great map as an example of what ebird can do - it shows the records of the Upland Sandpiper over the course of a year. It's just amazing how they suddenly appear in the Gulf Coast around March then make their way north, then descend back down south for the winter. I like this map because you can see the Flint Hills in Kansas (where I work/live) - it's the bright swath that runs North-south across the eastern part of Kansas, obviously a hotspot for this species.

http://ebird.org/content/ebird/occu...land-sandpiper/

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 17:47

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


I agree with the Sibley recommendation. I also think that a real book is going to be better than an app if you really are new to birding. The apps like iBird have one advantage which is they have a sample of sounds. A big part of birding is learning the characteristic sounds of a given species, and having the sound right there to compare is pretty great. In some cases, the birds will even respond to the sound played from your phone, which gives you a pretty good clue you picked the right bird. There are ethical considerations for this since it can cause the birds stress- do it sparingly, don't do it at heavily birded locations, or with rare or sensitive species. More in birding ethics here.

For what it's worth, I'm also a professional ornithologist/evolutionary biologist/behavioral ecologist, although I got into birding at a young age because my parents were already into it. There is surprisingly little overlap between ornithology and birding- most birders do not do it for a living, and many ornithologists study just one or a few kinds of birds and have poor overall ID skills.

Beep Street
Aug 22, 2006

Chemotherapy and marijuana go together like apple pie and Chevrolet.

Are there any national bird protection organisations in America or are they state by state? In the UK we have the RSPB for all things birdy.

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


Almost all birds save for exotic species and game species are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The US actually has some pretty harsh wildlife laws. It's illegal for you to have any part of any bird that is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (which is like 99% of all species here) unless you have special permission, such as being affiliated with a university, research institution, or have Native American heritage.

There are also different levels of protection for species on a state and federal level. For example, the California Condor is federally listed as endangered. But some birds are state listed as endangered or threatened. The Upland Sandpiper is state listed as endangered in a number of states, but in Kansas it's an extremely common breeding resident. The Sandhill Crane is endangered in Ohio, but there's a hunting season for them in many other states.

There's also a lot of controversy surrounding the listing of a bird as endangered. The Henslow's Sparrow has been a candidate for listing for over a decade, and hasn't been listed despite the fact that it only occupies 2% of its former range and is declining rapidly. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is also a candidate for federal listing, but it's actually a hunted species in a couple states.

Yeah what he said too VVV

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 18:14

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


I think the question was more about the organizations? There are two main national ones.

The National Audobon Society is more of the advocacy/conservation organization, also with some conservation research (but not like the AOU, which is our ornithological equivalent of the British Ornithological Union).

The American Birding Association is most involved with actual birding, listing, field identification, etc.

Audubon has state and local level organizations. I'm not sure whether other local clubs are under ABA. Rare birds sightings are reviewed by state-level committees of experts which I assume have some tie to ABA but I'm not sure about this.



editted for moar

BetterLekNextTime fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 18:19

The Monkey Man
Jun 10, 2012

HERD U WERE TALKIN SHIT

What's your favorite sighting ever? For what it's worth, some of the most interesting stuff I've seen while birding has been animals other than birds- I saw deer up close with my dad one time, and got to see carp jumping out of the water during their mating season. I did get to see a clapper rail last year near Atlantic City- they aren't rare, but they're rarely seen because they're almost always in the tall grass.

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


The Monkey Man posted:

What's your favorite sighting ever? For what it's worth, some of the most interesting stuff I've seen while birding has been animals other than birds- I saw deer up close with my dad one time, and got to see carp jumping out of the water during their mating season. I did get to see a clapper rail last year near Atlantic City- they aren't rare, but they're rarely seen because they're almost always in the tall grass.

I'm always pretty excited when I see a Loggerhead Shrike. They're not rare here, but they're my favorite bird and I always enjoy seeing them. They kill things and impale them on thorns or barbed wire so sometimes you will find their "evidence" without actually ever seeing the bird

Here's a picture of a juvenile I took about a month ago.



I also really love to see the shy birds that rarely come out (like your Clapper Rail). I hear Yellow-billed Cuckoos like every day, but I'm always pretty happy when I get a glimpse of one. And the little tiny birds that hang out in the shrubby stuff - Kinglets and Vireos and Gnatcatchers and the like - I love seeing them.

