Birding 101 – starts now.

Skydiving by Gerard (Flickr)

by Gunnar Engblom on January 2, 2013


We are the end of the intros and the beginning of the start. I am about to present the plan of the e-book and the blog series that will build it.  In a way it feels like I imagine parachuting feels like. A great abyss below me and I still jump – hoping the parachute will open. To land this project in a timely manner I rely on the parachute. I will still need to direct the chute to get to the right landing place…and I will still have to land it myself.  Without it? Crash landing!

I have asked many of  my blogging and social media friends to help me out. To be my parachute. I haven’t given them much lee time, so I am still waiting for some replies. I will not compromise anyone by naming them here if they have not yet confirmed.  Check back again and again to see who have confirmed to be part of the project.

I am aware that this is a new approach to birding. It scares me. It probably scare others.  I met resistance from some birders on Facebook. I am not selling anything. I am giving away. Maybe that wasn’t clear?  Furthermore, it is not about me. It is a communal project with lots of other people making it possible.  It is principally about you, who just have become interested in birds.  It is about giving you a tool. A useful tool for you, but not only for you. This tool you can share without limits with everyone you know. Let it go viral.

Maybe I want too much and too fast for my own good.  I had hoped ABA could lead this project. But I understand it would have been difficult. One needs to convince the board and the members, that a Swedish guy who lives in Peru who says one does not need binoculars to start birding, wants the American Birding Association to lead in producing a free downloadable manual to birding in the digital age saying just that.  Yeah, right!

I shall try to land this thing myself with the help of the parachute. Some people I have written will perhaps not have the time to help out. Others are inhibited by the company or organization they work with. That is OK.  We fully support all the organizations mentioned in this project, and hopefully they will also do their share of cross promoting once the product is ready.

As far as I can see, the main thing is to get this done. The rest we shall deal with later. If the product is good and useful, there is nothing that can stop it. Remember it is free.

I am ready to jump. The parachute is this list of content for the forthcoming e-book, here presented as a blog. I hope I can find the people to build it. And if not, by the end of this week, each section which has NOT a name assigned to it, perhaps you, dear reader and supporter of this project, can suggest people willing to fill the still empty slots. Please give suggestions, of great people to work with, in the comment section below.

Blog lay-out – list of content.

The About section gives you a good background of the goals.  Contrary to most manuals about birdwatching, this series will start with online resources and how to pick a point and shoot camera for birding, to eventually make mention of more traditional ways into birding. Binoculars are not discussed until Chapter 10!

This may seem strange. Birders argue that it can’t be proper birding without binoculars and to get binoculars before anything else.  But think for a while more organically. Most people who care about birds are not “birders”. They feed birds. Or they take a snapshot with a point and shoot camera. Or they make casual observations.
It is far too early to say: Buy binoculars!  It builds up to that point eventually. We will take it slow. We want to reach the masses. We don’t want to scare anyone away.

This slow process and this project will gradually convert casual observers into the next level.  A fully fledged birdwatcher.

The schedule – 22 25 chapters

I shall not give exact dates, but considering that the series consists of 22 chapters it shall take about three months, with 2-3 chapters published each week, to finish the series.  If you have not done so already, I suggest you sign up of  for the email updates, so you don’t miss any of the chapters. There is some great stuff ahead. One important central piece to this project  is a content managing system, which shall collect a lot of North American birdwatching resources into one website.  This we shall have to build together as a community. Every reader of this blog, can become a provider of information to the content. More about this below.

Chapter 1.  Birding on the web.
Online resources. (Gunnar Engblom).
A tour to various online resources you can start using today to learn more about birds and to get help in identifying birds you have photographed.

Chapter 2.  Birding with Point and Shoot Cameras.
Steven Ingraham of Zeiss Optics gives you an introduction what to think of when choosing a  suitable megazoom P&S digital camera.

Chapter 3. Feeding the birds.  The best tricks how to feed the birds, when to start and when to end and what to give them. We will also link to some feeder web-cams on the internet that you can check out (give us your best feeder cam tips).  Eventually, you may want to join the feeder watch program of Cornell Lab of Ornithology. See below.  (Author to be confirmed)

Chapter 4: Feederwatch. Bird populations undergo changes. Modern threats such as climate change, pollution, urban development also influence the populations. It is important to watch these changes. One way to collect massive amount of data, for scientists to use in their analyses, is persuading the public to send their observations to Feederwatch.  (Author to be confirmed)

Chapter 5. Bird Gardening
It is not only about feeding the birds if you have a big back yard. You may also shape the environment to become more bird friendly.  Carole Sevilla Brown show her top easy tips without having to become a full-time gardener.

