Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 plans

Cuban Tody--my most wanted bird!
This year is shaping up to be one of the best ever for birding for me.

  • On Saturday, January 16, I’m flying to San Diego for one of Kim Eckert’s birding tours
  • At the end of May, I’m heading for Maine for two weeks to be an instructor at the Audubon camp on Hog Island
  • In October, I’m going to spend a week at my most-yearned-for destination on the planet, Cuba, looking for my most-yearned-for bird on the planet, the Cuban Tody
  • In November, I’m headed to another place I’ve yearned to go since I was a child, Uganda. 
I’ve birded enough in the U.S. that I’m not likely to see any lifers—that is, brand new birds I’ve never seen before—on the California or Maine trips. I’ve birded eight times in California now, so I’m not even likely to see many new birds for the state. But the joy of adding lifers and new state birds is more transitory than the joy of seeing and hearing cool birds.

I love revisiting places I’ve birded in, love visiting new places, and love seeing whatever birds happen to be wherever I happen to be. Yet no matter how much I like to say I don’t need new birds, I’m really with King Lear—O reason not the need! I’ll be seeing a good 300 lifers in Cuba and Uganda combined! All four trips promise to be wonderful.

Regardless of whether I’m headed to a new or old place, I like to make sure I’m abreast of the birding possibilities—something that is easier than ever before, thanks to eBird. I go to, click on “Explore Data,” and enter each spot of our itinerary under “Explore Hotspots.” I can set the date for the current year, and see where each species has been seen. eBird even provides bar charts showing how common each species on a country’s list is, month by month. It’s a great way to generate a checklist or simply a study-ahead list.

eBird bar chart showing a few of the species I may see

Of course, the old fashioned way of preparing for a trip is with books and magazines. BirdWatching magazine publishes a series, “Hotspots Near You,” with great information about a steadily increasing number of places throughout North America, and even beyond. If you don’t have back issues, or even if you do but don’t know which issue covers a specific spot, you can find each spot on their online interactive map on their website at

The American Birding Association has published a great series of books with titles beginning, “A Birder’s Guide to…” These provide in-depth directions to virtually all the good spots in each state, bar graphs showing how abundant different birds are month by month, and lots more. Even if you’re not a birder, these guides show you lovely natural areas when you’re in an unfamiliar town.

Brushing up on identification is way easier now than it used to be. My two favorite North American birding identification apps correspond to the Sibley and National Geographic field guides. Both provide all the content of the paper field guide plus the sounds for each North American species.

I won’t have to study too hard for California and Maine, but will have to master a LOT of birds before I go to Uganda. To accomplish this, I bought another app created by the same company that created the Sibley app—this one is the eGuide to Birds of East Africa. I also bought an inexpensive plastic-coated guide to the most common birds of that area—there are so many unfamiliar species that this little cheat sheet will be a good way to get started on that challenge.

 Going to a new place is fun in the planning, the going, and the remembering. And this year I’ll be doing this for four exciting places—2016 promises to be an exciting year from start to finish.