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 18:20

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


The Monkey Man posted:

What's your favorite sighting ever? For what it's worth, some of the most interesting stuff I've seen while birding has been animals other than birds- I saw deer up close with my dad one time, and got to see carp jumping out of the water during their mating season. I did get to see a clapper rail last year near Atlantic City- they aren't rare, but they're rarely seen because they're almost always in the tall grass.

That's a hard question. There's something in birding called a "Nemesis bird"- it's not necessarily a particularly rare species but something that has eluded you for a long time. Mine used to be Goshawk (a big grey forest hawk), and I finally got to see one a few years ago. It was pretty far away and not a very long look but still very satisfying.

One of the sightings that gave me the most chills was a gyrfalcon that flew alongside my vehicle in alaska for a few seconds. Just a super bad-rear end bird. If you've ever been to an aquarium with big tuna swimming around, the gyrfalcon have the same combination of streamlined but powerful.

I work with a species of grouse called the Greater Sage-grouse, and to study the behavior we have to set up blinds on their display grounds before dawn. Being there when the first songbirds (like the super-cool sounding Brewer's Sparrow) start singing, then hearing the first few male grouse fly in and start their weird rear end swish-swish bluckity-bluck display is pretty great.


Sage-grouse displaying at dawn on Flickr

scuzzy pumper
Aug 2, 2007



There are shitloads of NZ hawks where I live now, and falcons too though they are very rare. I've been thinking of climbing a tall tree and building a little platform with a motion-activated camera, and then nailing a rabbit up there every so often to check out the carnage. Think that would work?

Disco Nixon
Dec 16, 2010


I'm a huge bird nerd, so much so that I'm majoring in Wildlife Ecology just to study birds. I'm still a novice though and would appreciate any suggestion for books on watching techniques. My ultimate life goal is to see/photograph every species of bird in America.
Also, I can't ID this gull, it looks like a non-breeding Franklin's but it's not quite right.

BeastOfExmoor
Aug 19, 2003
"Mr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash when he was high, high before he ever took those pills, and he's still too proud to die.."



Beep Street posted:

Are there any national bird protection organisations in America or are they state by state? In the UK we have the RSPB for all things birdy.

Just to add what the others mentioned, there's nothing in the USA with the same power as the RSPB, which is, as I understand it, is a pretty significant political force in the UK. Audobon comes closest, but is not nearly as powerful. There are also groups like Duck's Unlimited which is mainly made up of duck hunters. While it's a bit counter intuitive, these hunting groups do a ton to help create and preserve habitat used by not only the species they hunt, but also hundreds of other species of birds as well as other flora and fauna.

Birding is a much bigger hobby in the UK as well. There's a lot of differences in birding culture as I understand it as well. The most odd of which, to me, is that if you're seen in the field with a bird book you're looked down on in the UK. In the US, almost nobody ventures out without a bird guide of some sort, partially because there's hundreds of more species possible.

The Monkey Man posted:

What's your favorite sighting ever? For what it's worth, some of the most interesting stuff I've seen while birding has been animals other than birds- I saw deer up close with my dad one time, and got to see carp jumping out of the water during their mating season. I did get to see a clapper rail last year near Atlantic City- they aren't rare, but they're rarely seen because they're almost always in the tall grass.

I'd have a hard time nailing down a particular bird. I agree that I really find the experiences most enjoyable in retrospect. Yea, the day I chased a Common Eider, Wilson's Plover, and Hudsonian Godwit last year on the Washington coast was really incredible (3rd state record and 2nd state record for the first two), but they weren't that amazing as experiences. I have a lot more fun "finding" a bird rather than chasing another bird someone else has found which plays a big part in that.

Overall I'd have to say all my "lifer" owls have been my favorites. I got a look at my first Northern Saw-Whet owl, a bird I'd looked at pictures of in books since I was a small child, last fall and that was incredible. It's not even rare in my area, but it's just not an easy bird to locate and especially to see. Snowy Owl was the first bird I ever "chased" and I did so with my dad who had always told a story about thinking he saw one when he was kid.

Disco Nixon posted:

Also, I can't ID this gull, it looks like a non-breeding Franklin's but it's not quite right.


I'm not really familiar with either species, but looking at Sibley, I would say Laughing Gull (common in the east and SE along the coast). Laughing Gull has that much heavier bill and darker primaries*. That one may be younger since it has all black primaries.

Gulls are an interesting group in that they are easily seen but hard to identify. There is not true "seagull", but rather dozens of species (around 17 in North America), most of which look very similar. Because Gulls can often end up thousands of miles away from they are "supposed" to be they're a favorite for birders to look for. The features that distinguish species are often as minor as the color of the 1mm of skin around the eyes and as the base of the bill.

