You don’t have to travel to far-flung destinations to spice up your birding routine. Spending a couple of days, rather than hours, in bird habitat will deepen your understanding of avian behavior and the different niches that species occupy.
By camping out, you’ll experience the changing soundscape of the entire period from sunset through sunrise. Some owls are noisy just after dark and just before dawn, falling quiet for long stretches in between while they hunt. Other owls, meanwhile, may be silent at dusk, cranking up later. A wide variety of other birds contribute to the late-night chorus: bitterns, rails, night-herons, cuckoos, various grassland sparrows, and more. As the moon rises, listen for enigmatic nightjars such as whip-poor-wills and poorwills bursting into song. Then take it easy the next morning: Many birds sing most persistently at first light, and you can enjoy the concert from the comfort of your tent.
While there are zero costs once you’re in the great outdoors, the price of camping equipment can add up quickly. REI and many local sporting goods stores loan tents, sleeping bags and pads, and stoves for reasonable fees, and Outdoors Geek, which offers a basic camping package for two starting at $97, ships nationwide.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or sleeping outdoors for the first time, camping is an immersive experience that will take your birding excursion to the next level.
Drive-up campgrounds across the country offer excellent access to trails where birds abound. Some even have great birding at tent sites: California Condors soar overhead at Pinnacles Campground, while Greater Roadrunners zip around on foot. When the birds go quiet, pull out guidebooks and get to know the trees, wildflowers, and butterflies around you. Campsites at more than 2,500 federal areas, from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, are just a click away at recreation.gov; the website’s Car Camping 101 guide offers excellent advice for a safe and successful trip.
The farther you venture from roads, the more likely you are to encounter wildlife instead of people. A long weekend in the backcountry is ideal for seeking out an elusive species, such as White-tailed Ptarmigan in Washington’s Cascade Range. Always make sure you have plenty of food, water, and warm layers, obtain necessary permits, and inform someone of your travel plans. Visit the U.S. Forest Service’s camping page for more tips.
If pitching a tent isn’t your style, but you still want to slumber in nature, consider glamorous camping, or “glamping.” Lodgings range from walled tents with real beds to plush, all-inclusive experiences with gourmet meals, hot showers, and flush toilets. Glamping.com lists more than 100 tents, tree houses, tepees, and yurts nationwide, some right on the doorsteps of national parks, including Glacier and Zion.