Chapter 6.  Local suppliers for bird feeding and bird gardening.
We shall list owners of  stores for supplies of bird food and bird-gardening such as owners of Wild Birds Unlimited and Wild Bird Centers stores who are also bloggers and active in social media.
If  bird-feeding and bird-gardening interest you, you will  learn a lot from these. If you own or run a store which sells supplies for bird-feeding and bird gardening, and you also blog or are active in social media let me know and I will include you in the list.

Additionally, this is where the content managing system will begin.  We shall build a store locator for US and Canada. All stores shall be found on a Google map within the system.

This will be labor intense. Maybe someone from Wild birds Unlimited and from Wild Bird Centers could send us an excel file of all their stores. Also other franchises that sell bird food (please suggest names of such franchises) could do the same.
Everyone, shall be able to help to enter their favorite suppliers in the content system.

Visitors to the site will be able to rate stores and leave comments. The owners of each store will be able to manage their information.  Gunnar Engblom is building the content managing system.

Chapter 7.  Blogging – showing your birds to the world
Although, Facebook is great for sharing photos once in a while. You may want to share more and report from your explorations. Some simply delivers a nature diary of their explorations, while others concentrate on providing useful content for others. Robert Mortensen, Gunnar Engblom share some of their secrets.
We also hope to hold a webinar about bird blogging. Would you be interested?

Chapter 8. Social Media for birders.
Gunnar Engblom list various platforms and give ideas how to connect with other birders locally and worldwide.

Chapter 9. Birding with DSLR
What is ideal for bird photographer? How serious do you want to get? How long lenses do you need? What do cropping-sensors and megapixel really mean? Tradeoffs? Budget? A professional bird photographer will go through these items. (Yet do be defined)

Chapter 10.  Choosing binoculars.
In spite of promoting bird photography as entrance point to birding, in the end you really do need a pair of bins. You see so much more details with binoculars and you will find it easier to take a record shot if you located the bird first in the binoculars. Most old-time birders, will tell you that while getting a picture is great, the best experience of behavior and grace about birds you experience live with binoculars.  If you have reached this stage you should really consider getting binoculars.

In this post an expert (to be defined) will guide us through what to think of when choosing binoculars.  And give a range of tips of binoculars for beginners and especially highlighting inexpensive binoculars and binoculars for kids. 

Nothing beats visiting a dealer before buying to test the optics, why below we list all the binoculars outlets in the US and Canada that we know of. Some are even have panorama windows so you can test them in conditions close to the field conditions.  Another good idea is to visit birding festivals and test binoculars there.

We shall start listing all birding optics outlets in the US and Canada in the content managing system. Again, please help us inserting the data and get in touch with the owners to manage their entries.  I shall announce the content managing system within the coming  2 weeks. Keep your eyes open for this.

Chapter 11. Choosing telescope for digiscoping.
While a telescope may feel like a huge investment for someone who got into birding via a point and shoot camera it brings some advantages.  Apart from being able to finally see some details on those pesky sandpipers on the mudflat, it also opens up fantastic opportunities for long-range photography exploring the technique called digiscoping. It is also a cheaper alternative than extremely long lenses for the DSLR.

We hope to get the leading experts from the field to give their tips here.  Stay tuned for announcement of who they are. 

Chapter 12.  Describing a bird – what to look for to identify a bird yourself.
One of the pitfalls that traditional birders often mention about photography verses birding, is that the photographer stops looking at the bird while shooting away. Some information may not make appear in the photo. What was the relative size? How did the bird appear? What was it doing? What did it sound like?  We hope a major field guide author will cover this topic for us.  Stay tuned! Kenn Kaufman has confirmed to write this section.

Chapter 13. Identifying birdsfield guides, apps and additional online resources
Sooner or later you will want to learn to identify birds by the means of a field guide or a birding app for your tablet or smartphone. There are also online resources for identifying birds. Grant McCreary and Drew Weber will go through the books and apps and give a fast review of what is available.

Chapter 14. Birding by Ear.
How to learn bird calls. Resources on line for bird calls. An expert on birdcalls, namely Tony Gallucci will write this chapter.

Chapter 15. The economics of birds and birding.
Ted Lee Eubanks
has a long history of building resources for birders and building communities which supply services. Ted will show us that birding is not only fun, but it makes for good sustainable business which protects habitat and the birds we love. More birders =>More business=>More conservation.

