by Josh Wallestad
We all suffer from some degree of NBF – Non-Birding Family. Seeing a cool bird like the Black-throated Blue Warbler gets your heart racing and makes you want to call or text all your birding friends; a member of your NBF sees the same bird and politely, but flatly, says, “That’s neat.” They just don’t get it. They don’t understand that a Snowy Owl in the next county means you jump in the car and go – now. Other things are more important, like cooking dinner, helping with homework, attending your daughter’s dance recital…
Don’t worry, you’re among friends here. We understand your obsession and share it. In fact, you’re probably visiting this site because you’re daydreaming right now about that next big birding trip to some far-off land. While the NBF wants to go to New York City to see a Broadway show, you want to jet off to New Mexico to see the Rufous-necked Wood Rail. But you only have so much time and money, so how do you go on a good birding trip and keep those loved ones happy at the same time? It is possible to accomplish both. Here’s how:
Don’t Make it About the Birds
Wait, what? You read that right. If the trip focuses on your interest alone, everybody will be miserable – including yourself. The goal is to have everyone win. If there is a bird or birding location you want to visit, find a destination nearby that offers something to everyone in the family. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see Roseate Spoonbills and Glossy Ibises, so it’s time to finally take that trip to Disney World in sunny Florida.
Or you’ve been dying to see the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. Perhaps it could be combined with a trip to travel across the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge and a stay on Mackinac Island, where the clock is turned back to the 19th century with horse-drawn carriages and beautiful Victorian architecture. And if you’re lucky to have a baseball fan in the house, wait until the home team plays the St. Louis Cardinals so you can make a trip to the Gateway of the West to take in a game and hunt for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
Don’t Let the Birding Take Over
Once you find that destination where you can mix in some birding with your family trip, don’t be a hog. Nothing turns an NBF into an ABF (Anti-Birding Family) like letting your passion consume the vacation. Make sure your birding takes up relatively little time or is easy on the family – save the garbage dump trawling for larids and the long waits in the cold for when you’re on your own. If you need to go solo to accomplish your birding mission, only chase birds for a few hours max. If you are lucky enough to have your family join you, find a trail that’s easy to walk or a place where you can drive and bird from the car. You will certainly want to bird on future trips, so don’t blow your chances by making your loved ones miserable.
Do Your Homework
Wherever you and your NBF choose to visit, find out what birds are endemic to the area. Studying range maps in your field guide is a good start, but to get more specific locations you may have to go a little further. Check out Great Destinations to find good birding spots both in the U.S. and abroad. Additionally, you can go to the website of nearly any state or country’s natural resources department to find more good birding locations.
You can also access rare bird alerts and list serves for each state through the American Birding Association’s website. This may let you get a bonus rare bird on the spur of the moment – like the Eurasian Wigeon that showed up near Phoenix last winter.
Exploring data at eBird.org is another great way to search for a target bird near your vacation destination. Here recent sightings are geographically pinpointed, and you can view other birders’ checklists to see what birds they have found in a particular spot. Getting to the right spot will put you onto the birds sooner, allowing you to get back to spending distraction-free time with your NBF.
You are not in this hobby alone. Birders are a friendly bunch and love nothing more than to help out one of their own. Join a Facebook birding group for the state or country you intend to visit and ask its members for tips. Subscribe to the applicable rare bird list serve and post about your upcoming visit. You may even have some friendly soul volunteer to personally lead you right to that target bird.
By planning ahead and considering the desires of your NBF, you can manage to get some great birding memories in a short amount of time. Don’t forget to enjoy the non-birding part of your trip and spending time with your loved ones. Who knows, if you do it right, you may end up turning your family onto birding.
Josh Wallestad is high school math teacher and birding fanatic in west-central Minnesota who spends his summers off taking his family on fun trips and chasing rare birds. His 6-year-old son, Evan, got him into birding over a year ago, and Josh blogs about their adventures together at www.aboywhocriedheron.com. Both Evan and Josh recently made the 200 Club for their life lists and are eager to see even more of the avian diversity both near and far.