Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bird-Watching Vacations

Did you know:

· According to a survey done by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 51.3 million Americans watch birds?

· Bird-watching is the number one sport in the world, beating out baseball, basketball, football, and hockey?

· North America alone has over 800 species of birds and at least 100 species in any given area?

Now’s the perfect time to gather up the family and take a peek at what nature has to offer. Bird-watching or “birding” has been gaining popularity and is an inexpensive, educational, and fun way to spend some quality time with the kids. But before you grab your sneakers and some snacks, here are a few tips to help get the most out of your bird-watching vacation.

Equipment:

Like any sport, bird-watching requires some tools. First you’ll need a good pair of binoculars. These can range in price and quality. Binoculars are identified by two numbers. The first number is the power of magnification level, and the second number is the lens size, which determines how much light is let in. Example: a 7x25 set means the object will appear seven times closer, and the field of vision is 25 millimeters. For more specific information on binoculars visit Binoculars101.com (http://www.binoculars101.com/). This website is designed with specific information for all your binocular needs.

A bird guide book for the area you plan on visiting is a definite “must have.” This will help you locate and identify the species of birds you come across. Depending on the guide, these books can have either actual photographs of the birds or an artist’s rendition of them. They will also offer more detailed specifications of features in each species, such as size, beak shapes, color/markings, tail feathers, etc., as well as areas where the birds are most commonly found, common calls they make, and what they like to eat. National Geographic: A Guide to Birding Hot Spots of the United States is highly recommended.

Lastly, pack your comfy clothing and good, durable running or hiking shoes. Also be sure to take along sunblock, insect repellent, and plenty of water and snacks.

Destinations:

Okay, now that you have your equipment ready, all you need is a destination. Depending on where you live, you may not need to go any farther than your local park or wildlife preserve. However, if you’re after more exotic birds to watch, BirdingPal.com is your ticket (http://www.birdingpal.com/). This website is your complete guide to planning any birding vacation. Whether you’re looking for the Red-lored Whistler in Australia or the Wreathed Hornbill in Thailand, BirdingPal.com gives you information on specific locations, accommodations, upcoming tours, and even guides for hire once you get there. Of course, as with most vacations, if you make your travel arrangements in advance, there’s a good chance you’ll get a discount.

Other good places to stay are bed-and-breakfasts. In fact, http://www.bird-watching-vacation.com/ lists B&Bs that are located in prime “birding” areas.

National Wildlife Refuges (www.fws.gov/refuges) boasts 150 million acres dedicated to 550 national wildlife refuges. To find one near you, simply visit their website and type in your zip code.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Chesapeake,Virginia, is any birdwatcher’s dream. Located in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina, this forested wetland has over 200 species of birds in and among its 112,000 acres.

Deloras Freeman, Visitor Specialist with the Refuge, tells us, “Spring is the best time to view songbirds. They are their most vocal when establishing territories and attracting mates.” However, she says, “Woodpeckers are entertaining all year, as are owls.” And the “waterfowl migrate in large numbers in the spring and fall.” She recommends that you “move slowly and quietly. If you are in a big group, stay relatively close together so you can move slowly as one. Be mindful of the noise your clothing may make and never disturb nesting birds.”

So whether you plan a vacation to watch birds or just start out in your own backyard, Ms. Freeman reminds us, “Be patient with young birders and make it fun. Help them first be able to recognize and name the birds they see most often in their neighbourhood.” This could lead to birding becoming a “lifetime hobby.”

For more information on The Great Dismal Swamp, check out their website at www.fws.gov/northeast/greatdismalswamp.

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