In the pursuit of birds, it helps to know before you go. Planning your trip—no matter how short it is—at home makes things more fun and productive in the field, especially when you’re just starting out as a birder. Besides figuring out where to go, it’s important to check yourself . . . and the weather . . . and the time of year . . . to really capitalize on the adventure.
Here are five things to consider before bursting out the door.
You don’t have to memorize the entire field guide, but it’s a good idea to know ahead of time what bird species to expect. Otherwise, whenever you see something new, you’ll be flipping pages instead of looking through your binoculars. At the very least, take the time to figure out how to use your field guide. Most guides list waterbirds near the beginning and small songbirds in the second half, and many have quick menus inside the front or back cover for easy reference.
[Ed. note: Strycker uploaded a giant stack of bird guides onto his iPhone before jetting off on his global Big Year. You can probably just start with one . . . just make sure it’s a good one!]
Play the Calendar
One of the great joys of birding is watching the seasons change, and admiring the ebb and flow of long-distance migrants. Birds come and go on predictable schedules, and it’s useful to know when and where certain species arrive so that you’re primed to find them. Look for sparrows and raptors in January and February, waterfowl in March, songbirds in April and May, nesting and high-altitude species in June and July, shorebirds in August, southbound migrants in September, seabirds in October, more waterfowl in November, and northern wintering birds in December.
Check the Forecast
I’m from Oregon, where there’s no such thing as a fair-weather birder (except maybe during the summer). A little rain is all part of the great outdoor experience. You can go birding in any conditions, but it’s important to be prepared. Bring enough layers to stay comfortable in the field no matter what happens, so you can keep focused on the birds out there.
Dress for Success
Don’t worry, you need not dress in full-body camouflage to go birding. But you shouldn’t stick out like a neon sign, either. Comfort and practicality are key. What you wear is up to you—birders are not generally known for their fashion sense—but you can’t go wrong with khaki, a floppy hat, a pocketed vest, and comfortable shoes. Leave the noisy clothing at home (Gore-Tex jackets, for instance, can get in the way of hearing all those peeps, trills, and chirps). In general, choose drab, environmental colors to blend in. In hunting season, you might accessorize with a bright red or orange hat—and maybe attract a hummingbird looking for a flower along the way.
Unplug and Go
Nothing can prepare you for your first full-on binocular view of a decked-out male Scarlet Tanager or Blackburnian Warbler. So turn off your phone, switch off your computer, stop reading this article, pack a snack, grab your field guide and binoculars, and head out the door. Birds are everywhere in the analog world, just waiting to be seen and heard by your eyes and ears. Save the tweets, status updates, and Instagrams for when you get home.