Chapter 16. The Benefits of birding. 
Dave Magpiong will show how birding can improve your life – health, cognition, social life, development of children, mental acuity for seniors etc.

Chater 17. Birder ethics for digi-birders

Birder have a long tradition of setting up ethics for how to behave as a birder approaching the birds. Drew Weber will summarize a set of good standards for people who photograph birds. These standards have been selected in a survey given to bird photographers.

Chapter 18.  Become a better birder. Join a club.
A prominent birder (to be announced) will make a case why join a bird club.

For the content managing system all birding clubs and Audubon chapters across the US and Canada will be listed.
In reality it will be something of an updated  combined listing of the following resources:

This will be labor intense, but again possible cooperating. A current Excel file from Audubon with all the local chapters would be a great start. Who has the contact details to get this?

Once every birdclub is responsible for their own information in the content managing system, they shall also be able to upload all events including talks and field trips to the event calendar which is build into the content managing system.

Chapter 19. Birding Magazines.
We shall list the major birding, birdwatching and bird gardening magazines in North America – and give a short review for each. Please provide contact details to editors/owners of these in the comment section below. (Need someone to be responsible for this section. Suggestions? Volunteers?)

To be listed the magazine must promise to

  1. Mention in their magazine and website with link.
  2. Put a link to download the ebook on their web-page when it is ready.

Chapter 20. Birding Festivals.
Which are the best birding festivals in North America?  Perhaps we make the users decide in a survey. Hope to get a birding festival organizer to lead this topic.

Again we shall use the content managing system to place the birding festivals on a google map, as well as show the dates for each in the event calendar.

Chapter 21. Listing and ebird.
Many birders keep lists. Now lists can be kept on line. Ebird from Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the most important where your records also contributes to research.  Chris Wood from E-bird will write this chapter. A few desktop software and apps for smartphones shall also be discussed here.

Chapter 22.  Bird Conservation
American Birding Conservancy protects birds in the North America and in Central and South America.  ABC president Mike Parr presents ABC.

Chapter 23. Bird Travel
It is becoming more and more popular to look for birds further and further away from home.  Bird Tour Operators – a selected list of bird tour operators.

To be listed the bird tour operator must promise to:

  1. Upload a link to The  blog – to start with,
  2. Upload a link to Download the e-book
  3. Mention the blog and the e-book in their newsletter to their clients.

We need a volunteer to lead this topic. Anyone who has traveled a lot can do this.

Chapter 24. Make someone near you a birder.  Pledge to Fledge.
A wonderful new global movement to get more people involved into birding. It is simple. Just take someone birding. Next event is April 26th-28th 2013. Richard Crossley has agreed to summarize what the movement is and how you can get involved.

Chapter 25. Share this. Spread this.
The more people who get into birding, the more resources there would be for birding itself, for bird conservation and any type of birding business. Do yourself a favor. Do the birds a favor. Share this and spread this as often as you can. Print it entirely! Give it away!

You are not allowed to sell it!

The end

So what do you think? Will this work? Looking forward to your feed back in the comment section.
In the end it depends on how many people share the message. Share this and earlier posts with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Make a blogpost about this project. Send some links to friends via email.

If you liked this post, you may want to subscribe to this blog.  The first post is due in a couple of days. And Stephen Ingraham has prepared a monster post for Chapter 2 about digital point and shoot cameras. You really don’t want to miss any posts.

Gunnar  Engblom
Connect with Gunnar on Facebook or Twitter or

PS: I added this author box below. Does this work?   Too big?  Too much advertising or relevant info?

Top photo: Before the jump by Gerard on Flickr. Creative Commons.


{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

David Moran January 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Hello Gunnar,

We like the idea and are willing to help. Please do not hesitate to let us know about how we can participate.


David Moran


Gunnar Engblom January 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Share, share, share.. Thanks for your support David.


okbookwoman January 2, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Wow! Glad to be in on the ground floor of this grand design! Good luck!


Gunnar Engblom January 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm



Steve Greenfield January 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Great idea, it is extremely important to get more people interested. I’m eager to see some of the chapters myself. The only possible omission that comes to mind is, observing birds, and bird behavior. Identifying species is key, and what appeals to many of us, but I suspect there are many people who are not attracted by that.


