Bird Walks for Everybody

birdwatchingI have led hundreds of bird walks. It’s rewarding to me to tell people about birds, how to identify them and some interesting life stories about them. It’s a real pleasure to see kids get a kick out of identifying birds because it gives me hope that they might become adults who see the importance of protecting habitat and wildlife.

I’ve led field trips in all kinds of conditions, including howling winds, rain storms and blisteringly hot weather. Invariably, the participants still enjoy the time outdoors. Once I met a bus full of senior citizens at the Gray Lodge Waterfowl Refuge on a very stormy, rainy day. I boarded the bus with a few waterlogged students who had been out with me in the morning and we reveled in the warm dry air in the bus. But I began to wonder how interested the passengers were in birdwatching as we drove around the viewing route. The mature riders were dressed in their Sunday finest – women in dresses and heels and men in leisure suits. The windows were all fogged up, and it appeared that the only bird many of them were interested in was a bottle of Wild Turkey being passed around. But they had fun. On the other hand, I have led a similar bus trip to a couple of refuges the last several years for Elderhostel (now called Roads’ Scholar) and the passengers were ever so delightful, interested in birds, and interesting themselves. It’s truly a treat to see how people in their very mature years are so motivated to learn new things, like birding.

Every hike is a different experience due to the size and composition of the group. My smallest group numbered one and my largest 80; the latter was not very successful, of course. But I have enjoyed every single one of the walks. But I am continually surprised at the number of folks who show up without binoculars. I try to make that clear in advance, but at least half lack them. It’s really difficult to point out birds to anyone without binoculars. You can pay a wide range of prices for binoculars, but you can get a decent pair for under $50 and even useable new ones for under $25. It’s not as if binoculars are a specialty item only for birdwatching; obviously they can be used at sporting events, traveling, concerts, camping, stargazing, hunting, and so on. Get a pair. I recommend either 7×35 or 8×42.

Don’t get the large 10x50s as they are too heavy to carry; likewise avoid the 8 x20 that are light but have such a narrow view that birdwatching is difficult.  After 50 years of birdwatching, I have used, damaged, destroyed, lost, and otherwise abused several pairs of binoculars. (I discovered that they slide off of car roofs and sink beneath water rather easily.) But I decided it was time to get a special pair for myself – image stabilizing binoculars. Riding in a car or boat or train doesn’t make for good birdwatching with binoculars; neither do shaky hands. Push a button on these puppies, and the image settles down. Pricey, oh my, yes, but I got a relatively inexpensive pair for a cruise in the South Pacific.

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