Tag Archives: birding

Young woman and man birding

Crowdsourcing Advice for New Birders

We posed a simple question to our Facebook followers: “If you could give one piece of advice to a beginning birder, what would it be?” With over 170 replies, here’s just a sample of what they said.

Patience is Key

“Walk slowly. And when you think you are walking slowly, walk slower.”

“Patience, learn common birds first and their songs or calls. Expand your bird vocabulary slowly. I stress patience, it can take years to become proficient, but it is well worth it.”

“Learn to be quiet and patient in one spot — take the time to watch and listen to what is happening around you.”

Binoculars & Cameras

“Get a good camera and take photos. You will want to capture the experiences and variety of birds for later.”

“Listen, watch and take notes and always have your binoculars and/or camera ready.”

“Get the best pair of binoculars that you can afford. Also, get a field guide and/or a bird ID app.”

Field Guides & Apps

“Get the Merlin app from the Cornell Ornithology Dept. You can id the bird from a photo, sound, or just what you see. There are different packs to download depending on where you are in the world. It is really cool to find and record a bird.”

“Buy a good field guide, learn what birds are in your area, a good field guide will help you learn what to look for (wing bars, bill shape/length etc). Learn from others, bird walks are great.”

“Buy (or borrow from a library) a physical field guide like Sibley. Read the useful introductory materials, but also just page through it. Get a sense of the different groups of birds. Apps are nice and handy but they don’t let you browse and compare the field guides do­ — and they don’t tell you anything about useful field marks.”

Browse bird books and guides from the Mass Audubon Online Shop.

Tips & Tricks

“Behavior and location are at least as important as color for identifying a bird, if not more.”

“Find a bird you love and let that be your anchor. For me, it’s Red-tailed Hawks. Spending time watching them has allowed me to learn about other birds, too.”

“Listening is much more important than seeing. Learn a few basic bird calls and you’ll be better off than memorizing pictures of birds you often only hear.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

“Talk to those around you (especially the ones with big scopes and nice cameras). I find the birding community is very friendly and happy to share their knowledge and any pointers.”

“I love birding alone. The solitude and being immersed in nature is healing. However, I think I learn as much in one morning with experienced birders as I do alone in 6 months.”

“For a new birder look everywhere as you walk along the trails, back roads, and even in your own backyard. The birds are not always in the open so keep looking up and down. You will be surprised by what you will see. And also go with a friend so you have multiple eyes to search with. Also Mass Audubon is always there to help with classes walks and to answer questions.. as my Father always said look, listen, and enjoy nature!!!”

Learn About the Bigger Picture

“Learn which birds are native and which are introduced invasive species. Learn why some species are now threatened and how you can help by making changes in your yard (native plants and reduce/eliminate pesticides).”

“Plant native plants! Specifically, host plants for moths and butterfly caterpillars. Caterpillars = baby bird food. A study that Doug Tallamy cited is that one clutch of chickadees ate 6,000 caterpillars. If you want birds in your yard, plant native trees, shrubs, and plants.”

“If you plant it, they will come. Consider planting native plants!”

“Don’t use insecticide, weed killer, rodent killer. They’re harmful to predator birds.”

Take an Introductory Program

“Join a bird walk — Mass Audubon often sponsors these as do local bird clubs. In the beginning, you will learn the most being with others that will give you pointers and help you with the basics. Or go with a friend that knows more than you do. Once you know what’s common in your area you can strike out on your own. I started as a child and I studied bird ID cards and field guides for hours and hours. As an adult, though, I think being part of a group would be most helpful.”

“Take Mass Audubon’s Intro Series!”

Check Out Mass Audubon’s signature online Beginner Birdwatching Series begins September 23. Or, browse upcoming in-person Mass Audubon bird walks.

Don’t Give Up!

“Birding is a lifelong learning process and is filled with delight. Persist! AND behave as if the birds’ lives depend on you, because they do.”

