Birdwatching Tips For Fall

Birdwatching Tips For Fall

Fall is an amazing time for birdwatching. Many species are on the move, and with migration comes the possibility of seeing exciting new birds in your area. With the leaves starting to drop, you can often catch a better glimpse of them, and with the cooler weather, it’s often much more pleasant to spend your time out on a hiking trail.

If you’re new to birdwatching, these tips might help you make the most of the season.

Learn the Migration Patterns of Common Birds

Learning not just which common birds move through the area you live in, but how these birds migrate, will give you a lot of information about when to go looking for them. Some birds migrate by night, coming to rest in the morning. Some, like raptors, need thermals to help them lift and are therefore best spotted during the day.

Many species will try to travel during the most favourable weather conditions. Learning about how birds respond to wind patterns and pressure centres can be a big help in planning a birdwatching trip. If you know what peak conditions the birds that migrate through your region are waiting for, you can plan your birdwatching to coincide with the times when flocks of birds are most likely to be on the move.

Dress in Layers

Fall weather can be unpredictable. What starts as a cold, frosty morning can quickly turn too hot for that big jacket you brought with you. Likewise, a sunny afternoon can become uncomfortable and drizzly fast.

Have lots of clothing options with you, either on your person or in your bag. Make especially sure to have a waterproof jacket and footwear on hand if the forecast even hints at rain. It’s a shame to have to cut your walk short because your teeth are chattering!

Invest in a Good Pair of Birdwatching Binoculars

If you’re brand new to birding, you might not want to put a lot of money into equipment right away. That makes sense – you’d hate to spend a lot of money on a new hobby just to find out that you don’t really like it.

Since you need binoculars to really get to enjoy seeing birds in the wild, though, this is a good place to invest a bit of cash. Rather than buy a new pair of cheap binoculars, scout out a used pair that’s a better quality. The more you can see, the more rewarding this hobby can be.

Find a Good Position

Birdwatching Tips For Fall

Keep the sun at your back as much as possible. This will make birds easier to see and to study. It will also make any pictures you take come out clearer. If you’ve taken up a position in amongst the trees, be sure to find a spot where your view won’t be blocked by underbrush.

That said, don’t feel like you need to get deep in the heart of a forest to find birds. Audubon states that sticking to a trail can actually be more productive because “many birds become habituated to humans where they encounter lots of them.” Trails are also more open, which gives you better sight lines.

Look Up

Humans are terrible at looking up. If you ever want to hide something, put it up high somewhere. In the field, it’s easy to get focused on the birds you can see in the underbrush or in the grasses. While you’re watching those birds, however, a falcon might swoop by overhead. Stay aware of what’s happening in the sky, especially during the migratory seasons, and you’ll increase your chances of seeing something amazing.

Have a Process

When you’re on a fall birdwatching walk and there are lots of species around you, you might find you get so caught up looking for detailed marks that you get flustered trying to identify them. To avoid this, Cornell’s All About Birds website recommends a four-step method.

They explain that there are “four keys to visual identification:” size and shape, color pattern, behavior and habitat. Working your way through these keys one at a time, they say, will help “get you to the right group of species.” After that, you can start to look for markings and have a better idea of what you’re looking for.

Take Notes

Even if you have no intention of becoming a lister and keeping track of every species you see, having a journal that records what birds you saw where will be a valuable resource for future trips. You’ll be able to compile information about the weather conditions, days and times you saw particular species, and map out the best spots to see your favourites. That will make predicting the best times and places to go birding next fall much easier.

Connect with Fellow Birders in Your Area

Read local birding blogs, find groups on social media, join a birding club, go on an organized (socially distant) walk. Talking to other birders is a fantastic way to get up to date information on the bird species being spotted in your area.

People who are into birding are also great resources because they usually love to talk about birding. They’re generally more than happy to share their tips and techniques and to share information on bird species, behaviour, great birdwatching sites and more.

Be A Good Steward

Being a good birder means having regard for the wellbeing of the animals you’re looking for. As tempting as it is to get as close as you can to a new bird, respect that human presence is a stressor to them. Keep distance from nesting and feeding sites and minimize how much you disturb birds at all times.

The same goes for the bird’s habitat. Be aware that beneficial insects like bees nest in the ground you might be walking on, and that other species need to prepare for winter without the threatening presence of humans. Stay on trails, respect fragile ecosystems like riparian and wetland environments, and leave nothing but footprints behind you.

Feature image: Miriam Fischer; Image 1: Soumadeep Das