So how do you prepare for a vacation where birding is intermixed with all the driving and touristy distractions one finds along the road? Where does one start when your destinations are places you’ve never visited before, let alone knowing absolutely no one while your traveling? This my friends is the cross I must bear as I ready myself for the few weeks leading up to my west coast journey.
Unlike my birding trip to Texas last November where I immersed myself from sun-up to sun-down with birds, this trip is going to challenge my skills I think. With the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival all you really had to do was sign up for the tours, and even if you didn’t know your bird ID very well, the guides would help you along the way. Knowing this ahead of time kept me sharp when we went out into the field because I was prepared. I studied field guides. I listened to bird calls (especially the difference between a Couch’s and Tropical Kingbird), plus I had a copy emailed to me of the festival check list before hand. Knowing what birds to expect was half the battle.
This is the strategy I hope to use with my west coast trip. How I succeed will be determined later.
But first my nose to the grind stone so to speak. What species of birds am I going to run into, particularly the code 1 and 2 birds? This is where I thumb through my various field guides and birding web sites. I find the most common species that I might spot and write it down. It doesn’t matter if it Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, migration or pre/post migration, if it’s listed, I wrote it down. Then I wittled it down further when I took into consideration the time of year I was visiting. Now I have a manageable list.
Now’s the time to eBird. Going into eBird and studying data could never be easier. Let’s take for instance this side trip we’re taking for part of the day while were in California. My wife who loves wine wants to go visit a few wineries in the Sonoma Valley. Now all I have to do is click on the “Explore data” tab, click on “Hot Spots”, type in Sonoma Valley, then a list is populated with all the birds seen in that area. Now I’m almost prepared. The rest is left up to me as I pour over field guides and study up on field marks and calls for all the birds I’m not familiar with. And there’s tons.
For me I feel this will work for me and how I learn. I’m sure others will attest that we all learn differently and I’m more of a visual learner. All you need to do is show me a bird once, especially of North America, and I’ll remember it. Now the vocalization is something different and might take some time.
Another advantage I have this time over my trip to Texas is a smart phone. I know, I know, I finally caught up with the 21st century, and I’ve taken full advantage of it with several purchases of birding applications. I have the Sibley Birds, Audubon Birds (for the color photographs) Peterson Birds of North American and iBird Pro of North America, plus eBird to log all my sightings into. And I can’t go anywhere without my hard copy of my Peterson Field Guide.
So, am I preparing too much, or not enough? Am I going about this trip all wrong? Only time, and the final bird count will tell.