*Primaries or Primary Feathers are the feathers on the wing that are sicking out at the very back of that photo. They are the long feather along the back of the wings that provide most of the lift in flight.

BeastOfExmoor fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 20:15

Wayne Gretzky
Aug 4, 2007

by elpintogrande


How does the community handle "bird liars"? Like if a person says they saw a bird and you think that it's a made up lie... like how could this person get so lucky to see all these rare birds and stuff something is fishy etc. etc.?

BeastOfExmoor
Aug 19, 2003
"Mr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash when he was high, high before he ever took those pills, and he's still too proud to die.."

Wayne Gretzky posted:

How does the community handle "bird liars"? Like if a person says they saw a bird and you think that it's a made up lie... like how could this person get so lucky to see all these rare birds and stuff something is fishy etc. etc.?

It depends. For birds that are rare on a state level there is typically a "bird records committee" that reviews rare bird reports taking in to account all evidence at hand to decide if they accept the report and add it the accepted records. They can be very strict and not only decide if the bird was the species you say it was, but also if it was naturally occurring or if it is there by human assisted means.

For birds that are not rare enough to hit the committee, it's just kind of peer pressure. I am currently doing a "big year" in the county I live in and so am paying attention to every siting reported on eBird. One person in particular has had some incredibly questionable sightings and it really annoyed me. I actually have a personal list of birds who says he saw that I'm almost certain he didn't. Turns out others have had similar experiences.

The one thing you have to understand is that your credibility is everything in the birding community. People with reputations for misidentifying birds, even rarely, eventually become "the boy who cried wolf" and people no longer pay much attention to them after a while. Since the only glory you get in birding is the respect of your peers, there's very little to gain by making things up.

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


Just to expand on the "bird liars", I think the community for the most part recognizes a couple kinds of people- birders that should know better, and those that don't. If you are clearly a beginner and accidentally mis-ID a bird, most people are pretty patient with this kind of mistake, and will try to be helpful in explaining why your rare bird X was probably a more likely bird Y. If you are suspected of continually posting rarities that are never corroborated by yourself (with photos) or by other people, you'll basically be dismissed by the community. This is actually something of a service to be self-regulating like this- since these sightings, whether on eBird or listerv messages, are seen by people outside of the local community who would like to know something about the likelihood that the sighting is authentic in case they might want to travel in to see it.

ammo mammal posted:

There are shitloads of NZ hawks where I live now, and falcons too though they are very rare. I've been thinking of climbing a tall tree and building a little platform with a motion-activated camera, and then nailing a rabbit up there every so often to check out the carnage. Think that would work?

This isn't much different than a terrestrial game cam- just don't set it up close to a nest it should attract scavenging raptors.(you're talking about a dead rabbit right?) You might want to check with whatever the wildlife agency is to make sure there aren't any regulations to be aware of.

BetterLekNextTime fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 20:51

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


Wayne Gretzky posted:

How does the community handle "bird liars"? Like if a person says they saw a bird and you think that it's a made up lie... like how could this person get so lucky to see all these rare birds and stuff something is fishy etc. etc.?

Even something like ebird, which is basically volunteer data, has people checking the records. So your sightings don't get put on the website for a day or two until somebody reviews it, and there's a specific person responsible for the records submitted for each area.

Basically as others have said, a lot goes on your reputation. Some people that are new to birding tend to jump to the rarities rather than just accepting they saw something common. I once has a long discussion with a guy about a photograph he had on his desk of a hawk - a Cooper's Hawk. They're very common here. He said he took the picture at his backyard bird feeder, a place Cooper's Hawks often hang out looking for a songbird snack. He swore up and down that a "bird expert" told him it was a Peregrine Falcon and nothing I could say could convince him otherwise. He just wanted it to be a Peregrine Falcon so badly. I also know a guy who swears that he saw a group of 80 Whooping Cranes. Which would be... pretty freaking crazy because it would be the largest group of Whooping Cranes anyone has ever seen in one place in history, it's like half of the entire wild population. He didn't get pictures, no one was with him, he's not really a known birder so we all believe they were Sandhill Cranes.

I had a guy work for me who, over the course of the summer, "saw" an Inca Dove (turned out to be a Common Poorwill), a Carolina Parakeet (those are extinct) and a Crescent-chested Warbler, a Central American species. We used to joke that if he saw a bird he couldn't identify, he just flipped to the very back of his bird guide that shows the ultra-rare species.

