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Maximizing Your Birding Time

Once you’re into this “birding thing”, it is only natural to want to see as many different birds as you can. When you combine this desire with the limited number of peak migration days and busy work schedules, you can easily see where the concept of “Big Days” comes from.

While most of us don’t go out in the spring to set a new species sighting record for a single day, it is fun to challenge ourselves year after year to see if we can beat our personal best. One of the best parts for me is the planning of big days. Where should we go? What time should we put ourselves at our warbler spots? What areas have the best shorebird habitat this year?

I have said it many times, there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you study an area and its birds, make out a plan and when you get there, you find the birds you were looking for! Big days in your neighborhood, county or region are no different.

Most birds are somewhat habitat specific and to maximize a day of birding, you need to visit many different habitat types. In our area this means a visit to some type of grassland (hawks, kingbirds, sparrows, meadowlarks), wetland (ducks, shorebirds, herons, egrets, kingfishers), mature woodlands (woodpeckers, thrushes, warblers, cuckoos), woodland edges (tanagers, flycatchers, sparrows, grosbeaks, buntings, orioles) and an open water area (gulls, terns, ducks, loons, grebes)

How do you fit it all in? Start early and finish late.

So here is the plan. Sometime during the 2nd week of May, start out before dawn in a good wooded area and listen for owls, whip-poor-wills and nighthawks. Before dawn breaks, be at one of your grassland sites. Listening as they generally will sing off and on all night. Your choice of woodland sites is often most critical to your success. Be at the woodland edge areas as dawn breaks and bird this area well before heading deeper into the mature woods. Next, head for your wetland area and hope that many ducks are still lingering. The afternoon can be spent searching for birds you have missed. Don’t forget to bird while in towns for species that can be missed “out in the country” like Chimney Swifts and House Finches. Late in the day you will visit the open water site like Smithville Lake. For the last part of the day, it would be wise to be in an area with both woodlands and wetlands. This will give you one last shot at songbirds and, perhaps, rails.

It isn’t for everyone but it sure is fun. If this concept is exciting to you, sign up for the “Big Day” trip [see Calendar] on Monday May 14th. We will start early and bird “almost” all day. How many species can we tally? 100? 125? 150? Who knows?

By Mark McKellar

Spring 2007