While many people think of birding during the spring and fall migrations and during the warm summer months, birding is just as popular, if not more so, during the winter months. Why you might ask? For one, it’s a perfect reason to get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors, and secondly, the winter months provide an opportunity to see some rare birds you may not have seen before.
Before beginning any outside birding activity, be sure to prepare for the weather forecasted in your area. If it’s cold and windy out, be sure to dress in layers. That includes long-sleeve shirts, heavy-duty pants (or thermal wear), gloves, hat, scarf, etc. Also, be sure to wear warm socks (even several pairs) and invest in a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots. Trust me, your feet will thank you! Even though it is winter, a good pair of sunglasses also helps. On those sunny days, the light reflecting off of the snow can be very bright.
What to Bring?
Similar to the warmer months, there are several key things that you will want to take with you when you go out birding. First, a pair of binoculars. These are a must on any birding trip, but especially during the winter so you can catch a better glimpse of those rare, hard-to-find birds. (More about that later.) Another great tool to bring with you is a camera. Many times, you will see several birds at one time. And in order to catalog them (or add them to your “life list”), you may not have the time to check your handy bird identification book. With a camera, you can still capture an image of those birds, then spend time identifying them when you are back at home or someplace warmer. Of course, you will need help identifying those birds. The best way is with a Kaufman Field Guide. These super-easy-to-use guides are perfect for birders of all skill levels. There are also some great apps out there, including eBird, Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Audubon Bird Guide. All of those will help you ID birds in no time.
Where to Go?
You’re all bundled up, you have all of the necessary tools and equipment for birding, now where do you go? Well, pretty much anywhere! Local preserves, state parks, nature areas, etc., are always a great place to go and look for birds. However, during the winter months, the shoreline is the star. As Lake Erie freezes over, several birds move off shore to find food (fish). This is a great opportunity to spots hawks and even Bald Eagles. It is a common sight on the ice to spot up to a dozen or more Bald Eagles standing around an area of open water! A “life list” bird for many that comes to the Shores & Islands region in the winter is the Snowy Owl. This hard-to-find bird, with its white and black feathers, can easily blend into its surroundings, but with a steady hand, some binoculars, and some tips from fellow rare bird spotters, you might be able to add a Snowy Owl to your life list this winter.
All the Information
With these tips, you will be spotting birds in no time. For some “inside information,” be sure to log on to SHORESandISLANDS.com/birding. There you will find valuable information, including a map with local birding “hot spots,” a local birding guide, and an ebird Trail Tracker, which shows you what birds are being spotted at which location in the region. That way, if you are searching for a particular bird, like a Snowy Owl, a Northern Shrike, a Rough Legged Hawk, or any other bird, you can see if it has been spotted and go check it out.
*Note: This article was originally posted on the Lake Erie Shores & Islands blog.