I used to get a raised eyebrow now and then whenever I saw something questionable (especially by my Master's adviser, haha). Now, most of the birders in the state at least know my name or know who I work for. Partially this is because I post a lot of my photos on the Kansas Birding facebook page, which is run by a couple of the official record-holders, and also because my adviser is one of the top birders in the state. So, I'm deemed to be pretty reliable I think

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 21:12

BeastOfExmoor
Aug 19, 2003
"Mr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash when he was high, high before he ever took those pills, and he's still too proud to die.."

razz posted:

Even something like ebird, which is basically volunteer data, has people checking the records. So your sightings don't get put on the website for a day or two until somebody reviews it, and there's a specific person responsible for the records submitted for each area.

This is only true for bird flagged as rare. Basically every area (county, usually) has a list of birds common for each week of the year. If your bird doesn't appear on that list it gets flagged as rare. Everything else goes through without question, for better or worse. I've seen some pretty egregious ID issues with common birds in my area, typically high altitude species reported in the middle of Seattle at sea level.

Mathematics
Jun 22, 2011


So why isn't it called bird watching any longer?

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


BeastOfExmoor posted:

This is only true for bird flagged as rare. Basically every area (county, usually) has a list of birds common for each week of the year. If your bird doesn't appear on that list it gets flagged as rare. Everything else goes through without question, for better or worse. I've seen some pretty egregious ID issues with common birds in my area, typically high altitude species reported in the middle of Seattle at sea level.

Oh I didn't know that, somebody told me that all the lists got checked beforehand. I figured that's why it always takes a day before my lists go live on the site. I've only been using ebird since early this year so I don't really know much about the inner workings.


Mathematics posted:

So why isn't it called bird watching any longer?

I don't know, that term just kind of fell out of favor. Maybe because "bird-watching" implies a more passive activity, like watching birds at a feeder or just incidentally sighting them? When I hear of someone going out birding, I assume that they are out physically walking around looking for birds intentionally.

I don't think I've ever heard someone say "I'm going bird-watching today", they usually say "I'm going birding" or "I'm going out looking for birds today".

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 22:36

No Real Pattern
Mar 17, 2006

Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!

Great thread OP. I started birding about 2 years ago after deciding I wanted a new hobby and thinking about what would be a good fit for me. I like to be outdoors, I like photography, and I like collecting things. Bam! Birding! I mostly focus on the photography side of things and can highly recommend the Cannon Powershot xs50 HS. Amazing optical zoom and a very simply camera to operate for novices. Takes great high-speed photos as well for birds in flight. Here are a few photos that I like


Western Bluebird


Black Necked Stilt


Great Blue Heron


Green-tailed Towhee


Osprey

I highly recommend giving it a try, especially if you already like hiking. It makes normal hikes feel more goal-driven, and researching whatever birds you've just seen on a hike afterwards feels really rewarding, especially when you can look at them later and id them correctly. I'm still definitely in the amateur category, since I don't devote a ton of my time to it. I have a blog where I post a profile of a bird I've taken a picture of once a week if anyone is looking for semi-educational semi-entertaining bird related material.

I'd be happy to answer any questions for people who are curious about getting into it.

No Real Pattern fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 05:12

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


No Real Pattern posted:

Western Bluejay
Western Bluebird?

Yes I love the SX50. It's so great for birding! I've never tried to take in-flight pictures with it though. It does give an amazing level of detail for a sub- $400 camera.

Your blog is really nice, I have always thought of making a birding/nature blog. I'd probably do it for a month or two then forget about it though.

I don't really devote a lot of time to birding either. I spend all summer looking at birds for my Master's research, so I pretty much bird all day at work . I'm excited about doing the Christmas Bird count this year though. Being the only birder in my county has got some people curious and I have noticed a couple new people birding in this county over the past week or two.

I have been wanting to get out and look at shorebirds. I think I may do that tomorrow. There are some cool migrants coming through, and the Great Plains are a great place to see some rare (rare-ish) species this time of year.

And please talk about how you got into birding, I got into birding because I study birds and just incidentally started birding because lots of people in my social circle bird, but it's nice to see all kinds of people trying it out! A lot of the "top birders" or people on ebird with the most checklists just keep track of birds when they go on walks or walk their dog and bam - they're the top birder because they get 1-2 checklists submitted a day!

