Birding is more than just watching birds. It gets you out into beautiful wild places, sharpens your senses so you can find and observe the birds, exercises your mind in identifying them and deepens your understanding of nature.
You don't need much equipment: just a bird guide, a pair of binoculars, maybe a telescope. You should know where and when to go and learn the best techniques for finding birds. And you will want to meet people who share your interest.
There are several places in the Southland where bird books and accessories can be found. Audubon House, the L.A. Audubon Society's bookstore and headquarters, has perhaps the best selection of bird books in our area. You can also get accessories such as hummingbird feeders and binocular harnesses here, and order binoculars and scopes at a discount. Audubon House is located in Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 876-0202.
The bookstore at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History has an excellent collection of bird books. The museum is located in Exposition Park across from USC, (213) 744-3434. The San Bernardino County Museum not only has a bookstore for birders but holds one of the largest and most beautifully displayed exhibits of California birds anywhere in the state. It's also headquarters for the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. The museum is located just off Interstate 10 at California Street in Redlands; the phone number is (714) 825-4825. You can't miss seeing its geodesic dome from the freeway.
Here are 10 items that will help you learn and enjoy birding.
Books: The best bird guides use colored illustrations rather than photographs, to better show the visual "field marks" that distinguish one bird from another. Most experienced birders agree that the "National Geographic Society Field Guide to the Birds of North America" (2nd edition, National Geographic Society, 1987) is the most comprehensive and accurate guide on the market. But its mass of arcane detail and inclusion of exotic strays may confuse the novice birder. More beginner-friendly are Roger Tory Peterson's classics, "A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies" and "A Field Guide to Western Birds." The Peterson books, published by Houghton Mifflin, sell for $17.95 and $16.95, respectively. "A Birder's Guide to Southern California" by James A. Lane (L&P; Press, Denver,1985) is the best guide to places where birds can be found in our area.
Binoculars: The Bausch & Lomb Discoverer Series, available in powers of 7x35, 9x35 and 10x50, offer excellent birding optics at reasonable prices. The nines, with their combination of power, depth of field and light weight, are probably the best for all-around birding. At discount they sell for $350 or less.
Scopes: Because not even bird watchers can walk on water, telescopes are usually needed to identify ducks and shore birds. Once again, Bausch & Lomb has the best low-cost deal, with their Bushnell Spacemaster 15-45x zoom kit, complete with tripod, going for around $300 at discount. Those with a more serious commitment to birding--or just willing to spend more money--can go for the Kowa TSN-4 77mm spotting scope ($800, with another $100 or so for a tripod) or spend $500 or more for a Celestron C90 plus tripod. Scan the ads placed by discount mail-order houses in photography magazines; your local Audubon chapter may also be able to order them at discount.
Records/Tapes/Videos: "A Field Guide to the Bird Songs of Eastern and Central North America" and "A Field Guide to Western Bird Songs," Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. On LPs or tapes, $19.95 each set. Designed to be used with the Peterson guides, these collections contain a brief sample of vocalization by each bird in the guide. Playing tapes in the wild is a no no, because it disturbs the birds' breeding cycle.
"Techniques of Birding" with Arnold Small, half-inch VHS, Nature Videos, $29.95. A veteran L.A. birder and teacher discusses techniques of finding, seeing and listening, and makes recommendations on books, binoculars, etc.
Courses: At Los Angeles Pierce College (6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills, (818) 347-0551), Ralph Kinchloe conducts a one-unit course each semester, "Birds of the Fall" and "Birds of the Spring." (Kinchloe is currently on a sabbatical, so the course will not be offered again until spring 1989.) Arnold Small and Herb Clarke offer a twice-a-year birding workshop through UCLA Extension, (213) 825-9971.
Bird Alerts: Phone tapes usually have the most up-to-date information on where the birds are and give times and locations of chapter meetings and field trips. Los Angeles, (213) 874-1318; San Bernardino, (714) 793-5599; Santa Barbara, (805) 964-8240; San Diego, (619) 435-6761.
Field Trips: On any weekend there are field trips, conducted by local Audubon Society chapters, at state or national parks and other organizations. Check newspaper listings, call a bird alert and/or Audubon chapter or contact the Sierra Club, (213) 387-4287, or the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, (818) 888-3440.
Tours: Beginners and veteran birders can enjoy multiday guided tours, conducted by expert birders. These may be weekend jaunts or multiweek expeditions to wild corners of the globe. Three leading birding tour agencies are Wings, P.O. Box 31930, Tucson, Ariz. 85751, (602) 749-1967; Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, P.O. Box 33008, Dept. B1, Austin, Tex. 78764, (512) 328-5221, and Bird Bonanzas, P.O. Box 611563, North Miami, Fla. 33161, (305) 895-0607.
Birding Groups: The National Audubon Society is the nation's leading birding organization, and its chapters are usually the center of local birding activity. To find out the chapter nearest you, contact the NAS, Janice Brown, Membership Department, 950 3rd Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022, (212) 546-9175. Some of the leading local chapters are: Los Angeles, (213) 876-0202; San Fernando Valley, (818) 347-3205; Pasadena, (818) 798-5522; San Bernardino Valley, (714) 793-5599; El Dorado (Long Beach), (213) 425-8569; Palos Verdes Peninsula, (213) 375-0717; Sea and Sage, (Santa Ana), (714) 786-8878, and Conejo Valley (Ventura County), (805) 498-0434.
If you get serious about birding, you might want to join the American Birding Assn., a nationwide organization of hard-core birders (P.O. Box 6599, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80934). It publishes Birding, an excellent journal full of esoteric lore, and conducts weekend birding tours all over the country. They have discounts on equipment too.
Good Places/Times: In Southern California, birds may be found in almost any wild, open space, but they tend to concentrate in well-watered oases that have plenty of undergrowth. These include coastal wetlands, canyons, arboretums, golf courses, wooded mountaintops, cemeteries, woodlands along rivers and sewer ponds. Your own back yard may be an oasis for some stray wild bird, if it has trees and flowering shrubs. Prime watching time is April through September, which is migration season. Also, check out groves of trees, desert oases and far out to sea. In the high summer, head for the mountains; in winter, look in city arboretums and parks. Look even in downtown Los Angeles--you may spot a peregrine falcon.