Top Wildlife Sanctuaries for Shorebird Migration

Late summer is peak season for watching shorebirds in Massachusetts. While most songbirds are laying low as they wrap up raising their young and molting (i.e. growing new feathers), shorebirds like sandpipers, plovers, and godwits are already on the move for the fall.

Mass Audubon protects locally-breeding shorebirds through our Coastal Waterbird Program, but our wildlife sanctuaries also provide habitat for the hungry migrants that pass through en route from their Arctic breeding grounds to points south. Here’s a shortlist of the best Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries to observe them. 

Easy Access: Joppa Flats Education Center, Newburyport 

Overlooking a vast, tidal mudflat on the Merrimack River, Joppa Flats is a great place to observe shorebirds without having to walk too far from the parking lot (the visitor’s center has a great view of the shorebirds from indoors, although it’s temporarily closed during the pandemic). Joppa Flats also a great jumping-off point for birding Plum Island, another amazing shorebird hotspot just down the road. 

On most days from late July through early October, flocks of common shorebirds like Greater Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers feed on the flats. Occasionally, an uncommon visitor shows up, like the lanky and long-billed Hudsonian Godwit—a species that stops over in small numbers in Massachusetts before a direct, marathon flight over the Atlantic to their wintering grounds. 

A Hudsonian Godwit (left) on a Massachusetts mudflat. Photo: Will Freedberg

Wild and Little-Known: Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Rowley 

Just a few miles to the south, this sanctuary includes more land and trails than Joppa Flats as well as several marsh overlooks. Twenty species of shorebird have been recorded here so far, with new species for the site being recorded almost annually. 

Finding shorebirds here takes a little more effort and searching than other sites on this list, but the under-birded marshes and mudflats have so much untapped potential for interesting sightings! At the later end of shorebird migration (particularly in the last week of September), Rough Meadows has proven to attract uncommon upland species like Pectoral Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover.  

American Golden-Plovers are just as happy in grassy uplands as they are in the water. Photo: Will Freedberg

Shorebird Central: Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellfleet 

Wellfleet Bay is the crown jewel of Mass Audubon’s shorebird hotspots and one of our most-visited coastal sanctuaries. There’s a lot to see here, from box turtles and rare coastal heathland plants to expansive marshes and mudflats that seem to stretch past the horizon at low tide.  

Visitors looking for shorebirds can access these flats along the Try Island Trail after stopping at Goose Pond, which has hosted some rare visitors from Western Sandpipers to a Spotted Redshank from Eurasia. Further out, birders on the tidal flats beyond the marsh boardwalk often see Greater Yellowlegs picking crustaceans off the moist ground and Short-billed Dowitchers rapidly dipping their bills in and out of the mud like sewing machines.  

The stars of the show on most days, however, are the Whimbrels. These large and long-billed shorebirds are seen more consistently at Wellfleet Bay than anywhere else in the state, and can be seen daily from mid-July through the fall (though their numbers begin to taper off in September).  

Whimbrels sport an impressive bill for probing in the sand and mud. Photo: William Freedberg

Cape Cod’s Hidden Gem: Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable 

Long Pasture’s secluded beach and marsh boardwalk host at least a handful of migrating shorebirds most days in late summer, especially Ruddy Turnstones and Semipalmated Plovers.  

American Oystercatchers breed nearby and often visit with young, and uncommon Forster’s Terns are often seen resting on sandbars or feeding just offshore.   

A Ruddy Turnstone on a mudflat. Photo: Will Freedberg

Wild Card: Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton 

Coastal Massachusetts doesn’t get to have all the shorebird fun! Most species of shorebirds prefer beaches and salt marshes during migration, but Arcadia in the Connecticut River Valley draws some interesting species as well.  

From July through September, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers frequent muddy edges of the sanctuary’s numerous ponds, riverbanks, and oxbows. And in early spring, Wilson’s Snipe are often seen in the wetter parts of the sanctuary’s open meadows.