The very best way to learn about birds is in the field. Preferably with binoculars. And with a more experienced birder. In other words, come out and join SMAS field trips! You can find all our upcoming programs in the Calendar of Events. Please let the trip leader know ahead of time if you will need binoculars. We have some to lend for SMAS-sponsored outings!
Most seasons we offer at least one Birding 101 trip that is geared specifically for newbies. But feel free to join ANY field trip. Each event welcomes birders of all levels—especially beginners. Sure, you could go out alone and fret with your field guide or mobile birding app. But take it from those of us who know; that is a painfully slow way to learn. In a small group, you have the benefit of many other eyes scanning for movement—important signals you would miss if you are looking up the last sighting in a book or online guide. Trip leaders sometimes have spotting scopes, too, which bring birds even closer than binoculars.
If you must bird alone as a beginner, please visit only public areas where you can hike without trespassing. Be sure you know how to keep yourself safe as well. Please respect birds and other wildlife by studying the American Birding Association’s guidelines. The goal is to disturb them as little as possible when in the field.
There are a few more things worth studying in advance. Definitely practice using binoculars. First, adjust them properly for your vision, as shown in the video How to Get Crystal Clear Focus with Your Binoculars at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkPzl-VPmo4. Then play with the focus knob to view things closer and further away. In the field, you will need to adjust focus quickly. You might try out the binoculars with visitors to your backyard feeder. Who regularly comes to snack? Use a field guide, whether in print or a birding app, to help you identify some common birds in your home habitat.
Before heading out, study field guides or use eBird to know which species you will likely find in that location. It helps to focus on just a few target birds with each outing. Otherwise, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Know habitats your targets prefer, so you look in the right places.
The final hurdle is bird identification for all those others you will run across. This is perhaps the biggest challenge of learning solo. More experienced birders are adept at recognizing vocalizations and pointing out field marks that confirm a species ID. Please see our Learn at Home page for resources on bird identification.
Are you interested in going birding in Southern Maryland? We’d love to see you on one of our SMAS field trips as well! By coming out with us, you sometimes get access to private areas normally off limits—such as Patuxent Naval Air Station or Cove Point—or parks that are “hidden gems” for birding. In addition, SMAS experts tend to schedule trips at the right times, coinciding, for example, with wildflower blossoms, butterfly season, or the height of warbler migration.
If your visit to the area does not match SMAS outings, check out our brochure, Birding in Southern Maryland. It’s a 16-page resource to help the birding community find birdwatching locations in Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s, and southern Prince George’s counties. Download it as a PDF file. You can print out a paper copy or save it to your smart phone or tablet to use on your next hike.
Photos on this page by Tiffany Farrell.