Birdwatching 101: Your Guide to the Hobby in the Hudson Valley

Want to go birdwatching in the Hudson Valley? Here's what to know about the hobby and which birds to look out for in the region.

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Roughly 200 native bird species call the Hudson Valley home, nesting everywhere from the Catskill Mountains to marshes along the Hudson River to the coast of the Long Island Sound in Westchester. If you’re curious about the sport of birdwatching, spring is the perfect time to get up close and personal with our feathered friends.

binoculars
Adobe Stock | Myvisuals

Birding 101

Before you dive in, brush up on some tips and tricks from two veteran bird nerds.

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Gear Up.

You only need two things to start birding, says Kathryn J. Schneider, longtime local birder and author of Birding the Hudson Valley: A good set of binoculars (she recommends a pair with center focus that magnifies seven to ten times) and something to help you identify birds. Wendy Tocci, regional coordinator for the New York Breeding Bird Atlas, recommends a field guide specific to the region so you won’t be overwhelmed with nonnative species. Apps like Merlin Bird ID and eBird are, in Schneider’s words, “the best thing since sliced bread.” Check out our gear guide, “Flight School,” for more information.

Practice Makes Perfect.

One way to get used to recognizing different birds is by hanging a bird feeder in your backyard. “A lot of people try to find birds with their binoculars, but the trick is to see the bird first with your eyes, and then add the binoculars for a better view,” says Schneider. Tocci adds that bird feeders and bird baths (that are properly maintained) are great ways to support birds while also being able to view them. Once you’re comfortable, you can start visiting nature preserves to put your skills to the test. (Not into hiking? You can still see plenty of species at parking areas along the river and other scenic overlooks.)

Get Out There.

Although you can bird year-round, Schneider says spring is ideal. “Migratory birds that left for the winter come back in the spring. There’s a lot more vegetation and insects for them to eat, and there’s a whole group of transients that pass through New York to nest further north,” she says. Native species are also adopting their most colorful plumage to prepare for the breeding season. Since tree leaves are still growing, you’ll be able to get a bird’s eye view. Per Audubon New York, birds are most active in the morning, so plan to head out early. While there isn’t one set way to go about spotting birds, hearing their call is a good indicator of where you should be looking. “When I go out, I walk slowly, listen, and look for movement,” says Tocci. Knowing a species’ habits, like whether they forage for food on the ground or tend to hang out in trees or bushes, is super helpful. (This is where your field guide comes in handy.)

Find a Group.

Starting a new hobby can be a lot at first, but luckily, the HV has quite a few beginner-friendly groups that can help ease you in to birding. “The best way to start is by hanging out with other birders who can help you spot and identify birds,” says Tocci. Schneider agrees: “Everything I’ve learned about birding, I’ve learned from other people.”

Be Patient.

You shouldn’t have to chase birds. “If you wait quietly and know what they’re after, which is generally food or water, they’ll come to you,” explains Schneider. If they appear antsy or show intention to leave, you’re probably too close and need to give them some space. If you have a decent pair of binoculars, keep your distance and let them do the work. Tocci also advises against using bird calls to mimic their song patterns, as it can be extremely confusing and alarming to birds. “If they’re getting ready to breed, they’re more sensitive to [bird calling],” she says.

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Have Fun.

Above all else, birding is an enjoyable experience. “It shouldn’t be an intimidating thing; I find it very soothing and meditative. I love that I can go out and take some time away from the busyness of life to observe what’s going on outside,” says Tocci. She adds that getting involved in citizen science—like area bird counts and contributing data to eBird and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for conservation efforts—can add a sense of purpose to your hobby.

Flight School

In its simplest form, birding requires little to no gear. But if you want to take the sport to the next level, start here.

bird app
Hudson Valley photo

Apps.

Before you head out, be sure to check your weather app for two reasons: 1) You don’t want to be caught in a storm and 2) Birds fly lower—or wait it out—when it rains, says Putnam Highlands Audubon Society president Sean Camillieri. After a few hours of inclement weather, you could see more species than usual. Two free apps founded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are worth downloading: Merlin Bird ID and eBird. “Merlin is an amazing tool for both beginners and experienced birders,” says Camillieri. Users can record audio of bird vocalization—or upload photos—and the app will, in most cases, successfully identify the bird. And eBird, an online database of bird observations, is “the most revolutionary birding tool,” he adds. Birders can upload sightings of common, uncommon, and rare birds in real- time (which are then approved by app moderators). If you’re looking for a specific species, eBird can “tell you anywhere on the globe where and when it’s been seen,” explains Camillieri.

binoculars
Adobe Stock | Fengyu

Binoculars.

“Observing birds with your eyes or ears can be a meaningful way to connect with them,” says Molly Adams, a Greene County resident and founder of Feminist Bird Club (FBC), “But being able to see birds up close through binoculars is very rewarding.” FBC, which began in NYC and has grown to over a dozen chapters, provides access to birding for everyone and aims to create lasting change through environmental and social justice. Simply Google “best binoculars for bird watching.” Camillieri, who uses Nikon binoculars, says you can find a good pair for $150–250.

bird guide
Hudson Valley photo

Bird Guide.

Camillieri suggests The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley or The Warbler Guide by Scott Whittle and Tom Stephenson. You can buy a physical copy and keep it in your backpack or car for later reference, or download a digital version through your phone’s app store.

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canera
Adobe Stock | Billions Photos.com

Camera.

