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32 • JULY 2017


Field Guides, Mobile Apps and More Discovering your inner birder


Appropriately dressed in neutral colors and observing quietly through binoculars, members of Lincoln County Bird Club demonstrate proper dress and etiquette on a field trip. (Photo by Yvonne Lanelli)

ou’re keen to know the names of those pretty birds flitting around, but where to start? Fortunately for birders, a term preferred to “bird-watcher,” choices abound in both print and mobile apps. Before going out into the field, let’s do a bit of research. Either page through your hard copy field guide or browse websites. My fave suggestions for novices or experts: Are you more comfortable holding a book and leafing through pages at your convenience, marking or highlighting as you go? Hard copy field guides abound. Popular now is “The Sib-

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ley Guide to Birds” by David Allen Sibley, 2nd edition 2014. Look for “Sibley Birds West” for just the Western U.S. Related publications include “Sibley’s Birding Basics: How to Identify Birds using the clues in Feathers, Habitats, Behaviors” and “The Sibley Birder’s Life List & Field Diary”. Reviewers note “the book presents more plumages and subspecies than any other guide.” If a less weighty tome is preferred, reviewers suggest National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, “a pound lighter than Sibley.” That’s good when on a hike, but note that there is no Western U.S.-specific version. Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America set the standard in 1934. It’s part of a Peterson series of guides to mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Guides specific to Western U.S. are also available. Prefer to click rather than page? My three favorite websites are eBird, Avibase and Audubon. One of the most popular is eBird. Its worldwide base is easily narrowed to your specific county with a few tab clicks. A keen birder friend opines, “Since birders are always uploading data, you are always current.” Avibase is also world-wide, free and customizable. I’ve used its fish ID equivalent, FishBase, on scuba dives and find both easy to use. Say “birds” and the name of John James Audubon always leaps to the front. The Audubon (originally the National Audubon Society) maintains an elaborate website, that provides everything from bird ID to photo tips to a magazine for members. Audubon also organizes birding trips and cruises to exotic destinations around the world. After researching, you’re ready to meet the birds. Tuck your hard copy field guide into a convenient pocket or download an app. Or both. Merlin Bird ID app, merlin., is a free, easy to use app for North American birds. Organized into five questions to narrow down your search, it’s user-friendly. One can also take a photo of the bird and match it. Produced by Cornell University, the app claims to work even offline, a boon when birding in the boonies. An advantage of an app is that you can listen to recorded bird calls. Hard copy field guides can only approximate with descriptions and syllables. A disadvantage is that mobile device screens can be difficult to see in bright sunlight. Whether hard copy or app, consider a field guide for your specific region such as Western United States, or New Mexico or even Southern New Mexico. A field guide or app isn’t your only requisite item, however. You

must have field glasses. But you needn’t spend thousands of dollars on a Zeiss lens and tripod. A simple pair of binoculars that slips into a pocket will do just fine. If binoculars are too big for your pocket and you sling them around your neck, consider a chest harness. Your neck muscles will thank you. Birding with a buddy? Each person must carry his or her own pair of field glasses. Switching back and forth is frustrating, defeats the purpose and may lose your buddy. Next, there’s the dress code. Serious birders dress only in neutral colors, the better to blend in with their surroundings and not confuse, or worse, drive away the birds. Even a bright red cap will seize a bird’s attention and alert it to something not quite right. Finally, observe birding etiquette. Although you may think this is picky, look at it from the bird’s point of view. Imagine you’re flying over trees and grass when suddenly, something long points at you and you hear a loud shout. What would you do? Fly away, of course. That’s what a bird does when a human yells, “Look at that!” and points. Thinking it’s about to become prey, the bird flies and alerts other birds. Instead, when you spot a bird flying or perched in a tree, simply turn slowly, face it and direct your field glasses toward it. Do not shout or point. Other birders will follow your lead. When someone IDs it or asks a question, do so in a quiet voice. Remember, birds consider any face with direct-facing eyes a predator. And that pointing arm and finger? That’s a gun! As you bird, remember you’re not hiking. Getting from point A to point B in the shortest time is not your goal. Again, movement makes birds flee. To optimize your birding, find a comfie spot and stand or sit there. Move minimally; talk in low tones if at all. Wonder of wonders, birds will come to you. No, I don’t mean like Snow White with songbirds perching on her finger, but they will alight on branches or land on the grass near you. All you need do is quietly and slowly train your field glasses on them. Mentally note or quietly comment to your companion the bird’s size, shape, color, markings, behaviors and song. When it flies away, look it up or make notes to look up later as you scan for more birds. Congratulations! You’re now a birder! Next time: Putting everything together — Lincoln County Bird Club explores Three Rivers! Award-winning freelance writer/photographer Yvonne Lanelli ( discovered Lincoln County Bird Club and a new world to share with readers.

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