Bird Friendly Old Ottawa East: Your unauthoritative guide on how to start birding in OOE

Tristan Keyes  

Birding is an odd hobby that will earn you questioning looks and the occasional half-interested question from the uninitiated. It is, however, hugely satisfying and an excellent excuse to go outside with purpose in these difficult times. I am here to provide my wealth of knowledge and expertise (Note to readers: the author has very little of either) to get you out and started this Spring:

1) Ducks are your friends. Ducks are wonderful for the beginner birder: they are big, sit still, and have distinctive features and behavioral patterns, plus the Rideau River is home to many varieties. Make your way down to Brantwood Park during the migrations and elbow a few Canada geese out of the way (disclaimer: do not elbow Canada Geese), and you can see a myriad collection of waterfowl in the river, nicely sitting there for you to see.

2) Sparrows are not your friends. The opposite of everything I said about ducks (disclaimer: I cannot emphasize enough that you should not elbow Canada Geese – they are mean!). However, for the ambitious and/or foolhardy, the pathway behind the Greystone development and most noisy evergreens contain all the small, unidentifiable birds you could wish for.

3) Appreciate the everyday birds. Blue Jays may be crows with fancy coats, but they are really fancy coats. Ring-billed Gulls may be most commonly seen eating second-hand French fries but taken in the proper context they are elegant and graceful seabirds equally at home on water or in the air. The Cardinal may have been singing non-stop for three weeks, giving you a raging headache in the process, but hey, it might attract a Merlin.

4) Respect the birds. Birds are like any other animal: they are best observed when they feel comfortable, safe and are left to their own devices. Watch them from a distance, and never try to scare them up to have a better look.

5) Get a good field guide book or app. Knowing what you are looking at can only help. I learned from a board game (unorthodox, but surprisingly effective), but getting and studying a good field guide or birdwatching app can help you both locate and identify something out-of-the-ordinary (“expert” tip: go for both).

6) Set reasonable expectations. Not every pigeon is a falcon and most sweet songs belong to a robin, but each bird is wonderful and exciting in its own way. An expedition to see a rare or exciting bird that falls short of its goal is disappointing, but failure makes victory all the sweeter – so don’t give up.

7) A decent pair of binoculars goes a long way. I am not saying break the bank, but quality of life is much higher when you are not using an old pocket pair with a misaligned lens you found under the bed.

8) Leaves are overrated. The transition from Winter to Spring can be rough when the snow melts and the fields turn to mud, but the trees remain bare. This is a good thing! Without leaves you will actually have the ability to spot the occasional bird among the treetops.

9) Get to know your local hot-spots. A short list includes Brantwood Park, Pig Island (for cormorant enthusiasts), the old train bridge by Highway 417, and Billings Bridge. Alternatively, create your own with a bird-feeder and some seed.

10) Get involved! Should you fall in love with the hobby as I have over the last year, there are many organizations, local and national that do wonderful work, including our very own Bird Friendly Old Ottawa East group which would love to have your support!

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