A birding checklist is a great addition to a morning hike

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 23:51

greenchair
Jan 30, 2008


Is there any time of day that's better for birding, or are some times of day are better for some species rather than others? Do you typically go out and see whats there, or do you "hunt" a particular species?

Can you help me I.D. a bird I saw in Vermont a couple months ago? I don't have a picture. It was small, somewhat fuzzy, very round, and entirely blue, like if a chickadee had been painted blue. It made a fast clicking noise. I thought it might have been a mountain bluebird, but I don't think that thats the right range.

Thanks

Wayne Gretzky
Aug 4, 2007

by elpintogrande


BeastOfExmoor posted:


For birds that are not rare enough to hit the committee, it's just kind of peer pressure. I am currently doing a "big year" in the county I live in and so am paying attention to every siting reported on eBird. One person in particular has had some incredibly questionable sightings and it really annoyed me. I actually have a personal list of birds who says he saw that I'm almost certain he didn't. Turns out others have had similar experiences.

The one thing you have to understand is that your credibility is everything in the birding community. People with reputations for misidentifying birds, even rarely, eventually become "the boy who cried wolf" and people no longer pay much attention to them after a while. Since the only glory you get in birding is the respect of your peers, there's very little to gain by making things up.

Hmm... ok. Thanks but not interested then.

Kawalimus
Jan 17, 2008

Gronk! I'm Kawalimus! My hobbies are birdwatching and the worst Super Bowl winning team in the history of the world! Gronk! Gronk!


I'm kind of infamous on another board on here for my bird adventures. So I'm glad to see this thread!!! I recently got to see a Painted Bunting in the state of MD and that was fun. I've birded since I was a kid but have recently decided to step up my game and become a better birder.

But one thing I can't stand is PEEPS!!! These things mess with my mind. My brain won't let me understand them in the field. I know Least Sandpipers have yellow legs but you can't always see that. I try and try but my brain says no. It drives me bananas. I feel like you need the best spotting scopes to even begin to do this crap with these. Doing shorebirds this summer almost destroyed my birding confidence. But it was worth it to see stuff like Red Knot and Marbled Godwit.

Last winter when we had the big finch irruption I was going birding every week before the Ravens playoff game since I just knew they were going to lose. So the birds would help me deal with it. I saw Redpolls and Crossbills in MD before each game but then the Ravens kept winning. Then on the Superbowl I went and saw some more Crossbills and went to a parking lot to see a Black-headed Gull. Then the Ravens won the Superbowl so it made it a really cool experience for me.

Kawalimus fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 00:51

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


greenchair posted:

Is there any time of day that's better for birding, or are some times of day are better for some species rather than others? Do you typically go out and see whats there, or do you "hunt" a particular species?

Can you help me I.D. a bird I saw in Vermont a couple months ago? I don't have a picture. It was small, somewhat fuzzy, very round, and entirely blue, like if a chickadee had been painted blue. It made a fast clicking noise. I thought it might have been a mountain bluebird, but I don't think that thats the right range.

Thanks

Early morning is almost always better- birds sing more then, and are more active as they need to go eat something after not eating all night. Not that it's not worth going other times, but you're likely to see and hear more from dawn through mid-morning. The exception to this might be coastal shorebirds when timing it with the tide may be more important, ducks where it doesn't matter much, and owls.

Sometimes I go after a few specific target birds, and other times I'll just go out to see whatever, or go for a "big day" to see as many species as possible.

Maybe your bird was an Indigo Bunting?

Wayne Gretzky- it's not an entirely a who-knows-who network thing at least in areas where there are a lot of birders. If an unusual bird gets reported, the word gets out quickly and more often than not at least one other birder gets to see it as well. If there's a pattern where someone's odd sightings never get seen by others, or the person is not very helpful in reporting them quickly or with clear location information, it does raise alarm bells. People only have to deal with their own confidence if it's their own listing, but when the sightings are reported on public lists it's good to have some checks what gets reported.

Kawalimus
Jan 17, 2008

Gronk! I'm Kawalimus! My hobbies are birdwatching and the worst Super Bowl winning team in the history of the world! Gronk! Gronk!


Birds also often become more active in the evening. I remember when I was in Oregon that's when I would hear those Swainson's Thrushes start going off. I love their song!!!

Wayne Gretzky
Aug 4, 2007

by elpintogrande


BetterLekNextTime posted:


Wayne Gretzky- it's not an entirely a who-knows-who network thing at least in areas where there are a lot of birders. If an unusual bird gets reported, the word gets out quickly and more often than not at least one other birder gets to see it as well. If there's a pattern where someone's odd sightings never get seen by others, or the person is not very helpful in reporting them quickly or with clear location information, it does raise alarm bells. People only have to deal with their own confidence if it's their own listing, but when the sightings are reported on public lists it's good to have some checks what gets reported.

