Birding Soars in Popularity During Pandemic

Local birders share tips for beginners
Updated: May. 21, 2020 at 1:21 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - If you love nature and want to find something new to do while social distancing, you might want to try birding. A lot of people are picking up bird watching right now. In fact, new downloads of the National Audubon Society’s app are double what they were this time last year.

Nature has interested John Williamson his whole life. Recently, that's inspired him to take up a new hobby.

“When I was really young, bluebirds were endangered, and my dad on his farm put up a bunch of bluebird houses, and I got really interested in that with him, and then that interest kind of faded. And then, a little bit later in life, I got exposed to hummingbirds. And then that kicked it off again, and then that interest faded," Williamson, who has been birding for a little over 2 and a half years, said. "And then about three years ago a friend of mine got me a bird feeder. And then the next thing you know, I’m traveling all over the place with Ogeechee Audubon trying to learn about it. I’m not sure what kicked it off, but something kicked it off with a vengeance.”

His first time out birding with Ogeechee Audubon was a little intimidating.

“They were saying all kinds of things that I had no idea what they were talking about," Williamson said. "Talking about superciliam, and I couldn’t even get my binoculars focused before it was gone.”

Still, he decided to stick with it.

“It challenges my brain because there’s so much to learn. You’ll never learn it all. I grew up on a farm, so being outdoors and being outside is really important. It’s also very spiritual for m," Williamson said. "That kind of connection to nature and to creation.”

Williamson says another birder with Ogeechee Audubon, Diane Churchill, became a mentor from his first outing with the group. The Savannahian has been birding for more than 3 decades.

“It’s sort of like going on a scavenger hunt where you never know what you’re going to find," Churchill said. "They’re colorful. They sing. They’re never completely predictable.”

If you're interested in taking up the hobby, Williamson shared some of his early mistakes that made him a better birder.

“I would put the binoculars up and I would try to find the bird and I probably looked like a crazy person just looking everywhere and not finding anything." Williamson said. "So just learning that you put your eyes on the bird and then you lift your binoculars up to the bird as you’re looking at it. If you go out in the middle of the day you’re not going to see nearly as much as if you go out early in the morning. And then just not to get frustrated.”

Churchill says the Coastal Empire is full of different places to go birding. Here are just a few of her favorite spots.

“Fort Pulaski when it’s open. Tybee, the beach, for shore birds. Lake Mayer. And your own backyard can be wonderful!" Churhchill said. "The more habitats you visit, the more different kinds of birds you’ll see.”

If you want to start birding, you’ll need a pair of binoculars and some sort of field guide. Both John and Diane suggest using free app called Merlin that asks you questions about what you saw to help you identify the bird. You can also browse the app just like you would with a traditional field guide.

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