Whether you’re an expert or just a beginner, here are ten pieces of advice to help you make the most out of your birding adventures.
1. Plan your outing
Many of the stops on the Great Missouri Birding Trail (GMBT) are in close proximity to each other, so birders can visit multiple areas in one outing. Use the GMBT map to identify the location or locations you want to visit, and the trailheads where you want to park. Be prepared: pack accordingly, including binoculars, field guide, water, snacks, insect-repellent, proper footwear, etc.
2. Know your gear
Be familiar with your optics and field guide or birding app. You may only have a few seconds to view a bird before it disappears into the foliage. All birders keep a guide on their person or in their vehicle at all times. Wear clothing and footwear that is appropriate for the terrain.
3. Dress for success
Be aware of the weather and the terrain when planning your clothing and footwear. Drab colors will help camouflage your presence. Don’t forget the sunscreen and insect-repellent. If you will be out for the day, bring a snack and drinking water.
4. Be a good listener
This is a critical component to locating and identifying birds. Don’t be in a hurry - remember, birds are always on the move. Oftentimes, you will hear a bird before you see it.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Put a birdfeeder and small water feature in your backyard and try to identify the birds that visit. Drive or walk to your local park or nature center to better familiarize yourself with common backyard birds in your neighborhood. The more familiar you are with common birds, the easier it will be for you to identify seasonal migrants.
6. Take time to observe
When birding, learn to stop, look, and listen. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a field notes page dedicated to this subject). Study what makes the bird stand out and take notes. Look at the bird’s beak, body shape, overall size, color and field markings. Pay attention to what type of habitat you’re in and watch the bird’s behavior. Is the bird looking for food on the ground, or is it picking insects off leaves in the tree canopy? Field notes are critical to bird identification, and your observations will help you greatly in learning to identify birds.
7. Get involved
The Audubon Society is one of many organizations that will help you enhance your birding skills. In Missouri, we recommend joining the Audubon Society of Missouri, or your local Audubon Chapter or birding club. We cannot over emphasize the need to network within the birding community, there is so much to learn and so many qualified birders that are eager to help. Almost all birding clubs, Audubon Chapters and other organizations have birding outings lead by a qualified birder to help you enhance your skills. Take advantage of these organization’s and their members and watch your life list grow.
8. Use online resources
Your smart phone, tablet, or computer are great tools to enhance your birding skills. There are also some excellent websites committed to birds. A favorite of many birders is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds; it is a must for any birder.
9. Have fun!
Enjoy the experience. Birding is fun and, like any new experience, it takes time and commitment. As any birder will tell you, we all learn something every time we go birding.
10. Respect nature
As a birder, it is important to remember that the purpose of the GMBT is to instill an ethic of conservation. The theme of the Trail is to connect you, the birder, to the birds and the habitat in which you are birding. Then to ask yourself; what can I do in my backyard, or back forty, to create better natural habitat for birds?
Regardless of where you bird on the Great Missouri Birding Trail, chances are you will see someone with a set of binoculars around their neck. After all, there are tens of millions of us out there and that number is growing. Stop and say hello; talk birds and compare notes, you never know there may be a lifer down the trail. Make a new friend and expand your network in one of the most popular and fastest growing outdoor activities in the United States today.