For the Birds Radio Program: Preparing for a trip

Original Air Date: Oct. 26, 1988

When you go on a trip to a new place, how can you find out the best places to go and what birds to expect?

Duration: 3′40″


(Recording of a Northern Mockingbird)

I’m going to take a vacation trip to Washington D.C. and Florida next month. It’s a family trip, which is hard for the birder in me to adjust to. I’ve never been to either place before, so back in my carefree pre-motherhood days, this sort of trip would be preceded by strategic planning to hit every possible birding spot in the most efficient way to maximize the number of new birds, called “lifers,” that I could add to my list. In Washington I’d check out the parks and the Chesapeake Bay, and maybe work my way to the coast to go on a pelagic boat trip for oceanic birds. Once we got down to Florida, I’d try a little cemetery off Highway 19 at the edge of Homosassa Springs for a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, go to the Sombrero Golf Course at Marathon to get the Burrowing Owl, and cruise the streets around the Methodist Church in Kendall for the Red-whiskered Bulbul. But of course I’d spend most of the time in the Everglades and the Keys. Back in the old days the thought would never have occurred to me to visit Disneyworld—when there were new birds to see, I would have been far too restless to enjoy it.

But now that I have children, the focus of this trip has changed a bit. Somehow hiking silently and endlessly through swamps, being eaten alive by chiggers and mosquitoes, just to see a Mangrove Cuckoo, isn’t among the first million things my kids would ever ask for.

So birds will be only a secondary focus of this trip for me, the way they are for normal people. But I do plan to see whatever new birds I can.

If you find yourself going on a trip and would like to see some new birds as long as it doesn’t take you out of your way, there are several good books at the library that will help. The best book for people visiting new places is A Guide to Bird Finding, by Pettingill. There are two editions— one for the eastern and one for the western United States. This book is especially nice because it gives you an idea of what birds are typical in each state—so you start thinking about Wild Turkeys and mockingbirds and Black Vultures when you get to the Southeast, and then you get your brain geared to Anhingas and Purple Gallinules and other exotic water birds as you come to Florida. You not only start to recognize birds from the car window, but you start appreciating the long drive. Petengill’s book tells you the best places to check out in most cities. Although Washington is too crowded and polluted for many birds, the book tells you what parks are at least reasonably good. Orlando is pretty much a lost cause, but the book gives birding advice for a lot of places between Washington and Florida.

If you really want to spot good birds in a new area, there are also some wonderfully specialized books that tell you exactly where to go to see each different species. A Birder’s Guide to Florida, by James Lane, is indispensable if you really want to know what places are best, not only for birds but also for other Florida wildlife, like alligators and manatees. Lane has written similar guides for Texas, Arizona, and other prime birding areas, and his books have a lot of helpful advice like which restaurant to go to in order to have a good chance to see a Snail Kite as you eat. The American Birding Book—don’t leave home without it.

(Recording of a Northern Mockingbird)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”