How many good normal sightings do you think I would have to have before someone would believe me if I said I saw some really crazy poo poo ?

Aquila
Jan 24, 2003

Ein Bier Bitte

To add another viewpoint on the binoculars for birding thing, Canon image stabilized binoculars are phenomenal for birding. In my opinion this feature out performs anything else you can do short of using a tripod for your binoculars or a very good scope at double the magnification (on a tripod of course). I recently bought a pair after using a decent pair of Docter 8x30's for 15 years and the difference is amazing. An added bonus is that you can use them for stargazing without a tripod as well.

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


Wayne Gretzky posted:

How many good normal sightings do you think I would have to have before someone would believe me if I said I saw some really crazy poo poo ?

If you got a decent photo, there wouldn't be an issue. Without a photo, if your description of the bird was really careful, people would still believe it. This would mean attention to the relevant field marks and behavior and consideration of the more common species that are similar. In many cases it's not a trivial undertaking to ID an out-of-range bird- you can imagine the issue with a million common birds and some variation in what they look like- maybe one just sat in oil, has a deformed bill, weird feather wear...

No Real Pattern
Mar 17, 2006

Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!

I just want to state for everyone who might be somewhat turned-off by it that you don't have to do the whole ebird thing, or really submit reports of any kind. I would imagine that most birders probably do so in a somewhat solitary way, and just keep track for themselves. I've often wondered about the whole bogus-bird-sighting issue, and I imagine the hobby is low-stakes enough that relatively few people would make something up for 'cred'. I think most people probably bird for personal achievement and/or relaxation.

razz posted:

Western Bluebird?
Right, that's what I said (it's IDed correctly in my list, I swear!)

INTJ Mastermind
Dec 30, 2004

It's a radial!

Yay a birding thread! The Sibley's iPhone app is pretty great, that and the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America app are what I use primarily when I'm out birding.

For new birders, you'll quickly find that the hardest part isn't the identification, it's finding the drat things in the first place. Most birds are pretty small and like to stay in dense cover or way up in the trees. Listen for their calls, use your peripheral vision and look for motion. Find it with your eyes first, then use your binoculars. Just scanning around a tree with binos won't find you the bird. Also get into the habit of scanning the sky and looking on top of telephone poles while driving for hawks.

When I was starting out, going on bird walks with my local Audubon chapter (just google CITY NAME Audubon) was a great way to learn about birds. Basically an experienced birder leads a small group around a park and points out birds to you for a couple of hours. Great way to learn the local birds and to find good birding spots. It's easy to get complacent when you're being spoon-fed ID's, so make sure to ask tons of questions about exactly what they're looking at to make that identification, and more importantly, how to tell it apart from similar birds.

Re: Fake bird sightings - not really a problem since no one's birding for money or fame. Unless it's your idea of a practical joke to send a bunch of birders out into the middle of a swamp. In this day and age, a photo is pretty much expected if you report a rare sighting. Don't have your telephoto lens with you? Holding up your iPhone camera to your binoculars or spotting scope works just as well for a quick and dirty ID-quality photo.

BTW, any goons in the Los Angeles area interested in birding?

INTJ Mastermind fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 05:57

Kawalimus
Jan 17, 2008

Gronk! I'm Kawalimus! My hobbies are birdwatching and the worst Super Bowl winning team in the history of the world! Gronk! Gronk!


Even if you have no camera, as long as you give decent field notes about what you saw people probably won't shoot you down, in my experience. Usually there's someone that lives close by that can check fairly easily to see if they can find the bird and if they don't it's no big deal since that sort of thing happens all the time. Lying about birds is pretty pathetic and pointless, so I don't think many people do it to begin with.

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


No Real Pattern posted:

I just want to state for everyone who might be somewhat turned-off by it that you don't have to do the whole ebird thing, or really submit reports of any kind. I would imagine that most birders probably do so in a somewhat solitary way, and just keep track for themselves. I've often wondered about the whole bogus-bird-sighting issue, and I imagine the hobby is low-stakes enough that relatively few people would make something up for 'cred'. I think most people probably bird for personal achievement and/or relaxation.

