Trip tips -- helpful info for SMRA field trips

Saw Mill River Audubon follows the American Birding Association's Code of Ethics: online here.

Maybe you are thinking about your first ever birding field trip? (Welcome!)
Or maybe you are an experienced birder and are curious what Saw Mill River Audubon field trips are like?
Below is a collection of trip tips suggested by our field trip leaders and participants.

basic info

  • All are welcome! Don't worry if you've never been on a bird walk before. We welcome beginners! All ages are welcome for most of our field trips. We welcome young birders. However, children under 6 are not a good match for some of our trips so check the trip description and/or email us to see if a trip is good for very young children.
  • Check our Google calendar on the front page of our website before traveling. We always update that with any changes to our events.
  • We have binoculars to lend! It's helpful have a couple days notice if you want to borrow binoculars for field trips on weekend days. For most Monday walks, we always bring extra binoculars.
  • Do I need to register? Most of our trips don't require registration, some do. Check the trip description on our website calendar. Our website calendar is updated when a trip's registration is full.
  • We try to start on time. The listed field trip time is usually when we start birding so do plan to arrive at least five minutes before that.
  • Ending times are flexible. Don't hesitate to leave early from a trip as needed. Just give the trip leader a heads up. Most field trips last about two hours.
  • What about restrooms during a field trip? Ask the field trip leader about this at the start of the walk or email us before a longer trip. We plan ahead.
  • What about dogs? Sorry. You dog is, most likely, a wonderful walk companion and fun to be around. But our field trips are not a good match for dogs. (Wild birds see dogs as predators, even a dog on a leash.)
  • Is there a charge for SMRA field trips? Almost all of our field trips are free! We offer these as a community service. Do check the trip description on our website to see if there are parking or entrance fees at the visited site. If you are carpooling with someone, offer to share costs for gas or tolls. Ask the driver about this beforehand. We welcome your donations online here to support our work.

birding stuff

  • Ask questions! Always ask the trip leader or trip participants if you are not seeing a bird everyone else is seeing! Never hesitate to ask how a bird was identified or if you question an identification. We welcome learning from each other on our field trips.
  • Birding by ear. We find more birds if we can listen while walking. So please do enjoy the friendly conversations that are always part of our field trips, just do this at a low volume being ready to hit the pause button if the leader or others have stopped walking. That may mean they are listening or looking for a bird that you'll want to see. The field trip leader, especially, will be focused on seeing and hearing as many birds as possible to share with the group. And, yes, if you get a cell call, please do step well away from the group to take that call, quietly.
  • We use eBird. We record all the birds seen and heard on our field trips and share our eBird checklist after the field trip by email. We can also share our eBird list directly to your eBird account if you have one. Just let us know your eBird username. [More about eBird is here:] We usually only add birds to the group's eBird list if they were seen or heard by a field trip leader plus, at least, one other person. You are welcome, of course, to add other birds to your own list.
  • Help us find birds on our field trips!
    • If you see something, say something. Don't worry that it might be a common bird. Every bird counts. And if it turns out to be one of those "leaf birds" or "branch birds," i.e. not a bird at all, no worries. We all do that sometimes.
    • It's best not to point suddenly at a bird. We also all do this from time to time! But a sudden arm motion like this may actually, sadly, cause the bird to fly away. Try not to do this.
    • Start with the obvious directions -- left or right side of the path?, flying overhead? (left to right or right to left?), perched in a tree or on the ground? -- and then pick the most obvious feature near the bird -- largest tree? rock? certain color of leaves nearby? unusual branch shape? a park sign? -- and then describe from there.
    • Consider using clock directions for a bird in a tree, i.e. top center is 12 o'clock, right center is 3, bottom center is 6, left center is 9. This helps. Really.

What about photography & Privacy?

We often have many talented photographers along on our field trips and we often share bird pictures in the post-trip email with the checklist and/or add them to our eBird checklist, with photographer permission and credit line. Do share your bird pictures with SMRA!

Please note: by participating in a SMRA field trip, your photograph may be taken as part of group pictures. We do not label field trip pictures with participant names but we do often post trip photos to social media or use them in our newsletter. Unless you tell us otherwise, we will assume we have your permission for this.

To go deeper on this, here is a more detailed look at our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Birding Etiquette

As with any group activity, here are some practices to make a better experience for everyone.

  • Avoid walking ahead of the group and, especially, the field trip leader. You may chase away birds before the group gets to see them. If you have to leave earlier by walking ahead of the group, just give the trip leader a heads up.
  • Spotting scope etiquette. We often share closer views of birds through spotting scopes on most of our trips. Here are some suggestions to help the most people enjoy those views.
    • When it's your turn, take a quick look and then step to the side aftewards to let others behind you get to the scope.
    • Try not to bump the scope or kick the tripod because then the bird will be out of view. This happens, sometimes, to everyone. But try not to do this.
    • If the bird is moving out of the view while you are watching, shift the scope slightly to keep it in view, if possible, before stepping away.
    • If you can't find the bird in the scope, ask for help and try again. If the scope owner has confirmed the bird is in view and your second look also fails, step away and let others try first, if they are waiting.
    • And, if you are already familiar with the bird species in the scope view, consider waiting until last or skipping your viewing turn to allow others to look first.
  • Playback and Pishing We limit the use of playback -- playing recorded bird sounds to attract birds -- on our field trips, using this infrequently, only by the trip leader and only when this will not negatively impact nesting or foraging birds, or other birders. "Pishing" is a birding techinique of making a sound -- like the word "pish" -- to imitate alarm sounds made by some birds when they see a predator, like a hawk or cat. This can attract birds briefly into view but can also stress birds, if used carelessly. We ask that only leaders do this on our field trips.

What about longer birding trips?

For our longer trips, with overnights, here are a few more suggested tips.

    • Ask lots of questions before signing up! What will the schedule be: morning start times, pace of the day, how much walking? What is the expected weather? What clothing should I bring? What birds are expected? What does the trip cost cover?
    • Ask beforehand if this trip a good match for a non-birding companion. Some are. Some aren't. Ask first before signing up.
    • Mix it up. If this is an overnight trip with SMRA-rented vehicles, SMRA often makes a practice of switching seats day-to-day to give everyone a chance to connect and, perhaps, to have that coveted front passenger seat!
    • Checklist fun. On our longer trips, we go over our checklist at dinner each night, reviewing the birds we've seen. (See how we do this at the eBird note above.)
    • Support Saw Mill River Audubon. All of our longer trips have a donation for SMRA built into the trip cost. We'll mail you an acknowledgment for that donation with thanks for helping to sustain our local conservation and education work.