Smack in the middle of bustling Washington, D.C., near the highest elevation of the city’s Rock Creek Park, lies a clearing that’s proven to be a prime spot to see migratory birds.
At dawn every spring morning, some of the country’s best birders sit here, along a stone wall, sharing their wisdom with anyone who happens along. These veterans are beyond generous, throwing out identifications with the glimpse of a flight pattern or silhouette. Lucky for us, this became our birding classroom each migration season while we lived nearby.
We’ve been thinking about that experience as we’ve pondered some questions we believe are more crucial than ever: What’s the best way to make progress as a birder? What helps move you from novice to intermediate, from backyard birder to one who takes birding vacations? And how can we welcome anyone interested in nature to learn what we’re seeing?
The way of birding is definitely a path, and ours started with simple curiosity about what we were seeing on weekend trips to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We’ll never forget our first encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker or the time we stumbled upon an Indigo Bunting singing in a field filled with wildflowers. In the early days, we once followed a flock of vultures for half an hour, wondering if they might be some type of unusual hawk.
Not long after, we registered for a beginner’s bird walk. Our leader pointed out species we didn’t know existed and gave us a peek through his powerful binoculars. The world of birds came into focus for the first time, and that changed everything.