We don’t have solid statistics to back up this statement, but our guess is birding is the fasting growing element of the Arkansas outdoors.
Birding is today’s term for what the oldtimers called bird watching.
You see birders everywhere and all the time. Evidence was the recent visit of the brown booby to little Lake Norrell in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. It was a first-ever incident of the tropical sea bird to Arkansas, and it brought visitors from 13 states plus those from Arkansas. People from New York and Montana came to see the Arkansas brown booby.
But how do you become birder?
There are no requirements, no formal apprenticeship, no membership fees for just looking at birds. There are modest fees if you join an organization like the Audubon Society. Birding can and probably should start in your own yard.
Here are three suggestions for beginning birders.
First, buy a field guide, available at most any bookstore, Birds Unlimited stores and gift shops of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas State Parks.
Second, invest in a pair of binoculars if you don’t have some already. There are cheap binoculars, and there are good binoculars. Use a pair of high-dollar binocs, and you’ll quickly see the difference.
Third, make friends with an experienced birder. An outing with such a person is a learning experience similar to hiring a fishing guide for the lessons to be learned.
And use the Internet. Here is one useful link, http://www.arkansas.com/outdoors/birding/birds/.
On your first birding venture into the field, don’t go with a crowd of experienced birders. They will overwhelm you with knowledge and with their special lingo. “Hey, I had a MIKI come over and scare off my WCSP and even my RTHB.” The comment means a Mississippi kite frightened a white-crowned sparrow and a ruby-throated hummingbird.
You may hear a faint “peep” in the distance in the woods, and one of these expert birders will immediately say, “There is a blue-gray gnatcatcher.”
Yes, start in your own yard. You probably already know cardinals, male and females, and robins and mockingbirds and “sparrows.” The latter include the overabundant house sparrows or English sparrows which are an invasive species unlike grass sparrows, white-throated sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow and the rare rufous-crowned sparrow that is found on Mount Magazine.
Use that field guide. Many have small illustrations of similar species on pages of a featured bird.
White you are looking at the birds in your yard, pick up some knowledge about their habits. Some feed on the ground, and some fly down to grab a tidbit and return to a tree branch to eat it.
Handy for beginners are parks – city parks, state parks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks. You will find more variety here than in your yard.
Binoculars are extremely helpful, and you will find the experience bird folks using neck straps with their binoculars. Some are big and heavy, powerful enough to rival the search and rescue optics of the military.
A companion device is a spotting scope like those used by target shooters. Birders often use spotting scopes resting on vehicle window mounts. Good binoculars can be 10 or 12 power, meaning that many times magnification of normal viewing. Spotting scopes go all the way up to 60 power, but you can’t hold these by hand without getting shaky views through them
Going with an experienced birder is helpful. Most birders are friendly, and most like to teach beginners. Ask around if you don’t know of such a birder.
Enjoy the game. It’s fun, and it’s as intensive as you want to make it.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.