Birds. They’re everywhere. Singing their songs, flapping their wings, migrating, pecking, doing their bird-like things. You may see them from your window, or while driving through town. You may see one soaring or diving down.
Birdwatching, commonly known as birding, is the act of watching and listening to birds, studying birds, appreciating birds, spending time – wherever you may be – patiently waiting, observing, and taking in all there is to know about the bird world. Those who birdwatch are called birders, and supposedly there are over forty-five million of them in the U.S. according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That’s correct, forty-five million. Fortunately, the definition for a birder is quite vague, so if you’ve ever intentionally strayed from your home or the path you were on to catch a glimpse of a swooping hawk, a nesting Western Tanager, or a floating hummingbird, you may very well be a birder.
For local resident and veteran birder of thirty years, Lonny Frye, birding is all about intention, patience, and awareness. For Frye, although birders often carry binoculars to amplify their vision, birding is much more about slowing down and embracing the world around you. It’s about observing that Hudsonian Goodwood resting during its migration, or an Orange-crowned Warbler raising it’s hidden crown out of caution. In an interview, Frye compares birding to an Easter egg hunt of sorts, that you can bird anywhere at almost anytime. “You just kind of discover these [birds] on your own while you’re out walking around,” Frye explains. “They’re like ‘an Easter egg that other people might not notice.’”
Step 1 – Prepare yourself
First things first: the basics. Always stay safe and remember that Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance, Pain, and Punishment. Please always follow the principles of Leave No Trace (see graphic below), and these three key rules to practice ethical birding:
• Don’t use bird songs to attract birds. It can be harmful to them.
• Don’t get too close to the birds, disturb them, or feed them.
• Be kind and respectful to others you meet.
Step 2 – Gear
You don’t need much, just some comfortable shoes, layers to keep warm or cool off, food, water, and if you like, some binoculars. They’re not necessary but they certainly help. Frye explained although they are seemingly obvious to use, they do require some technique to be able to lift them to your eyes without taking your eyes off the bird. You may also want a notepad or phone to log what you see, and perhaps a book on birding or a phone app such as eBird.
RIGHT: Celestron Trailseeker 65
Step 3 – Where to go
Boulder County is full of great places to go birding. With so many lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, rolling foothills and dense forests, there are plenty of places to spot your first or your thousandth bird. Here is a list provided by the Boulder County Audubon Society.
• Sawhill and Walden Ponds Wildlife Areas
• Teller Farms
• Shadow Canyon
• Long Lake Willow Car and Niwot Ridge (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
Step 4 – I saw a bird! Now what?
Identify it! How big was it? What color? What did it sound like? Were there any clear identifying marks, such as a stripe or a patch of orange? Did it have a long and narrow beak, or was it short and stout? Identifying is hard but with time comes knowledge and soon you’ll have no trouble realizing it was actually a Lazuli Bunting that you saw, not a Bluejay. Here are some tools to make it even easier.
Books by local authors:
• The American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado – Ted Floyd
• Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America – Nathan Pieplow
Step 5 – Where can I find others to bird with?
In Boulder, there are two groups, one is the Boulder Bird Club and the other is the Boulder County Audubon Society. There is also the Broomfield Bird Club. Click here for more groups to join in different parts of the state.
Frye explained that birding has really been transformed in the past ten years, largely due to new technology making birding and especially identifying birds even easier and more accessible. So whether you’re looking to log hundreds of birds or you are looking to step away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, to listen, to watch, and to appreciate the beauty of life doing its thing, there’s lots and lots of resources to guide you, so get out there and spot those birds!