Here are a few tips that we've learned (mostly from painful experience) that can help you see more birds, make more accurate IDs, and do it all safely and comfortably. 


1. Know where you're going


Scouting out new locations can be fun, but it can often be unproductive. You'll have a much greater chance of success if you visit places that have established a reputation as prime birding sites. Having said that, some of the best locations are only productive at certain times of the year - especially for certain species. So do your research and you'll make the most of your birding trips. Check websites like www.ofo.ca/hotspots/siteguides.php for the best places to bird in your area. If you live near Belleville, take a look at the Places to Bird section of this website, or send us an email if you need directions to any of the other birding locations in the Quinte area. Remember to map out the directions to where you're going, and try to find out in advance the best places to park your car.
2. Try to identify every bird you see


Always carry a field guide with you when you're birding, and try to identify every new bird you see. This will be challenging at first, but as with most things, practice makes perfect. You will be amazed at how quickly you start to remember the more common birds and how quickly you'll become less reliant on the field guide. Also consider attending a bird identification course, like one of the ones offered by Terry Sprague at naturestuff.net - it will give you the skills to record what you've seen accurately and help you to develop the techniques for making accurate identifications in the field.
3. Listen while you look


Becoming familiar with bird calls will add to your fun and make you a more successful birder. Hearing a bird will often give you its location, and if you're familiar with its song you will know what you're looking for before you see it. Being able to identify the various songs that fill the woods can help you to select what direction you want to go, perhaps ignoring the more common calls while pursuing the calls of birds you would like to spot. Some birds are heard much more often than they are seen - birds like the Ruffed Grouse, Virginia Rail, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Even if you don't get a look, it is nice to know what you've been close enough to hear.
4. Know which birds to expect


Being familiar with which birds frequent your neck of the woods, and using that knowledge to narrow down the possibilities will make accurate identification much easier.  A number of birds look almost identical to their distant cousins, and your best means of separating them from each other is to know their range. For instance, if you see a flycatcher in Ontario it's probably a Great Crested, not a Brown-crested. The only kind of hummingbird we get is the Ruby-throated, and while you're likely to see a Tree Swallow or a Bank Swallow, it's very unlikely that you'll see a Violet-green Swallow. Get to know your local birds and you'll be a giant step closer to making quick and accurate IDs.
5. Record what you see


A 'life list' is a record of all the birds you've ever sighted. Typically, the list includes the bird species, the date, and sometimes the location. At first you may think you don't need to keep any records, but the problem with this approach, of course, is you will regret the decision if you later decide to do so. So my advice? Get started on that Life List. It makes seeing a new bird all the more fun.
6. Gear up


Birding is an inexpensive hobby, but there are a few items that you may want to invest in. Birds tend to keep their distance, so binoculars are essential for any birder who’d like to get a closer look. You'll also want/need a good bird identification field guide. My favourite (if you can find a copy) is the 1983 edition of the Golden Field Guide to Birds of North America, with illustrations by Arthur Singer. Other items of use are proper footwear (depending or where you're going and how far you'll be walking), a hat (Tilley is always a good choice), a small notepad and pencil, and a water bottle. Birding is thirsty work.
7. Dress for the occasion


Know what the weather is going to be, and dress accordingly. See point 6 (above) and don't forget things like sunscreen, insecticide, and water.
8. Don't get lost


If you're going to a large wooded area for the first time, try to find an experienced birder who's been there before who can guide you. Failing that, make sure you get as much information as possible about where you're planning to go. Take maps, a compass, a GPS if you have one, a cell phone, and don't leave the trails unless you're very familiar with the woods you're in.
9. Practice ethical behaviour


A very small group of inconsiderate so-called birders are giving our hobby a bad name. These selfish individuals show no respect for other people's property, no respect for nature, and little regard for the well being of the birds they're pursuing. Obviously this is unacceptable and foreign to anyone with an ounce of common sense and decency. So (to just state the obvious) when you're out birding don't let your enthusiasm get the best of you. Do not trespass, do not litter or otherwise harm the environment, and do not harass the birds or any other animals you may encounter.
10. Enjoy the journey


Whenever you go birding, pay attention to the beauty of your surroundings. An appreciation of all of nature will make your birding experience a pleasure whether you see a new lifer, or go the whole day with nothing more than having enjoyed the serenity and splendour that time in the woods and along our natural waterways almost always delivers.