Sun. Sep. 1, 2019

by Joanna Reuter

Seeing lots of birds in a short period of time is exciting. Try to imagine:

These aren’t numbers from long ago or far away, but rather concentrations of birds reported to eBird within the six-county region served by the Columbia Audubon Society, mostly within the last decade.

To see many birds at once takes an element of luck, but being in a sensible place at the right time of year with reasonable weather conditions can substantially increase your chances. Over the coming year (or so), I plan to share seasonally appropriate summaries of major bird concentrations in our region based on existing eBird records. My goal for this occasional series of articles is to inspire some interesting birding trips and encourage attentiveness to avian dynamics. Perhaps this will result in some exciting observations, enhancing our individual and collective knowledge regarding large aggregations of birds.

Being prepared to see birds in big numbers

When encountering a large flock of birds, especially in flight, it can be hard to decide how to allocate your observation time. Should you try to count? Take photos? Get a handle on identification? Just take a deep breath and enjoy? Focus on individuals or put the binoculars down to marvel at overall flock dynamics? Time (and birds) can fly by rather fast under such circumstances. If your goal is to see lots of birds, it’s sensible to have a mental action plan so you can get the most out an exciting situation. Here are some tips to consider:

  • One goal should be to get a sensible yet conservative estimate of numbers. You don’t have to be a serious lister to want to be able to tell others roughly how many birds you saw. eBird has two good articles on estimating bird numbers: Bird Counting 101 and Bird Counting 201.
  • For birds in flight in particular, as soon as you notice something exciting is happening, make a note of the time. The duration of an observation can be helpful when estimating numbers, so pay some attention to timing as bird concentrations change over time. Once the excitement settles down, be sure to note the end time.
  • Know your camera: Photos are great to have, and you do not want to waste precious time feeling frustrated that the camera’s autofocus isn’t registering on the kettle of birds in the sky. Unfortunately, I can say this with experience.
  • If you are birding with others, divide up responsibilities: let the person/people with the best camera and photographic skills take photos while others estimate counts, check ID, or watch for interesting behaviors.
  • When things have settled down but the experience is still fresh in your mind, take notes about your observations, such as timing, estimated number (and how you came to that estimate), weather conditions, behaviors, and any other factors of interest.
  • Submit your observations to eBird and consider writing them up to share with others, such as through the MOBIRDS Listserv, the Columbia Audubon Facebook group, or through a submission to The Chat.