Winter Birding in the Capital Region Written by Claudette Thornton & Elizabeth Burns, Audubon New York PerigrinE Falcon – photo by Richard Deveran During the long cold months of winter, outdoor activities are an excellent way to beat cabin fever. Studies show that spending time in nature has multiple health benefits and if you’re willing to brave the chill of a Northeast winter, the Capital Region offers tremendous birding opportunities the whole family can enjoy, regardless of one’s experience level or age. As one of the country’s fastest growing past times, birding is an easily accessible activity—a hobby that can be taken up no matter where you live. In New York, over 450 bird species rely on a variety of habitats that offer a treasure trove of year- round birding trips. To join in on the fun, you’ll only need a few things: binoculars, a notebook, a field list, bird guide, warm winter layers, and an adventurous spirit. It’s true that many birds head south to Mexico and beyond during the fall migration. However, a lot of species also stay here to overwinter, and some even travel here from further points north such as Canada and the arctic to find food and shelter during the winter months. The diversity of birds in the winter may vary from what you can see during the spring and summer, but it’s no less spectacular. In this article we will offer you tips, tricks and prime locations for experiencing the winter wonders of birding. 20 If you’re just starting out, birding can be intimidating, but rest assured that all it takes to become an expert is practice and a good ear. Finding birds is mostly a matter of being aware and knowing where to look, and there are many locations within the Capital Region that are perfect for honing your skills, including Important Bird Areas (IBAs). These areas sometimes coincide with state park lands and are recognized and conserved as part of an international program that links global and local conservation efforts, providing critical habitat for native bird populations. When going out, be aware of your surroundings and try thinking like a bird. It may sound silly, but it works! If you go out with a group, finish chatting and stand still. Put everything away except your binoculars and soak in your surroundings and listen. Your ears are just as valuable as your eyes when it comes to finding elusive species. When scanning the area, pay special attention to snags and tree tops. And don’t forget to scan the skyline for raptors on the search for food. Birders are also a very welcoming group and are happy to help you spot something you hear, or direct you to an exciting find. If you encounter other birders on a trail, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.