Birding can be great with friends and like-minded enthusiasts, and while there are many benefits to birding in a group, it can be just as advantageous to go birding by yourself. Solitary birding does require some additional considerations and preparation, however, and before setting off into the field alone, savvy birders will be well-equipped for a day of birding without other birders.
Benefits of Solitary Birding
Birding alone allows birders to do things they cannot do in a group, to cater to their own interests and birding preferences without adjusting for anyone else.
When birding by yourself, you can…
- Take Your Time: Without needing to keep to anyone else's schedule, you can indulge in studying even the most common and familiar birds. Use that time to really observe the subtlety of their markings and behavior and you will be surprised at how much there is to learn even about bird species you thought you knew very well. Keep those notes in a birding journal for future reference and to build a body of knowledge that will serve you well whenever you go birding.
- Speed It Up: If you're only interested in adding more birds to a daily list or other record, you can quickly twitch each species and move on if you're birding by yourself. Ignore whatever birds you aren't interested in and immediately move on to the next species or hotspot to see more and more birds without inconveniencing anyone who may want longer looks.
- Open Your Ears: Birding by ear is often best done alone, when other people's conversation, exclamations or inadvertent noises – shuffling, breaking twigs, coughing, etc. – will not cause interruptions. Take the opportunity to stand perfectly still and just listen, you'll be amazed at how many more sounds you here and what birds you can begin to identify by their calls, songs and non-verbal sounds.
- Try New Skills: Birding by yourself is a great opportunity to try out new skills, such as learning how to draw or sketch birds, pishing to attract curious birds or enhancing your bird photography skills. Without anyone else to accommodate, you can take as much time as you need to work on your techniques without inconveniencing other birders who may have different skills they would prefer to enhance.
- Try New Places: Groups of birders often visit the same familiar, productive hotspots over and over, and while that can teach you what areas are great for birding, if you are by yourself you can try out a new park, unknown wetland or isolated stretch of woods without difficulty. This can lead to amazing discoveries of new favorite places to bird that may be more convenient or just more interesting because they aren't as well known.
- Rely on Yourself: Too often it is easy to rely on others' identifications of tricky species without really confirming a bird's identity yourself, but if you are birding alone, there is no one else to provide clues – wanted or not – about what birds you are seeing or hearing. This can help you better sharpen all your birding skills and develop greater confidence in your own experience and expertise.
Tips for Birding by Yourself
Birders who plan to go birding alone should be appropriately equipped and prepared to deal with whatever situations they may meet in the field without assistance. To be a safe, effective solitary birder…
- Pack Appropriate Gear: Without a companion, you will not be able to rely on someone else's equipment or a different field guide. Packing along an extra guide, a slightly larger field bag and an extra bottle of water will ensure you have all the necessary resources for a great field trip. Before leaving, check your optics, camera and other equipment to be sure everything is functioning correctly.
- Charge Up: Before setting off into the field by yourself, be sure your cell phone – if you use one – is fully charged in case of emergencies. Similarly, check your vehicle tires for proper inflation and ensure you have plenty of gas for your trip.
- Let Someone Know: Always let a friend or family member know when you plan to go into the field by yourself, giving them a general idea of the locations you plan to visit and when you hope to return so they can alert the necessary authorities or emergency personnel if there are problems.
- Stay Safe: Follow all proper safety tips for birders, including staying alert to your surroundings – not just the birds, but also local weather, the overall time, your level of exertion and any nearby wildlife so you are aware of any dangerous situations or hazards before they become severe threats.
Most of all, enjoy yourself when you go birding alone. Take time to breathe deep, smell the wildflowers, study an unusual butterfly and otherwise appreciate the opportunity to retreat from the busyness of life and immerse yourself in nothing but the nature you enjoy.
Photo – Solitary Birder © Justin Meissen