We’ve spoken about tubing, kayaking, dancing and even ghost hunting. This week, we’re adding bird watching to the list of activities to what you can do when you join us up here at the Rustic Retreat cabin for your vacation getaway.
Even if you’ve never tried your hand a bird watching before, this may be time you want to start and in this blog we’re going to tell you what you need to know, what supplies you need and we’ll even start you off with a checklist of which birds to look for when you set out on your adventure.
The Birds of Garner and Uvlade
Getting out and finding the birds is easy. Figuring out which bird is which is where the fun comes in. There are folks who travel around the country enjoying this pasttime and Garner is a very popular spot because of the beautiful birds that call the park home or are a stop for the birds on their migration paths.
Here’s what one Phd student, Maureen Frank, wrote about birdwatching in the area:
“Uvalde is a great place to check out the feathered wildlife. All in one place. Uvalde lies at the intersection of three different ecoregions. The Edwards Plateau, often called the Hill Country, lies just north of town, while south of town you find yourself in the South Texas Plains—brush country. Travel just over an hour to the west and you’ll begin to transition into the Trans-Pecos. What this means for birders is an incredible diversity of species near at hand, including rare species whose ranges just barely extend into the U.S. from more tropical climes.
So, what can you see in Uvalde during a spring birding trip? Different birds need different habitats, so what you can see will depend on where you look. Cook’s Slough is one great place to visit, offering open water, riparian, forested and shrub habitats. On the water, watch for wood ducks and anhinga, and scan the nearby trees for vermilion flycatchers taking advantage of the insects. Head into the trees to look for green jays, which mainly occur in Mexico and just barely reach into South Texas. These vibrant birds are just as green as you would hope for them to be, with the exception of a rich blue head and black bib. Riparian habitat (along the river) is the place to watch and listen for another South Texas specialty, great kiskadees. Like green jays, kiskadees are rare in the U.S., although to the south their range extends far into South America.
These birds are boldly colored, with yellow bellies, red-brown wings and a white face with a black cap and mask. Even bolder is their loud “kis-ka-dee” call that you are likely to hear before you even see it. Walking along the river, you will also have the chance to see all three of Texas’s kingfisher species—belted, green and ringed—all in one place. Other places to go birding in Uvalde include Fort Inge and the Uvalde National Fish Hatchery. A drive along some of Uvalde’s county roads can offer access to more habitat types and different suites of bird species. North of town, sharp-eyed birders have even reported black-capped vireos, an endangered species that has suffered from habitat loss, and golden-cheeked warblers, another endangered species that nests only in the juniper-oak woodlands of the Hill Country. Ready, set, bird! Springtime birding can be a reward of bright colors and beautiful melodies as birds in their breeding plumage flit among the treetops and call out their territories. In Texas, spring birding also means you should be prepared for any weather. Pack plenty of water and snacks for your trip, as well as a rain jacket.
Keep in mind that like you and me, most birds would rather not be active during the hottest part of the day. For the best birding, you’ll want to get an early start—the early bird gets the worm, and the early birder gets the birds! Come afternoon, you’ll be ready to find some shade and water. Uvalde’s proximity to four different rivers means you can easily spend the morning watching birds and the afternoon relaxing in or near the water. But keep your binoculars nearby, because you never know what you might see. And somewhere in between melodious bird songs and cold clear rivers, you never know when you might fall in love.”
Thanks, Maureen for that great narrative on what she’s recently seen on one of her bird watching excursions through our area. Now what do you need to start your own excursion?
Tools for Bird Watching
According to the Audobon society you’ll need a few things for starting up your birdwatching excursion. Their advice for novices goes a little something like this:
A great thing about birding is how little equipment you need to actually do it. To get started, you really just need something to hold to the eye to make those far-away little birdies a bit bigger. In the beginning, you don’t need to worry about what kind of binoculars you’re using. All you’ve got is a pair of hulking, 14-pound black plastic behemoths from your mom’s house? Use them. Little opera glasses that you hold to your face with a stick? They’ll work. One of those extending telescopes that fit in your pocket? Get ready to run through the woods like some sort of bird-watching pirate. If they make far away things seem a little less far away, use them for now.
And that’s it! Some form of binoculars and that field guide you bought earlier are plenty to get started. As you get better, you may want to invest in a nice camera or a spotting scope (for the really far-off birds), but they’re by no means required.
