Birding 101: There’s more to ducks than just mallards…

birds_-_main_-_ducklingsTime to dust off your binoculars, bird lovers! The spring waterfowl migrations have started and there are some spectacular species to be seen on the lake. Northern pintail, merganser, canvasback, ring neck and northern shoveler are a few of the waterfowl species that can be seen in small flotillas on the open lake or feeding in quiet coves as they pass through our area. Waterfowl travel thousands of miles during this migration – some from as far south as Brazil all the way up to the Arctic circle. Lake Hopatcong’s open waters provide a chance for them to get some much needed R&R on their long journey back to their nesting grounds up north.

Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to see these uncommon species when they are busy feeding, but keep the binoculars handy as they can float or fly by at any time of day.  A pair of binoculars in your boat or car is a great idea so that you can always be ready to get a closer look at these wonderful waterfowl.

Waterfowl that you may see:

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Some pointers on binoculars

What do all of the numbers mean?
Let’s say you have a pair of 7×35 binoculars. The first number tells you how powerful the binoculars are. Your 7×35’s will get you in 7 times closer than the human eye can see. The second number -35-, is the objective diameter. The higher the number, the brighter the image will be, allowing you see better through them at dawn or dusk when there is not so much light. Waterproof binoculars are a great investment for lakefront bird watching.

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Nice and sharp – how to adjust your binoculars:

Most binoculars have an adjustment for the eyepiece focus on top the right barrel and a center focus adjustment. Eyecups should be up if you do not wear glasses. If you do wear glasses for distance, roll the eyecups down so that you can hold them right against your glasses.  Binoculars hinge at the center between the two large “barrels”, allowing the eyepieces to fit the width of your eyes.
To adjust your binoculars before going out in the field:
1.    Pivot the hinged barrels so you see a single circle-shaped image, rather than a double-image when looking through them.
2.    Turn the center-focusing wheel so that an object about 30 feet away comes into fairly sharp focus.
3.    Close your left eye, adjust the right eye focus until the image is sharp and crisp.
4.    Open both eyes and fine-tune the overall focus until you are satisfied with the image that you see.

Dirty lens elements will affect viewing. Be sure the lens elements are nice and clean. Use camera lens cleaning fluid and lens cleaning tissue. A soft cotton cloth (like an old T-shirt) works too – just don’t ever use Kleenex or paper napkins as the paper fibers can scratch the coatings on the lens elements.

Handle your binoculars with care. Keep the strap around your neck. If they get bumped or dropped the inner elements can get out of alignment and you may start to see a double image of what you are viewing, which is really annoying. Many manufacturers have a very long warranty, so check into that if you will be buying new binoculars.

What to wear for late winter/early spring birding:

Because you will be standing still for long periods of time, it’s a good idea to dress a bit warmer than you think you need to. Wear colors that blend with the landscape (even camouflage) so that you are less conspicuous to the birds. Avoid white or bright colors. Layer up with thermal underwear, good socks, jeans, a flannel shirt, a vest and a jacket. Bring a small pack, a bottle of water and another layer, your field guide, a pen, a pad so that you can start your life list,. Wear a brimmed hat and gloves.  You’ll probably be walking through mud; so waterproof hiking boots are a really good idea. Birders are generally not known for their fashion flair.

How to do it:

Get binoculars. Get a field guide and study up a little before you go out birding.  Try to go out early. Be very quiet. Birds are easily frightened away by loud noises or talking. Don’t interfere with the bird’s activities by getting too close to nests, roosts and feeding sites  and respect private property.

Learning about birds is an incredibly gratifying hobby. First of all, it gets you to go OUTSIDE. It opens you up to a world of wonder and enjoyment, puts you in close contact with nature and deepens your awareness and understanding of your environment.

For more information about the spring migration and anything else you might want to know about birds, here is a wonderful website:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
http://www.birds.cornell.edu

And the Cornell Lab is also hosting its own version of March Madness, where you can nominate a species for “March Migration Madness.”  To join the fun, click here.

 

Happy birding!

 

 

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