Exactly. The competitive aspect of birding is TOTALLY OPTIONAL. Many, many people keep bird lists just for their own enjoyment and no one else ever sees their lists but themselves. Lost of people have lists of backyard birds, first arrival dates, late departure dates, unusual sightings, etc and do it for the pure enjoyment of birds. I never kept lists until this year, I just birded for fun. All I have is a mid-range pair of binoculars and a camera.

The people that get really hardcore into birding aren't representative of birders as a whole. This thread kind of reminds me of the Hunting Megathread (if you've ever read that) - there are LOTS of novices and new people that do just fine and have a lot of fun, and a handful hardcore people that have all the top-of-the-line gear and basically dedicate their entire lives to the sport. Those hardcore people are obviously going to post in the threads a lot more and make it seem like you have to be that intense if you want to do it right which is definitely not true. I hunt all the time and I don't know what 95% of the stuff the people in the hunting megathread are even talking about.

You don't have to be intimidated because you can start birding at any skill level, and make it as competitive or not as you want.

Birding can be whatever you want it to be.

INTJ Mastermind posted:

Re: Fake bird sightings - not really a problem since no one's birding for money or fame. Unless it's your idea of a practical joke to send a bunch of birders out into the middle of a swamp.

I think it's not so much fake bird sightings(like someone literally making something up), as misidentifications. Some people really, really, really want to be able to say that they saw something rare, weather for their own personal triumph or to brag to people, I have no idea. But if you are involved in the birding community and submitting sightings for official records, there has to be some sort of error control, right? With birding, the only way to do that really is to either build up a reputation, or to get a photo. Don't get discouraged and think you're going to get "shunned from the community" if you misidentify some birds. Just be aware that if you're new to the game, and you submit rare sightings, it's going to turn some heads and you need to be able to back up your sighting.

One year I did a Christmas Bird Count when I was just getting started birding, and I saw a couple of Hermit Thrushes. Everyone I was with kind of gave me a look and was like "Really? That's pretty unusual. That would be the first documented Hermit Thrush on this CBC count ever". But I was confident in what I saw and later on, my group saw the Hermit Thrushes. So you have to be willing to back up your sightings, but also don't be afraid to admit you're wrong. I've misidentified stuff millions of times and been called out on false sightings before, it happens, even the experts misidentify stuff ALL THE TIME. That's how you learn. You don't start out an expert.

But I swear to god I saw two Cerulean Warblers one day on Fort Riley .

I didn't get a photo, only saw both birds briefly, didn't hear them make sounds, and there are a few other birds in the area that could be confused with something super-rare and unusual like a Cerulean Warbler in Kansas. This is the kind of stuff people are talking about - I saw these "Cerulean Warblers" years ago before I really got into birding. Was that really what they were? Probably not, it's possible, but I'll never know. Am I going to submit that as an official record? No, it would never get accepted with my spotty description and lack of hard evidence.

The more I think about my "Cerulean Warblers" the more I lean towards Lazuli Bunting. Tiny bird, very vivid, blue on the back, blue head white belly, two white wing bars. Like I said, this was before I got into birds and of course a Cerulean Warbler is much more widely known than a Lazuli Bunting, right? Because Ceruleans are so rare, people know about them and you hear about them way more than you would ever hear about a Lazuli Bunting. This is how you can accidentally jump to the wrong conclusions while birding.

razz fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 16:23

BetterLekNextTime
Jul 22, 2008

It's all a matter of perspective...


As razz said, the social and bookkeeping aspects are basically as important as you want them to be for your own enjoyment. Except for the super-hard-core twitchers that only care about numbers, the birds come first for most people. I enjoy solitary birding just to get some alone time and emersion with nature. Birding with other people is also really fun, and I definitely learn a lot more too, whether it's being with people more experienced than me who can help me ID things, or if I'm explaining things to other people, often I find new ways to see the important field marks or pick up on details I hadn't really retained before. There's hardly ever a bad day birding- even if it's not species rich there will usually be some good or favorite bird that you get to see, and even if that's not the case, you can spend time watching common birds do their thing. Snowy Egrets are dirt common where I am, and I never get tired of watching them look for food.

The eBird data collection is just a way to contribute to our understanding of bird populations. Previous data collection has either been fairly local in space (e.g. one wildlife refuge), or time (Christmas Bird Counts around the new year, Breeding Bird Surveys). eBird gives us ways to estimate populations year round and all over the country. Some places have pretty good coverage, but others don't and any sightings would be really valuable there. In Wyoming there are entire counties that zero to very little coverage for months at a time.


