Birding for the layperson.
So those of who know me also know the fact that I am a birder.
And then there are many of you who who even know what on earth "birding is".
I think the closest thing I can think of in terms of whats recently been trending would be - birding is the real world equivalent of Pokemon GO (with birds of course).
You might see groups of people in city/state/national parks looking like this
Chances are, they are birding.
I presume you have many questions, and I will try to address some of them (think of the rest of the post as an imaginary conversation between me and an ordinary lay person).
So what exactly is birding?
That is an excellent question. The most common birding routine (but not nearly exhaustive) .
1. Get my really early in the morning (yes I hate it too, I am not a morning person).
2. Drive/walk to the nearest plot of land that has some amount of nature in it (this could be anywhere from an isolated tree to a gigantic national park). It's up to you if you prefer to go alone or with a group.
3. Start listening to birds chirping, looking for movement, and then pointing your binoculars towards it to see them.
4. (Optionally) Identifying the bird by sight (or by sound) and putting that down in some list.
5. (Optionally) Studying the behavior of birds, e.g. what they are eating, are the males fighting over the females ...
Why exactly is birding interesting or useful?
If you liked Pokemon GO, then you will probably like Birding too. For me it's been an a wonderful way to appreciate nature and pay attention to events that we normally are oblivious too. But it really depends on what kind of a person you are. If you like trying out new things, maybe give birding a shot.
As for why its useful, these are the reasons I could think about
1. Its mild exercise, but it helps "preserve you". I am quoting another birder here.
2. It's the ultimate patience builder. Nothing builds patience better than waiting for a great blue heron to strike at its prey.
3. It builds your ability to pay attention to detail/nuances and patterns.
4. If you are a social birder, you get to hang out with tons of new people with diverse perspectives, which help you grow as a person.
Wait so how early do I have to get up?
I typically start birding right when first light breaks down (typically 20 mins before sunrise) and go up to noon wards. Thats when birds are most active.
Of course this is a gross over simplification. For instance many birds are nocturnal (i.e. they are active at night and sleep during the day) like Owls, so you can go birding during dusk too.
But the vast majority of species are most active during early morning, and thats the most optimal time.
You said I need binoculars, what other kinds of gear/equipment I need?
It varies from birder to birder, and while its technically possible to be birding with no equipment, but its best if you have these things
1. A pair of binoculars (usually 8x42 or 10x42, I will get to why in a later post, along with what these numbers mean).
2. A field guide - i.e a descriptive guide book on birds in a particular area. It depends on which country you are at, but I use Sibley's since I live in Seattle - https://www.amazon.com/Sibley-Field-Guide-Western-America/dp/0679451218
3. Appropriate dress/layers - It depends on where you live, but in Seattle I have tons of waterproof gear.
4. (Optional) A Spotting scope. It's like an astronomical telescope, but it keeps the image erect. This is useful when you are looking at birds of prey (like a giant bald eagle perched at a distance) or looking at birds at shores.
There are also other no brainers, like food, water, some kind of transport mechanism if you are traveling long distance (a Car or Uber).
I don't like solo activities. Where do I find groups of like minded people to go birding with me?
It depends on which country you live in, but there are chapters/organizations for birders in many places.
In North America, we have Audubon chapters (named after the famous naturalist, John James Audubon). Seattle has a chapter for it, and its members (me included) go birding together.
This id stuff you talked about sounds hard. Where do I even start?
I briefly mentioned field guides as a part of the equipment to bring along. A field guide contains information about birds in a given area (e.g. west coast of North America).
Let's say you are out in the park and you saw something that vaguely resembles one of those House Sparrows you see in the city. You look at it through your binoculars, make mental or physical notes about its features (e.g. what color was its legs/bill) or its behavior and then check against known sparrows in the area in your field guide. Once you find a match, bingo, your bird is Ided.
Think of your field guide as a pokedex if it helps.
The other useful idea is to go birding with other people who already have some experience. They can help you id birds quicker, and provide you with a treasure trove of information that would help you get better quickly.
I find all of this interesting, but I am still not sure I should spend my free time on this hobby.
Thats of course up to you, and I get it, life is hard and busy. You might have your own set of hobbies or you might be too swamped with work.
All I can tell you is that observing nature brings me immense joy. The vast majority of us are too self observed to pay attention to it and miss out on its treasure trove of knowledge, beauty and potential meaning to our lives.
But if none of these statements resonate with you, consider this. Trying out new experiences and ideas is one of the more profound ways to help make yourself a better person. Closing yourself off the world into your own little islands does not.
I rest my case.