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On the lookout

Birdwatching is a fun, rewarding and inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors

  • From left, Lucia Kittredge, Marie Martell, Sue Burns and Doug Bechtel look for birds during The Nature Conservancy's 2nd Annual Earth Day Birding trip at Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Thursday, April 22, 2010. The participants saw 20 different bird species during the trip. Bechtel, who guided the trip, said that spring is a good time to see migratory birds passing through the area.<br/><br/><br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Max Bittle)

    From left, Lucia Kittredge, Marie Martell, Sue Burns and Doug Bechtel look for birds during The Nature Conservancy's 2nd Annual Earth Day Birding trip at Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Thursday, April 22, 2010. The participants saw 20 different bird species during the trip. Bechtel, who guided the trip, said that spring is a good time to see migratory birds passing through the area.


    (Concord Monitor photo/Max Bittle)

  • A hairy woodpecker was one of 20 different bird species that participants saw during The Nature Conservancy's 2nd Annual Earth Day Birding trip at Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Thursday, April 22, 2010.<br/><br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Max Bittle)

    A hairy woodpecker was one of 20 different bird species that participants saw during The Nature Conservancy's 2nd Annual Earth Day Birding trip at Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Thursday, April 22, 2010.

    (Concord Monitor photo/Max Bittle)

  • Chilled chocolate cake.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Chilled chocolate cake.

    Hot or cold desserts.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Dulce de leche topped grilled pineapple.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillry Nelson for the Monitor

    Dulce de leche topped grilled pineapple.

    Hot or cold desserts.

    Hillry Nelson for the Monitor

  • From left, Lucia Kittredge, Marie Martell, Sue Burns and Doug Bechtel look for birds during The Nature Conservancy's 2nd Annual Earth Day Birding trip at Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Thursday, April 22, 2010. The participants saw 20 different bird species during the trip. Bechtel, who guided the trip, said that spring is a good time to see migratory birds passing through the area.<br/><br/><br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Max Bittle)
  • A hairy woodpecker was one of 20 different bird species that participants saw during The Nature Conservancy's 2nd Annual Earth Day Birding trip at Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Thursday, April 22, 2010.<br/><br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Max Bittle)
  • Chilled chocolate cake.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Dulce de leche topped grilled pineapple.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillry Nelson for the Monitor

They’re the squiggles in the corners of our children’s earliest paintings, the harbingers of spring in New England, the thieves of our sandwiches at the ocean. They’re the stuff of proverbs, horror movies and family feasts. They wake us in the morning, provide the soundtrack to our outdoor outings, even clean up our run-ins with wildlife on the road.

When you think about it, birds are practically omnipresent in the average person’s life. Maybe that’s why many of us think of birdwatching as a passive pursuit. It certainly can be, which is what makes it a great hobby for the overscheduled, the noncommittal and the infirm. Stick up a birdfeeder and voila! You’re a birdwatcher.

But for those with an adventurer’s spirit and a treasure hunter’s instinct, birdwatching can be as challenging as you want to make it. Never been on a birdwatching expedition? Here’s some advice for getting started.

Equipment

You don’t need to make a big investment to get out there and find some birds. First on any birdwatcher’s list should be a good pair of binoculars.

“Get the best you can afford,” said Becky Suomala, a biologist at the New Hampshire Audubon Society. “With binoculars you do get what you pay for.”

But before you splurge, Suomala suggests taking time to think about when, where and how you’ll be doing most of your birdwatching. For instance, a person who plans to take long expeditions may want a small pair that fits easily in a backpack, while someone who tends to go out at dawn or dusk may want to select a pair designed for low light viewing. If possible, borrow a few pairs to try out.

In his new book, Birdwatching in New Hampshire, Eric Masterson contends that it’s better to buy high quality used binoculars than cheap new ones. Anything that retails below $100 is likely to disappoint, he said.

In addition, you’ll want a good field guide to birds. Suomala recommends the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds, which you can find on Amazon.com for about $15.

Grab a pen, notebook and camera, and you’re ready to go birding.

Where to go

New Hampshire has a wealth of great birdwatching locales. The Audubon Silk Farm sanctuary, which has open fields and trails that lead to Turkey Pond, is an excellent place to start. “It offers a wide variety of habitats,” Suomala said. She also recommends Horseshoe Pond and Turtle Pond if you want to stay in the Concord area.

If you care to venture farther, try Odiorne State Park in Rye or the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson.

For more suggestions, pick up a copy of Masterson’s book, which categorizes the state’s best birdwatching spots by month and region. A few places you might not have thought of: wastewater treatment plants (only a few in the state allow access) landfills and airfields.

Of course, where you choose to look will dictate what types of birds you find, so if you’re interested in looking for a particular species, you’ll want to study the habitat of that bird and plan accordingly. Weather will complicate things a bit further, affecting migration patterns and visibility.

Strategies

A great way to get started birdwatching is to join a guided walk at one of the Audubon centers around the state (check out nhaudubon.org for events and other great birdwatching info).

“There’s nothing like going out with someone who has experience and can point out the different birds,” Suomala said.

If you’re going out on your own, be mindful of birdwatching ethics. Don’t get so close to birds that you disturb them.

And be respectful of the natural environment, laws and property owners’ rights.

As you make your way through the woods or fields, stay quiet and listen for bird calls.

Pick one out and try to follow it to its source using your binoculars.

The first few times it may take
a while, but you’ll get used to the process and become more familiar with birdsongs and habits as you go.

Resources

There are numerous websites and apps for bird enthusiasts. The NH Audubon’s Beginning Birding Guide is available on its website, nhaudubon.org. Suomala also recommends New Hampshire Bird Records (nhbirdrecords.org) and NH eBird (ebird.org/nh)

In addition to these, Masterson, who also has his own birding website (ericmasterson.com), likes woodcreeper.com, which tracks migration using Doppler radar, and the American Birding Association’s website (aba.org).

For help identifying bird calls, smart phone apps are all the rage. Try iBird, Audubon Bird and National Geographic’s Hand-Held Birds.

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