I'm in the Bay Area and might be up for some birding occasionally. No Real Pattern- looks like you might be as well?

BeastOfExmoor
Aug 19, 2003
"Mr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash when he was high, high before he ever took those pills, and he's still too proud to die.."

Mathematics posted:

So why isn't it called bird watching any longer?

This was actually a fairly significant deal from what I understand. Somewhere around the 70's many of the more serious, and younger, birders felt the need to differentiate themselves from the Jane Hathaway stereotype that existed back then. Rather than passively looking at whatever birds they happened to find they went out and chased rarities, did big years, etc. They created the term birder and took offense at the bird watcher term. I think a lot of that sentiment is now gone and if I'm talking to someone who may not know the "birding" term I'll say I go bird watching.

Most of my knowledge of this subject comes from a really excellent book called Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman. When he was 19 years old Kenn set off to see as many birds as possible in one year and hopefully set the record. Since he was 19 and had almost no money he did so by mostly hitchhiking. It really is the movie about birding that should have been made, rather than The Big Year.

Wayne Gretzky posted:

Hmm... ok. Thanks but not interested then.

Wayne Gretzky posted:

How many good normal sightings do you think I would have to have before someone would believe me if I said I saw some really crazy poo poo ?

Sorry if I made it seem a bit rigid. It really isn't. As others have stated, if you can describe what you saw and how you ruled out the more common alternatives.

razz
Dec 26, 2005

Queen of Maceration


BeastOfExmoor posted:

Most of my knowledge of this subject comes from a really excellent book called Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman. When he was 19 years old Kenn set off to see as many birds as possible in one year and hopefully set the record. Since he was 19 and had almost no money he did so by mostly hitchhiking. It really is the movie about birding that should have been made, rather than The Big Year.

This is a really great book, even if you aren't into birds. It's a cute little story, super-readable and entertaining. I suggest picking it up!

It's quite interesting because he did his big year before the internet and cell phones. So he and his birding buddies had a system where they'd use pay-phones to call each other and report rare sightings. Just imagine how hard that would be.

The Big Year was dumb. I mean, it was entertaining, but really not all that accurate. It wasn't made for birders obviously.

Cage Kicker
Feb 20, 2009


End of the fiscal year, bitch.
MP's got time to order pens for year year, hooah?


SKILCRAFT KREW Reppin' Quality Blind Made


I've always liked spotting different kinds of animals and trying to identify them, but I had no idea birding is so well-developed as a hobby! I'm lucky to live in an area within a stone's throw of the ocean and some fairly deep woods, I'm definitely going to be keeping up on this thread!

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BeastOfExmoor
Aug 19, 2003
"Mr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash when he was high, high before he ever took those pills, and he's still too proud to die.."

Kawalimus posted:

But one thing I can't stand is PEEPS!!! These things mess with my mind. My brain won't let me understand them in the field. I know Least Sandpipers have yellow legs but you can't always see that. I try and try but my brain says no. It drives me bananas. I feel like you need the best spotting scopes to even begin to do this crap with these. Doing shorebirds this summer almost destroyed my birding confidence. But it was worth it to see stuff like Red Knot and Marbled Godwit.

For the unitiated, "peeps" is a term used to refer to the species of small sandpipers that are roughly sparrow sized and tend to feed in large numbers. They can be really tough to ID, not only because their distinguishing marks are subtle, but also because they move around constantly and fly often.

This was my first spring looking for shorebirds. It was way easier on northward migration because all the birds are adults in breeding plumage. When they head south you start mixing in juveniles and adults molting out of breeding plumage and it becomes a crap shoot. I'd say that optics will only get you a little ways. Having the light behind you and being able to get a bit close are really, really helpful. Experience is huge as well. I quickly realized that Least Sandpipers and Western Sandpipers, our two common species, actually hang out in different spots in the places I find them. Least's will often be completely out of the water, running around on the mud while Western's will be up to their bellies much of the time.

If you want to study up on shorebirds, this book is really excellent. I linked to the CamelCamelCamel link because it's currently pretty expensive on Amazon, but sometimes drops down really low. Worth setting an alert for. The best part is that almost all the species photographed have several photos that contain multiple species next to each other. It really helps to compare them next to each other.


razz posted:

The Big Year was dumb. I mean, it was entertaining, but really not all that accurate. It wasn't made for birders obviously.

Interestingly, the book it was based off of is actually very good. They just completely changed a ton of info for no real reason.

BeastOfExmoor fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 16:43

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