Learn to Bird
On getting started: “The best way — really the only way — to get started is to go to the fields with other birders. Learn what they can teach you then start learning on your own.” On education: “There’s a massive amount of information for birders out there. You can go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website at AllAboutBirds. org to learn about every bird that you would probably be interested in. Cornell also offers a wide variety of reasonably priced classes that you can take online or download.” On skills: “The real skill in birding is not to memorize every bird, it’s to be able to look at a bird and say, ‘It’s in this sort of habitat. It’s this time of year. What are my options?’ An experienced birder goes through that
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in their head so quickly they don’t even think about it much.” On using your ears: “Birdsong and bird calls are extremely difficult to learn. I won’t make any bones about it. But you only see what’s in front of you; you hear what’s all around you. That’s why learning to bird by ear can be very important. Also, there are many species that you don’t see much because they make it their business to stay hidden, but they’ll still make noise, call and sing.” On field guides: “Field guides come in two basic flavors: Those with paintings and those with photographs. It’s a personal choice. People who love photographs say an artist’s drawing, no matter how good, is not an actual picture of the bird. People who like paintings say they show you more variations in the plumage. The best field guide is the one on your phone because it’s in your pocket — Audubon and Sibley are the best and are about $30 each. They can jam as many pictures as they want in there, so you get all of the different plumages, and you’ll get a nice selection of all of the sounds that bird will make as well as up-to-date range maps and migration times and other information.” On binoculars: “The least you can spend to get a good pair of binoculars for birding is about $100 to $150. Buying them isn’t something you should do online. Go to a store so you can pick them up, get comfortable with them and see if you like the feel of them. Even if you buy them on
Amazon, be sure you’ve held them in your hands first. You want extra-low dispersion glass, and you want to see the word ‘waterproof.’ NOT ‘water resistant.’ If they don’t say waterproof, don’t buy them. For magnification and size, most birders use 8 x 42 or 10 x 50. If you’re a serious birder, the best binoculars are the Nikon Monarch 7. They’re about $500.” On where to bird: “Denton County has a lot of great places. North Lake Park is reasonably good birding all year long, but people usually go there to see ducks in the winter. Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center is my stomping ground. Somewhere between 175 and 180 different bird species have been identified on the property. Isle du Bois Unit at Lake Ray Roberts has excellent birding and so does the Johnson Branch Unit on the north side. Hickory Creek Park, Pilot Knoll Park, Lake Park, Third Creek Park, North Shore Trailhead Park, Meryl Park and of course, LLELA — all 2,000 beautiful acres of it. I’ll be leading bird walks this fall at Heritage Park in Flower Mound.” Scott Kiester relaxes.
Bird photo courtesy of Robert Nunnally via Creative Commons
ome of Audubon Master Birder Scott Kiester’s earliest memories are of his mother pointing out birds and teaching him the names. “I learned to bird at my mother’s side. I was a casual birder until my late 20s or early 30s, then I realized there’s more to it than just identifying the birds.” Now, he says, “I want to be able to talk about when that bird is in town, what it eats, what eats it, what its habits are. I want to know the bird well enough that I can understand how it fits into an ecosystem.” He has been a “serious birder” for at least 35 years and leads bird walks throughout Denton County. We spoke with him about how those who didn’t grow up with the hobby should get started: