Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the birdie is
— Children’s song
The birdie, given our weather, is somewhere to our south.
Assuming that eventually the birdie will be here, some birding essentials are worth a look.
You’ll need an identification book for eastern birds — one of the pocket-size editions, with all of the information you find in a Peterson or Sibley guide. Begin by looking through the book to get some idea of the order in which species are presented. Try not to learn on the job.
Learn some common bird sizes for comparisons — it’s about the size of a chickadee, a sparrow, a robin, a crow. Bird descriptions in the books should have length and wingspread numbers.
Binoculars — buy from a store that knows birding needs. Avoid Big Box and sporting goods stores unless you confidently know exactly what you are buying. Good bins can cost less than $300. Ask dumb questions. Compare models. Find a size that fits your hands. Weight is important. Waterproof is nice.
If binoculars are to be a gift, carefully consider all of the above, or, best, take the giftee with you. Binoculars are very personal.
Keep the lens glass clean. NEVER wipe the lenses when they are dry, or with your wool sweater, nylon shirt cuff, or the outside of your jacket. Use cotton cloth. Scratches are forever. Blow on the lenses first, then moisten. Avoid spit. Use water from your water bottle (you did bring water, didn’t you?).
Learn to tell a companion where the bird is. Don’t be the person who gives directions as, “over there.” Pretend you are facing a clock (this works well for trees): top is 12, bottom is 6, left and right are 9 and 3. “The bird is at 2 o’clock."
A helpful clue when birds are in the air — It’s at eye level, knee level, just above or below the horizon or tree line or whatever.
Distance can be a bugger. Describe distance in a way your partner understands. Not everyone can visualize a 50-foot distance.
Which tree? Don’t identify trees by species. “In the hackberry” is no help to most of us.
Join a bird club. Minnesota has several Audubon chapters. Go to http://mn.audubon.org/about-us/find-chapter
ID classes and field trips are excellent ways to begin. Home and Garden birding pages in Wednesday’s Variety section of the StarTribune has lists of walks and classes.
Birding with a birder is a good idea. Birders love to share.
Finally, understand that you will not identify every bird you see. No one does.