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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020


4/30/2009 2:01:00 PM
Seeing Birds -
Baltimore Orioles arrive in Maine in mid-May.  Photo by Don Reimer
Baltimore Orioles arrive in Maine in mid-May. Photo by Don Reimer
by Don Reimer


Successful bird watching involves some acquired skills and techniques, a decent set of optics and a good measure of luck and timing. Often a bird is present for only a moment or two before moving elsewhere. Foraging spring warblers can be hard to spot or track as they flit from branch to branch in pursuit of aerial insects. As one frustrated warbler watcher once lamented, "At first I couldn't see it, and then it disappeared!" Many years ago, I had a similar experience while leading a spring birding trip on Monhegan Island. Our group stood near a large flowering apple tree that contained at least a dozen species of darting warblers. When I pointed out one unusual warbler (perhaps an Orange-crowned) the group's interest increased greatly as several birders mentioned that they wanted this species for their "life list." When the target warbler abruptly vacated the scene, one birder plaintively asked, "Did I see that bird?"

But there are some practical ways to improve your odds of finding (and seeing) a variety of birds this spring. Here's a quick checklist:

1. Visit a diversity of habitat types. Areas around bodies of water are often the most productive. Early mornings are usually the most active time.

2. Watch for movement or motion. Upon spotting a bird, focus your binoculars for that particular distance while keeping your eye on the bird. Simply lift the bins up to your eyes rather than randomly scanning through the treetops.

3. Adjust your optics for your particular visual acuity. First focus your binoculars on an object using your left eye (close the right eye); then close your left eye and adjust the right eye setting until the image is clear.

4. Use your sense of hearing to detect the presence of birds. Even if you can't identify the bird in question by its voice alone, you may find it by observation. By late May, emerging deciduous foliage will obstruct many bird sightings.

5. Check out a bird field guide and learn some of the basic topography of birds. This will make for quicker, more accurate identifications. For example, studying the unique facial markings of spring warblers is often the quickest route to their true identification.

6. Study any live bird as fully as possible before resorting to the bird guide. What is the general shape and size? Does it have wingbars or other distinguishing field marks? Is its behavior unique in some way? You will have the guide long after the bird has fled.

7. Really LOOK at the bird. While this statement sounds obvious, many birders drop their field glasses as soon as a bird is identified. Occasionally I have been privileged to bird with some world-class birders. Beyond their sharp-eyed, split-second ability to identify birds, they often extend their observation period (even for "common" birds) and study the finer details that sometimes result in finding the less common species.





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