Gunnar Engblom January 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm

That is true, Steve. Watching bird behavior is a fantastic and enjoyable past time, and probably the most important ingredient for those who feed the birds and attract birds to their gardens. Still some basic identification is necessary, because you still need to know what species you are looking at doing some strange behavior. I think “watching bird behavior” could be an excellent topic for the continuation of the blog after the e-book is done. There shall be many levels to explore further.
There shall also be a lot of room for guest bloggers who would like to cover one topic or the other.


Rob McNair-Huff January 2, 2013 at 11:18 pm

I love the idea of this resource. I think one piece you may be missing is something with tips about where to go birding – how to find the best locations near you.

Let me know if I can be of any help along the way. My wife and I wrote a guide to some of the best birding locations in Washington state with some other natural history focus in our 2004 dead tree book, Birding Washington.


Gunnar Engblom January 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Hi Rob
Good to hear from you. The content managing system will surely be adaptable to also include birding sites in the future. If we can get a high user ration of the system, then it shall be easy to have user log in their birding locations.
When I did the World Series of birding last year, driving around in New Jersey, with a GPS and a “where to find the birds book” of New Jersey, it struck me. Why isn’t all the birds sites already on the GPS. Well, here with Google maps as the motor for the geolocation and a free system where people can upload their birding sites, with a critical mass of users, this should grow.
If we get all the birding clubs, audubon chapters, bird food/bird gardining stores, and all birding festivals into the system and users of all these…I think we shall have a critical mass to start working on the birding sites.

Your computer savvy could come in handy. Would you like to help me? Send me an email and I´ll tell about the system which will handle this.



Debbie Blair January 3, 2013 at 8:11 am

Hi Gunnar, I am really excited to hear about this endeavor! Looks like a lot of great information and resources will be available. Keep up the great work.


Gunnar Engblom January 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Thanks Debbie! Appreciate your support.


Nadir Souirgi January 3, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi Gunnar,
Congratulations on conceiving such a beautiful and necessary idea. I must admit that I’m not quite advanced enough to lend effective material support I am open to doing what I can. Even if it is just spreading the word to every birder that I know. I happen to be an elementary school art teacher and would be excited to use your eguide as a basis for an art/science unit in my classroom. This is clearly an ambitious project and I don’t mean to complicate your task with this question, however, do you think there might be a section about keeping a field notebook. It has been an incredibly useful practice that continues to nourish my understanding, appreciation and ID skills. There are many professional birders out there who are much more qualified than myself to make such a contribution and if you have trouble securing some one I would do my best to provide the content. Obviously, only if you find such a section relevant to your vision. Rafael Galvez comes to mind. He is a masterful birder from south Florida and an accomplished artist. He is also the current director of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. It could be a mutually beneficial relationship.if this interests you, let me know if you have any difficulty getting in touch with him. I can help facilitate that as well.
All the best,
Nadir Souirgi


Gunnar Engblom January 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Hi Nadir.
Thanks so much for your support. I will be looking forward to hear the feedback when you use the material with your pupils. I agree that a notebook is very important to actually learn something about the birds. But I am not sure I want to include that in the e-book. This probably sounds strange to most birders, because we have all been taught this way, and in the end, it is the notebook that has refined our skills.
Nonetheless, with all these gadgets available, I find myself more often paperless and pen-less. I have stopped taking notes and like many others I take photos instead. I may annotate the photos if I like.

Nonetheless, the blog will carry on after completion of the eBook, and then I think it shall be interesting to broaden the topic to the more traditional birding topics. A very interesting such post could be if someone, perhaps Rafael, could do a post about the place of note taking in the digital age, and why it is still relevant.
I am sure Kenn Kaufman will make some mention about note taking in his post: How to identify birds, and what to look for that one may not capture through the camera.


Chery January 3, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Awesome! love it


Gunnar Engblom January 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm



Carole Sevilla Brown January 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Gunnar, I love your concept in designing this project! And I’m so thrilled that you’ve invited me to participate by sharing my knowledge about how to create more welcoming habitats for birds in our gardens. Big kudos to you for setting this ball in motion!


Gunnar Engblom January 3, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Thanks. A bit unorthodox, but it needs to be done. I am intrigued myself if it will work, but if we don’t try, how will we know.


Don Crockett January 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I would suggest finding a better URL for your effort. As is, your URL will cause confusion in the North American market that you’re focussing on both with the existing site and with the use of the unfamiliar .co top-level domain. is already taken, however and are available. I would switch to one of those as soon as possible.


Don Crockett January 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Or reconsider your branding in general. “Birding101” doesn’t capture what you are attempting to accomplish and will inevitably cause conflicts with “old-school” birders. “Birding101 in the Digital Age” or “DigiBirding101” would convey more in my opinion.


