Birding master teaches the fundamentals of bird watching

Tina Stoner, president of the Pomona Valley Audubon Society, recommends some introductory guides to birding and gives basics on how to start out in bird watching on Saturday at the California Botanic Garden’s Introduction to Birding class held via Zoom. / screenshot by Melody Blazauskas
Tina Stoner, president of the Pomona Valley Audubon Society, recommends some introductory guides to birding and gives basics on how to start out in bird watching on Saturday at the California Botanic Garden’s Introduction to Birding class held via Zoom. / screenshot by Melody Blazauskas

Jaydelle Herbert
Staff Writer

The California Botanic Garden hosted its first online birding event Saturday afternoon to kickstart National Bird Month.

Tina Stoner, president of the Pomona Valley Audubon Society, led the event and gave an hour-long lecture regarding the basics of being a birder.

Stoner started the discussion with the benefits of birding in Southern California, which provides the ideal climate for the activity.

“Birding connects you to nature,” Stoner said. “It is also considered a mindfulness practice; reduces your stress.”

Stoner, who has been birding for 12 years, first familiarized the 57 attendees with the parts of binoculars, how to adjust the lens to fit your eyes, and stressed the importance of keeping them clean.

Stoner called upon her unofficial oath for attendees to remember the importance of cleaning binoculars the night before going out to bird watch.

“I promise to put my binoculars away clean so that they are always ready to go birding,” Stoner said.

A successful birding strategy Stoner explained to the audience of beginners is first to scan for a bird, then keep your eyes focused on the bird, and that’s when you bring the binoculars up to their eyes. 

“Most rookies look at the bird and look down at their binoculars. Then they bring them up to their eyes, they lose the bird,” Stoner said. 

The most common question Stoner received is which binoculars are best for birding. Stoner suggested simply searching the best binoculars for birding will show potential buyer’s helpful guides based on their budget. 

Field guide books are essential for birding to help birders identify the major grouping of birds through images, written descriptions of the bird, and range map.

Another common rookie mistake is not checking the range map.

“Check the range map to see if the bird is likely to be in your area because there might be something in the text that will eliminate your first choice for identifying the bird,” Stoner said. 

Electronic field guides and apps such as Audubon, Sibley and iBird go beyond the standard paperback field guide due to the additional advantage of identifying birds through their signature songs and calls. 

Event moderator Kristen Barker repeated Stoner’s second unofficial oath of birding – to make sure birders know that it is common for birds not to look like the bird in field guides. 

Barker, who is a beginner in birding, said she loved the idea behind Stoner’s unofficial oaths with the attendees. 

“I will learn from my mistakes. I will accept that I will not be able to ID every bird. There is nothing to be gained by forcing an ID. Not every ID mystery will be solved,” Barker said.

While field notes containing the location, the bird’s species, drawings and behaviors are a few common characteristics listed, having those field notes aren’t required for birding. However, Stoner highly recommends taking field notes on every birding trip.

Stoner used an example to stress how field notes help speed up the learning process and help motivate people to go outside to bird watch. 

“I made a note (of the bird) probing the mud and how the bill was the same length as the legs. With those two bits of information I was able to find in the field guide that the bird was the Long-billed Dowitcher,” Stoner said. 

The key observations to identify a bird include the size and shape, color pattern, behavior and habitat, but the main area of the bird to observe are the wings and head.

“The birds are perpetually in motion and you may not have a chance to evaluate the overall body,” Stoner said. 

Southern California has various habitats throughout the region, from coastal to desert. Stoner shared how Southern California’s habitats have created the widest variety of birds.

“This is what makes Los Angeles the ‘birdiest’ county in the country,” Stoner said. 

Margaret Teske, seven-year member of the California Botanic Garden, learned through Stoner’s presentation which field guides to buy as she continues her passion for birding.

“I bought some of the books already through Amazon,” Teske said.

Beyond teaching the culture behind birding, Stoner valued her role in teaching the attendees what her professor didn’t teach her as a beginner birder.  

“The class was based on what I wish I was told when I first started,” Stoner said.

A recording of the Introduction to Birding event is available on the California Botanic Garden YouTube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=Z22JP9RUtB4.

The California Botanic Garden has its Bird Month events listed on their website, calbg.org/events-programs/calbg-bird-month.

Jaydelle Herbert can be reached at jaydelle.herbert@laverne.edu.

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