Here are the 9 items Allaboutbirds.org, who goes a little farther with their suggestions, say you’ll need:
1. Binoculars. Your enjoyment of birds depends hugely on how great they look through your binoculars, so make sure you’re getting a big, bright, crisp picture through yours. In recent years excellent binoculars have become available at surprisingly low prices. So while binoculars under $100 may seem tempting, it’s truly worth it to spend $250 to $300 for vastly superior images as well as lifetime warranties, waterproof housing, and lightweight.
Two great models for beginning birders are Nikon Monarchs and Leupold Yosemites (especially for younger birders). We suggest getting 7-power or 8-power binoculars—they’re a nice mix of magnification while still allowing you a wide enough view that your bird won’t be constantly hopping out of your image. Here’s more advice about buying optics without breaking the bank.
3. Bird Feeders. With binoculars for viewing and a guide to help you figure out what’s what, the next step is to bring the birds into your backyard, where you can get a good look at them. Bird feeders come in all types: we recommend starting with a black-oil sunflower feeder, add a suet feeder in winter and a hummingbird feeder in summer (or all year in parts of the continent). From there you can diversify to millet, thistle seeds, mealworms, and fruit to attract other types of species. Our Attract Birds section is a great place to learn about this.
4. Spotting scope. By this point in our list, you’ve got pretty much all the gear you need to be a birder… until you start looking at those ducks on the far side of the pond, or shorebirds in mudflats, or that Golden Eagle perched on a tree limb a quarter-mile away. Though they’re not cheap, spotting scopes are indispensable for getting those last few clues about a species’ ID—or to simply revel in intricate plumage details that can be brought to life only with a 20x to 60x zoom. And scopes, like binoculars, are coming down in price while going up in quality—see a spotting scope comparison we conducted in Living Bird magazine a few years ago.
5. Camera. With the proliferation of digital gadgetry, you can take photos anywhere, anytime. Snapping even a blurry photo of a bird can help you or others clinch its ID. And birds are innately artistic creatures—more and more amateur photographers are connecting with birds through taking gorgeous pictures. See our Facebook albums, Birdshare group on Flickr, and Featured Photographer galleries for inspiration. There’s also the growing practice of digiscoping—pointing your camera through a spotting scope or binoculars. Even a cell phone will work—see this gallery and tips from Cornell Lab staffer Charles Eldermire.
6. Skills. Once you’re outside and surrounded by birds, we recommend practicing a four-step approach to identification. First, you judge the bird’s size and shape; then look for its main color pattern; take note of its behavior; and factor in what habitat it’s in. We’ve got free online tutorials to let you practice each of these skills and a free Inside Birding video series that walks you through each one.
7. Records. Birders like the ones who inspired The Big Year are called listers—people who love (or are obsessed with) compiling lists of the species they’ve seen. But you don’t have to be a lister to reap benefits of writing down what you see—think of notes as a kind of diary with a focus, chronicling the days of your life through the birds you’ve seen and places you’ve been. Many people keep their records online in our free eBird project, which keeps track of every place and day you go bird watching, allows you to enter notes and share sightings with friends, and explore the data all eBirders have entered.
8. Apps. If you have a smartphone, you can carry a bookshelf in your pocket. Most of the field guides mentioned above are available as apps, and most of them add in sounds you can listen to as well. For finding where birds are, Birdseye is an amazingly useful tool for the iPhone. It pulls recent data from our eBird project to show you maps—and even give you directions—to birds that are near you. For passing time (if you get tired of Angry Birds) try the Cornell Lab Bird Q&A app for iPhone from Tipitap, with quizzes, quirky questions, photos, and sounds. And our All About Birds species guide works on mobile devices, giving you access to free ID information and sound recordings straight from your phone’s Internet browser.
9. Connections. Bird watching can be a relaxing solo pursuit—a walk in the woods decorated with bird sightings. But birding is also a social endeavor, and the best way to learn is from other people. A great way to connect with people is to look on birdingonthe.net and sign up for a listserv for your area. You’ll get emails that will tell you what people have been seeing, announce local bird outings, and connect you with members of your local birding club. There’s a decent chance that someone’s leading a bird walk near you this weekend—and they’d love to have you come along.
Our gift to you
Now you know what you need to have to get out there and search for the beautiful greenjay, we figured we would help you along with this wonderful Field Guide so you can keep track of the birds you see. You can catalogue all the information you wish about the birds you see during your bird watching trek.
When you go, we’d love to hear from you! Join us on our Facebook page and tell us how your adventure went. We’d love to hear from you! Every time you contact us on Facebook, we keep that post or message for future freebies and contests so make sure and get to our page and like it asap!
We’ve gone to the birds on the Frio and we’re enjoying every minute of it!
Special thanks to: http://www.visituvalde.com/uvalde_attractions/birding/