Gunnar Engblom January 4, 2013 at 1:41 am

Hi Don

Originally, the site was just called Birding. Birdwatching in the digital age. And I bought a domain that contained the word birding. Paul Riss (PunkrockBigYear), who is a professional designer and made the logo, suggested Birding101. It has a good ring to it.

So I think I will stick to “Birding 101. Birdwatching in the digital age”. Because just saying Birding 101… is to say birding and digits… thus the tagline Birdwatching in the digital age, I think works really well.

I may still do some changes in the logo and the header.
I am not sure that changing the URL is such a good idea. I would have to redirect, and I really don’t want to buy more domains. I want to concentrate on the content now.


Heritage Expeditions NZ January 6, 2013 at 12:47 am

Hi Gunnar
A fantastic idea – I have just come across your Blog and am reading it with interest. We lead birding, wildlife and natural history expeditions to subAntarctic, Antarctica, Western Pacific and Russian Far East. As well as many expert birders amongst our passengers, we also have many ‘beginner’ birders and ‘keen-to-start’ birders as well who are inspired by what they see. I will follow your journey with interest and share on our various platforms.
Kind regards from New Zealand


Gunnar Engblom January 6, 2013 at 2:29 am

Thanks. On the verge of being considered spam…but because of the fantastic work you guys have done for Spoon-billed Sandpiper..I am approving your comment. I have big respect for Heritage Expeditions. Un abrazo. Gunnar.


Robert Setzer January 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I am fully supportive! I have a Ph.D. in marine biology, but never cared about birds. I really started birding in 2009. Basically I was taking photos, and after shooting birds I did not know, and not finding them in books (yes, some pics were not so good!), a neighbor told me of a great list-serv in Michigan run by Bruce Bowman. I found a “home” to ask my “silly questions” about birds. I was fully accepted by the members of the list. They made many suggestions over the last few years – and yes, many said binocs first – but I guarantee, if I had not been inspired by wanting to know what I shot first, and finding a place where I could ask without reprisal, I never would have continued birding. A “former life” of mine was as a seaweed taxonomist so I well understand the need for vocabulary (i.e., a name) for communication! I really think you are embarking on a truly open new approach to involving new birders. I have seen it work with “regular people” around my condo complex. Once they know a name, they feel free to share behavior observations with me. Applause to you!!! I will help when I can! – “Dr. Bob” in Michigan


Gunnar Engblom January 9, 2013 at 1:57 am

Dear Bob. Thanks so much for your testimony. I am very much a traditional birder, hard-core and a lister, and had it not been for the fact that I am living in Peru and seeing how people approach birding here (with a camera) where there is no traditional birding community, I would perhaps had been be joining all the nay-sayers.
Now I am seeing that this approach works. We are getting more and more people into birding by inviting the people taking photos of birds. I have set up several groups in Peru for beginner birder with the purpose that they shall be found by anyone who would like to know what kind of birds they happened to photograph with a cellphone or a point and shoot.
I have started to import Vortex binoculars to Peru, simply because there used to be a huge black market for stolen optics, and partly because no one else is doing it. This way there is an alternative with life time warranty (no questions asked) and accessible price. Yet, I still recommend Peruvians who want to get into birds to get a point and shoot first which will give them a whole more enjoyment and a better learning curve as they can share their results, than binoculars. Eventually, if they get in to it…. I probably will sell them a pair of Vortex Diamondbacks.
Then again, selling binoculars is not my major business. Bird tours are.

Your comment about putting a name to things, I think is one of the largest satisfaction that underlies birdwatching – or any type of nature watching for that matter. Describing the world around you is very satisfying. I said early on in this series that birdwatching is less than stamp collection and more like wine tasting. You are developing a sense you did not realize you had.

Just like you can learn how to recognize flavors (bouquets) of wine to identify the grape used, in birding you train similar senses with your eyes and your ears. You hear sounds around and you see a silhouette of a bird flying bye and you can name it.
It is almost superhuman to non-birders. But I also think it is a skill that attract people if packaged in a more modern way.
Omce again, Robert. Thanks so much for your feedback.


Dawn Fine January 12, 2013 at 7:57 pm

A wonderful, huge undertaking! You have a great team working on this so far!!
I look forward to reading more.


Gunnar Engblom January 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Thanks Dawn. It is coming together. Nuff talking and just do it.


Daniele May 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm

You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the best blogs
on the internet. I’m going to highly recommend this site!


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