Planning Your Bird Watching Field Trip

A field trip is defined as going afield — that is, beyond your immediate home surroundings or backyard. For many beginning bird watchers, their first organized field trip is with a bird club. This field trip can be an educational experience as you observe how other bird watchers act in the field, how they spot and identify birds, and where they go to find birds.

In the more traditional sense, a bird-watching field trip is going to a particularly good birding area for several hours or several days. Some folks decided to go see some birds in Montana, which was a long drive from their Pennsylvania home. They liked it so much that they stayed. Now that's the field trip of a lifetime!

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Load the car with food, coats, boots, and other gear, more food, cold drinks of all types, the optics, a field guide or two, and yourselves, if you can fit. Then head off to see what you can see. Oftentimes you come back after a long day of bird watching exhausted, sunburned, and happy.

Sometimes your luck just runs out and you get to a birding spot that has no birds! This happens a lot in the heat of a midsummer's day, or in the dead of winter. Here's a suggestion for keeping yourself interested on a birdless summer day. If it's sunny, look for butterflies. If it's the middle of winter, go find a warm, greasy-spoon diner and get a cup of hot chocolate. You can count the days until spring.

If you have common sense, you can plan a field trip just fine. Here's a quick checklist to help you:

  • Plan where you want to go.

  • Plot your route and determine your schedule (early wake-up and departure to get there for prime dawn birding, and so on).

  • Gather binoculars, spotting scope, field guide, and bird checklist (if you use one).

  • Check the weather and plan the clothing and outerwear you'll need. Then take one extra layer.

  • Make sure that you have the right footwear (boots, rubber boots, extra socks).

  • Pack or wear a hat with a visor.

  • Add food, glorious food. Take some even if you plan to eat in restaurants or at quickie-marts.

  • Get stuff to drink. You'll be thirsty more often than not.

  • Take money. You may need cash for an emergency (especially coins for a phone call).

  • Include other gear for comfort or necessity. Depending on the weather, the gear can include sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, binocular rain guard, emergency survival kit, and other stuff.

  • Tell someone where you're going. You can't be too safe.

  • Get a magnetic key-holder, put an extra set of keys in it, and affix it under the front bumper of your vehicle. When traveling, always pocket the keys before you slam the doors; the aggravation you save may be your own.

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