The buzz was as loud as a flock of hungry seagulls when four birding groups gathered to celebrate a new guidebook by the Smithsonian’s Bruce Beehler last week in Washington, D.C. For many of them, after five months of winter, this was the first chance they’d had to talk about their favorite birding spots, conservation plans, tools of the trade and upcoming outings.
At long last, the highlight of the birding year – the spring migration — is just a week or two from its peak in much of the country, and so there’s a lot to talk about.
The party got us thinking of how much birding advice and wisdom there is, and also about the many people who ask us how to get started. So we sat down for a conversation with Beehler, a Smithsonian research associate at the National Museum of Natural History’s Division of Birds, whose encyclopedic new book is called, Birds of Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. We also interviewed experts from a cross section of the leading bird institutions — Audubon, Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, and the American Bird Conservancy.
On at least one fact, everyone agrees: If you want to be a birder, there’s no better time to start than now. Every spring, about half of the 650 species in the Western Hemisphere are on the move. From mid-February to mid-June, between 4 and 5 billion birds will fly thousands of miles to reach their breeding grounds.
“The birds are singing, and they have their spring plumage,’’ Beehler said. “In the spring, the birds are going to come to you, you don’t need to go to them. They’re going to pass right through your backyard, whether you know it or not. That can be pretty darn exciting.’’
We’ve boiled all of this advice down to six short suggestions for how to make the most of the spring migration. This kicks off a series of posts on preparing for the migration that you’ll find on Flying Lessons in the coming weeks. Many of today’s suggestions are aimed at novices, but we hope they’ll also serve as helpful reminders to anyone gearing up for a new birdwatching season.