Is this the year you’re finally going to become a bird-watcher? Spring is a great time of year to jump on the birdwagon as the birds return north by the millions.
You’ll need binoculars. There are lots of buying guides on-line, but I think a trip to a store like B&H, where you can actually handle the things — consider the weight — is a smart move. There are lots of good binoculars for birding out there now, so figure out your budget and do your research; it will be your major expenditure in this endeavor (unless you get a ‘scope, but one thing at a time).
A field guide is also essential: I swear by the new classic Sibley and the old classic Peterson, when I am not swearing at them. I find these illustrated guides more effective in the field then the ones with pictures.
Like everything else in our state of decadent capitalism, there are many other accessories marketed to birders, but you probably don’t need any of them.
A great way to start is to go on a bird walk. While some hardcore “bird dogs” can be intimidating (the “full birder” outfit with digital gizmos, puttees, and pith helmet is most definitely something to see, though), most bird-watchers, or birders as many now like to call themselves, are good people only too happy to share their knowledge. A good guide can be a great teacher.
I’ve pulled together a list of some of the local resources to help you get started this spring.
The Brooklyn Bird Club offers free walks of Prospect Park for all comers. There’s one tomorrow at 8am. Regular early morning spring migration walks led by Rob Bate and Tom Stephenson take place Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7am, starting April 19th. See the schedule here. The BBC also offers First Sunday bird walks every month of the year and a full schedule of other trips for members (w/car pool costs). The club’s website also offers details on birding around the borough.
My friend Rob Jett, the City Birder, is now offering tours of Prospect Park Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30am for $8 a head.
My friend Bob DeCandido offers regular tours of Central Park and other spots in the city. $5-10
National treasure Starr Saphir offers $8 bird walks for NYC Audubon on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings in Central Park, April 2-May 30.
For the 1 Percenters among you, NYC Audubon also offers two 5-week series of spring migration courses with excellent guides for $95 each. Morning Spring Migration Walks, Wednesdays from 25-May 23 at 7:30am. Evening Spring Migration Walks on Tuesdays from April 24-May 22 at 5:30pm.
NYC Audubon’s website offers much detail on birding in the five boroughs.
The Linnaean Society of New York offers a full schedule of local walks and field trips. Their Central Park, Prospect Park, and Green-Wood Cemetery trips don’t require registration or a transportation/car-pool fee.
The Queens County Bird Club is also active, but unfortunately I don’t know diddly about them.
Feel free to add notice of walks and things to the comments if you got ‘em.
UPDATE: I had a nice conversation with photographer Peter Colen the other day: he has entered birding through the lens of his camera. So my comment that you need binoculars is debatable.