Ask a Naturalist: Birding at Gateway Nature Preserve
Have you ever wanted to get outside and try birding, but don’t know where to start? Let me give you some useful tips to get started on spotting some birds! The good news is that birds are everywhere (they might even be nesting in your abandoned pots in your garden, they are in mine!). Some birds are more common and easier to spot than others such as the cardinals and blue birds. Other birds will require more observation and careful search because they are more elusive or can camouflage better.
To start, it helps to develop a pre-birding routine to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. Start by checking the weather, making sure you have proper insect and sun protection, looking up your local species occurrences, and becoming familiar with the terrain you’re about to explore by checking a trail map if you’re exploring a big area where you can easily get lost.
Secondly, you can consider acquiring some birding tools. A field guide is helpful when trying to identify birds, there are a lot of books out there to help with this! The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America is a favorite among beginner birders. You can also download the Audubon Bird Guide App for free, to help you in your birding journey. The more you observe birds and become familiar with their calls, shapes, and colors, the better you will become at identifying them yourself. In addition, you might want to record a list of birds you observed at a specific spot, time, date, etc., on a notebook or on a note taking app on your phone.
Lastly, you may ask yourself: “What about binoculars, do I need them?” You don’t need binoculars to observe birds, but they might enhance the way in which you view them. If you want to look at birds closely and see distant birds better, you may want to invest in a pair. Audubon has a great guide to help you choose the best binoculars for you! If you can’t make an investment on your own pair, you can check your local library to see if they lend binoculars and other birding tools for free.
Another way to get started birding is joining a local birding club or birding walks. At Gateway we hold several Birding walks per year led by knowledgeable birders! Follow us on social media to learn about our upcoming birding walks and to learn about other local birding events such as the Forsyth Audubon walks. Spring and Fall are the best times to see birds because the species that usually migrate for the colder months have arrived or have not yet left. However, you can see birds any time of year. Winter is great to see birds in the high bare branches of trees and in summer you can see birds near water or among the tree canopy trying to stay cool.
Try Birding at Gateway Nature Preserve
You don’t have to go far to try birding. You will see birds in your own backyard. I recommend visiting the Gateway Nature Preserve. The preserve has different areas where you can see different species of birds. You can explore the Meadow, Pollinator Garden, Forest Discovery Trail, and Salem Creek. At the Forest Discovery Trail you can hike among poplars, magnolias, and oaks that might be hiding some harder to spot birds. You can look up at the trunks and spot some red and white to discover a woodpecker. You can use apps like Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab to help you identify which kind you have spotted: downy, red- bellied, red-headed, etc. If you stop by for an evening hike you might see peaking among the branches a Barred Owl staring back at you! You can also head down to Salem Creek’s edge and spot birds that prefer hanging out by the water. You might be able to see a Great Blue Heron hunting for fish in the shallows of the creek or a red-shouldered hawk perched on a branch, looking for prey.
There are a lot of other local parks and natural areas you can visit to see more bird species. Local places include Bethabara Park and Salem Lake. If you don’t mind going a little further, you can stop by Hanging Rock State Park or Pilot Mountain State Park. You can visit A Guide to Birdwatching in Winston Salem to find a list of other great local birding places.
Below are some resources for further research into the fascinating world of birds and birding.