Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Beginning Birders in Orange County

Mourning Dove on the lawn near Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park

I have always liked nature. As a child, I was fascinated by the birds in our San Gabriel Valley backyard. I watched a mockingbird build its nest, listened to mourning doves as I took my nap, and watched the antics of scrub jays in the yard. So, back in 1981, when I was looking through a Coastline College Catalog, and I noticed two unusual classes entitled "Inland Birds" and "Coastal Birds," I was immediately interested. I signed up for both classes and managed to get a friend to sign up for the second one. We both still birdwatch. I have left Orange County and returned and birded the whole time.

Birders in general have always had a reputation for being, well, nerds. Pictures of intelligent, bespectacled, khaki-clad, knobby-kneed people come to mind when birders are mentioned. Yes, some of us are nerds--some of us even wear khaki--but you will find all kinds of people who birdwatch from doctors to motorcyclists and from elementary-age children to grandmas and grandpas. And birders have fun and enjoy the natural world around them.

The benefits of birding in Orange County:

1) Focusing on the beauty of the natural world is revitalizing. It refreshes and relaxes you.

2) You begin to find moments of joy as you go through the day. You spot a bird as you walk across the parking lot at work, and instead of just ignoring it, you appreciate it and know what you're seeing. You smile.

3) You get exercise. You walk, you hike, you breathe fresh air.

4) Anyone can do it. Even the disabled can watch at home or from a car or an accessible pathway. Even the blind can recognize the song of a bird and know its habits.

5) You notice the seasons change. Gosh, do we have seasons in Orange County? Yep, we do. The plants change and the birds around us change plumage, migrate, nest, and raise their young. You appreciate the changing world around you that you never saw before. You appreciate the cycle of life in your world.

6) You learn about plants and animals and gain a sense of appreciation for the world around you and a sense of awe. There is so much more beauty living right around you than you have ever imagined. People sit outside at work smoking and talking on their cell phones not realizing that three kinds of hummingbirds are drinking nectar from the flowers, black phoebes are perched on the tree branches watching for insects, and red-tailed hawks are soaring overhead. Once you bird, a whole new and wonderful world opens up to you. You will be impressed by it.

Birders and their spotting scopes out in the San Jacinto Wildlife Area

I could go on, but you get the idea. So how do you get
started on this great hobby?

1) Get a field guide about birds.

There are lots of them out there and you will want to take one with you. Check out my Bird Guide Reviews .

2) Get yourself some binoculars.

Binoculars help you get a close-up look at the birds. Save the spotting scope for later. Birding optics can get pricey, so shop around. You will want one that helps you see the birds clearly and is easy to have around your neck for a few hours.  The first pair of binoculars I used were a ancient pair of binoculars that my mother-in-law was kind enough to lend me. Unfortunately, they felt like they weighed about 20 pounds and gave me a pain in my neck. Next, I got a much lighter pair of zoom binoculars. Still heavy by today's standards, I use them because they zoom to 20x and help me see a distant bird. Most of the spotting scopes people set up on bird walks are too high for short people like me, so I just zoom my binoculars and see about the same view as everyone else. I also have two pairs of lighter binoculars that don't zoom, but are easier to wear around your neck. I lend them out to nonbirding friends and family I bird with who don't have a pair. I am short and near-sighted so my zoom binoculars are perfect for me. Consider your own sight and comfort before you buy. Sea and Sage Audubon lends out binoculars for birdwatching at their San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. So you can try a pair out and see how it feels. It will give you an idea of what you might need. There is often someone in their store who can give you some advice. The point is try some out and see what fits for you and your needs.

Sea and Sage Audubon House in Irvine at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

3) Get out and be around other birders.

You can check out some of the Orange County birding links on my blog's sidebar for field trips or classes, or check out the Sea and Sage Audubon link. Sea and Sage has several field trips a month. They are free and you don't have to be a member to go, but you might end up joining just for the fun of it. Sea and Sage is where I really learned to bird after my community college classes ended. I met a group of people at Sea and Sage who loved to share their knowledge of birds. And they actually have classes! There is a charge, but these classes are taught by expert birders who will teach you a lot. They even have field trips to exciting places outside Orange County. And they have speakers, events, and a monthly newsletter. Sea and Sage is a good group. I spent 18 years in the San Fernando Valley and came back and there are still great people in Sea and Sage.

The benefits of going on a field trip in Orange County are:

A) It is safer. If you stumble and break your ankle there are people to help you. And you are less likely to get lost in places you have never been. (I was actually on a hike in Los Angeles in which someone did trip and get injured. Luckily, one of the other birders was an MD. There's a lot to be said for some khaki-clad, bespectacled nerds!)

B) There are more people to spot birds you may miss, and so on a field trip, you see more birds. ("Hey, isn't that a Costa's hovering over your head?")

C) People who know much more than you will take the time to teach you about birds and bird watching. They share their binoculars, and spotting scopes. Give mini lessons on how to identify birds in the field. Point out unusual birds to you. You benefit from building up your skills in the field practicing bird watching with seasoned birders.

E) You make new friends. You socialize with great opening lines like, "Is that a yellow-rumped warbler or a yellow-breasted chat?"   "How about those house sparrows?"  As you get out there and bird, you meet people and get to know them. You can even get involved as a volunteer and get to know people even better by volunteering with them.

Those are the basics of birding in Orange County. Birding expands your world, revitalizes your soul, exercises your mind and body, and is just plain fun! Birders enjoy Orange County even more than non-birders because we see so much of the wildlife and natural areas in Orange County. It is a beautiful place. Now you know what to do. See you on the
birding trail!

OC Birder Girl Links

Birding Code of Ethics from American Birding Association

Bird Guide Reviews

About Binoculars

Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California

Book Review: Good Birders Don't Wear White

The Christmas Bird Count

Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay

Orange County Bird Checklists

Parts of a Bird


What Birds Eat--Terrestrial Invertebrates

External Links and Resources

Audubon: Birding Basics
What it takes including patience to succeed in birding.

Do you have a question about birding, feeding wild birds, or birds in Orange County? Go to Ask the OC Birder Girl and ask your question.

Click on the picture above to go straight to Amazon and read about or buy this book or others.

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Gloria said...

I love your Blog. You website design is not only user friendly, it is pleasing to the eye and packed with information any birder can use. Thanks for creating a place where I can share comments with other like-minded birders. You photography is great!

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Thank you for all your kind words. I am hoping to make this a place with lots of helpful information for birders of all levels. Glad you found it helpful. I am glad that you liked the photos. I certainly enjoyed taking them. Thanks again, Gloria.