Birdwatching is a fantastic hobby, easy to pick-up and fairly simple to start doing. Even for American’s living in the densest urban and concrete jungles, birds are usually still present. Thanks to the plethora of affordable digital cameras and spotting scopes, plus the wonders of bird identification made easy both online and in low-priced birdwatching guides, the hobby has never been more accessible. This summer is a great opportunity to start this hobby and here are a few pointers to get you outside and birdwatching like a pro!
Become familiar with the more common species of birds in your area. Most major cities have birdwatching groups and websites where you can learn about the local birds. Be sure to pick up a bird species guide, like the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America or the The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.Both offer a lot of information on a wide variety of birds you will likely spot flying around your local parks and neighborhood. Alternatively, try out the popular online bird guide, WhatBird.
For many American’s, there are at least 1-2 decent parks with a fair number of birds in them a few miles from home. If you are really fortunate, you may live close to a Wildlife Refuge, especially a National Parks one. These offer fantastic opportunities for wildlife viewing, in particular, birdwatching. An easy way to find near-by parks is to visit Google Maps, zoom into your city/region, and look for listed parks. I’ve found nearby parks using this method that I had no idea existed, even though I lived close by for years!
Buy a decent digital camera with a fairly powerful optical zoom. It is fine to have a normal 3-5x optical zoom digital camera for most situations and hobbies, but birdwatching is one activity in which you really need great zoom. It is extremely hard to sneak up (and often not possible) on birds to get better, close-up photos. Unfortunately, the price tag on most powerful cameras deters many shoppers. However, there are some decent starter cameras with great zoom at an affordable price, one popular model is the Kodak EasyShare Z950 12 MP Digital Camera. It sports a super nice 10x optical zoom, and retails on Amazon for under $150 (at the time of the writing). There are also several other models available from other camera companies that have high optical zoom for under $200. Be sure to buy a good camera carrying bag and shoulder strap to keep your hands free when needed, check out eBay or Amazon for sweet deals on these items.
Another option for photographing the lovely wild fowl you come across is to try out digiscoping. This is a fairly new style of birdwatching many people have embraced and basically involves shooting photos through on a digital camera through a telescope or binocular. Some cameras actually come built in on binoculars, but this is more commonly done by enterprising individuals figuring out the best settings for shooting photos with a “point and shoot” digital camera through a spotting scope or other device. Check out a more in-depth exploration of digiscoping in this excellent article by Clay Taylor at Birdwatching.net here.