Observing the natural world requires curiosity, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Still, on a birding trip you need more than good character traits. Experts recommend the following:
1. A good field guide. Keep it simple. Start with one good one.
• “Birds of Southeast Texas and the Upper Texas Coast,” by Gary and Kathy Adams Clark;
• “Kaufman Guide to Birds of North America” by Nora Bowers;
• “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region” by John Farrand and the National Audubon Society;
• “National Geographic’s Field Guide to Birds of North America”;
• “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 6th Edition”;
• “Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America” by David Allen Sibley; and
• “The Handbook of Texas Birds” by Mark Lockwood.
Along with your field guide, be sure to have a copy of “The Birders Checklist of the Upper Texas Coast.”
And, a local bird list, “Great Birding On and From Galveston” available at www.galveston.com/birding/birdingchecklist.pdf or from the Galveston Island Nature Tourism at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.GalvestonNatureTourism.org.
Cellphone and tablet apps are a newer, popular source of field identification. There are many apps but two are recommended:
• Texas Birds, a smartphone application provides the identification of 25 birds for free; extra birds available for less than $1.
• A free app called Merlin ID was created by the Cornell School of Ornithology.
Other resources are: “Birdlife of Galveston” by Jim Stevenson.
Look for waterproof binoculars that focus easily and have at least 8x magnification. The best options also have 30 mm to 42 mm front lens. The larger those “objective lenses” are, the more light can pass in and the brighter the view is. Bigger is better for lowlight viewing. Look for 7X42, 8X42 or 7X35.
3. A notebook for observations
A small pocket notebook is perfect for jotting down notes in the field. Birds don’t stand still, so this allows you to record what you see, including shape and size, defining markings and what the bird is doing. When you’re home, you can enter the information on eBird, a website that allows you to store your observations.
4. A good teacher or mentor
To reap the most benefits in the least amount of time, find a mentor or teacher. Galveston’s birding community is very accommodating. Here are some resources:
• Birding 101 (second Saturday) and Birding 201 (third Saturday) at Moody Gardens Visitor Center, 1 Hope Blvd.
• Birding Classes at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Richard Peake teaches multiple classes there now, including Beginning Birding, Advanced Birding, and a third that consists of birding field trips only.
• Galveston County Audubon Group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday each month for free presentations at the Moody Gardens Visitor Center, with a field trip to follow on the Saturday after.
• Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council’s FeatherFest each April is a four-day birding festival with more than 100 field trips, workshops and social events for all levels of birders.
• Sunday walks in the state park 8 a.m. with the Friends of Galveston Island State Park. The group meets at park’s Nature Center. If you have a state park pass, it’s free. The group walks around the park until 11 a.m. or later, depending on what’s going on.
5. Take a walk
“One of the joys of birding is you get to see places you would never have thought of going with people who help you see birds you wouldn’t have seen and who are generous with their knowledge,” said Julie Ann Brown, director of Galveston Island Nature Tourism.
For the not so serious birders, a trip to the shrimp fleet area, a ferry ride, or trips to either end of the island offer a huge variety of birds. Wear comfortable clothing in subdued colors, a hat and waterproof shoes.
Greg Whittaker, president of the Galveston Audubon Club, and manager of animal husbandry at Moody Gardens, recommends a picnic lunch and some bird watching to recharge the workday.
“People in Galveston are never more than 20 minutes from some of the best birding in the country,” he said.
6. Spread your wings on the web
7. If you’re more interested in backyard birding, develop your own bird sanctuary.
It’s something everyone can do. Be certain you provide water, food, shelter and shrubs.
A few recommendations:
• Plant trees and shrubs. Vegetation is important in attracting birds. Your local nursery will recommend plants suitable to attract birds.
• Add a birdbath, garden pond or other source of water.
• Provide birdhouses with proper dimensions.
• Control the access of cats that might prowl your sanctuary.
A web resource is the National Wildlife Foundation’s “Create a Habitat.” You can find it at www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Create-a-Habitat.aspx
Tips compiled from Dick Peake, Mort Voller, Alice Anne O’Donell, Greg Whittaker and Julie Ann Brown.