“If you’re a beginner, a camera is your best friend,” says Camillieri. Beginners should take photos of birds they come across and refer to an app, guide, or the internet—this will help you pinpoint distinction and absorb specific traits. Look for DSLR camera brands like Canon, Nikon, or Sony.

portable chair
Adobe Stock

Portable Chair.

For long-haul bird watching—or simply to rest your legs—invest in a transportable stool. “As someone who is disabled and can’t walk a long distance, a portable chair or stool is very useful to me,” says Adams. Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and REI have a range of affordable, durable options.

spotting scope
Adobe Stock | Abhbaho5

Spotting Scope.

Scopes aren’t a necessary purchase, explains Camillieri, but in some situations, “you always wish you could see further.” They can be rather pricey, and not everyone who gets into birding will buy one, but, “If you catch the birding bug, you’ll inevitably want a spotting scope,” he says.

Vantage Points

Our experts’ favorite birdwatching spots around the region.

Basha Kill Wildlife Refuge

Wurtsboro Open year-round

Birds you’ll see: great blue and green herons, Cooper’s and red-shouldered hawks, ring-necked and wood ducks

Eastern Phoebe bird
Eastern Phoebe, Adobe Stock | Steve Byland

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Stanfordville Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Birds you’ll see: American kestrel, American woodcock, bobolink, great horned owl, ruby-throated hummingbird

Dennings Point

Beacon Dawn to dusk (closed December–March)

Birds you’ll see: barn swallow, brant, European starling, red-necked grebe, white-winged scoter, willow flycatcher, worm-eating warbler

Doodletown

Bear Mountain State Park Open year-round

Birds you’ll see: American goldfinch, cerulean and hooded warblers, Eastern phoebe, ruffed grouse, white-breasted nuthatch

Cerulean Warbler bird
Cerulean Warbler. Adobe Stock / Stan

Esopus Bend Nature Preserve

Saugerties Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Birds you’ll see: American robin, black-capped chickadee, belted kingfisher, osprey, yellow-bellied sapsucker

Glynwood Farm

Cold Spring Weekends in spring and summer

Birds you’ll see: Acadian and willow flycatchers, bank, barn, cliff, and field swallows, brown thrasher, purple martin

Great Vly Wildlife Management Area

Catskill Open year-round, 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

Birds you’ll see: blackpoll and palm warblers, common nighthawk, hairy woodpecker, indigo bunting, ruby-crowned kinglet, snow goose

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird, Adobe Stock | MichaelMill

Marshlands Conservancy

Rye Open year-round, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Birds you’ll see: brown-headed cowbird, dunlin, Eastern kingbird, glossy ibis, least sandpiper, Northern gannet, red-necked grebe

Olana State Historic Site

Hudson Open year-round, 8 a.m.–sunset

Birds you’ll see: American goldfinch, Eastern wood-pewee, red-winged blackbird, Northern cardinal, swamp and tree sparrows

Red-Winged Blackbird
Red-Winged Blackbird, Adobe Stock | Michael

RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary

Catskill Open year-round, 6 a.m.–9 p.m.

Birds you’ll see: common merganser, double-crested cormorant, ovenbird, scarlet tanager, sharp-shinned hawk

Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge

Wallkill Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Birds you’ll see: bobolink, Henslow’s, grasshopper, and vesper sparrows, Northern harrier, short-eared owl, upland sandpiper

Teatown Lake Reservation

Ossining Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Birds you’ll see: bobolink, brant, marsh wren, Northern rough-winged sparrow, red-throated loon, warbling and yellow-throated vireos

Tivoli Bays

Tivoli Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Birds you’ll see: American redstart, bald eagle, black duck, black-throated blue and green warblers, common moorhen, house and marsh wrens

Black-Throated Green Warbler
Black-Throated Green Warbler, Adobe Stock | Satheeshrajh

Birds of a Feather

Here are just a handful of cool avians you may see (and hear) on the trails.

Common

▪ American goldfinch

american goldfinch bird
Adobe Stock | Jody

▪ American robin

american robin bird
Adobe Stock | Jeel

▪ Black-capped chickadee

▪ Blue jay

▪ Broad-winged hawk

▪ Carolina wren

Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren, Adobe Stock | Anitapol

▪ Cedar waxwing

▪ Downy woodpecker

▪ Grasshopper sparrow

▪ Gray catbird

▪ Indigo bunting

▪ Northern cardinal

Northern cardinal bird
Northern cardinal, Adobe Stock | Chase

▪ Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak
Rose-breasted grosbeak, Adobe Stock | Jill

▪ Scarlet tanager

▪ Tufted titmouse

▪ Warblers: black-and-white, cerulean, hooded, golden-winged, prairie, yellow, worm-eating

▪ White-breasted nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch
White-Breasted Nuthatch, Adobe Stock | SatheeshRajh
Osprey bird
Osprey, Adobe Stock | Simon Stobart
Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager, Adobe Stock | Perry
Peregrine Falcon bird
Peregrine Falcon, Adobe Stock | Bill Perry
Yellow Warbler bird
Yellow Warbler, Adobe Stock | Steve Byland
Great Egret bird
Great Egret, Adobe Stock | Byron Moore
Purple Finch
Purple Finch, Adobe Stock | Rejean Aline
duck bird
Harlequin Duck, Adobe Stock | Wilfred

Uncommon

▪ Bald eagle

▪ Belted kingfisher

▪ Cooper’s hawk

▪ Great and snowy egrets

▪ Harlequin duck

▪ Least and Forster’s terns

▪ Orchard oriole

▪ Short-eared owl

Short-Eared Owl
Short-Eared Owl, Adobe Stock | Frank Fichtmiller

Rare

▪ American woodcock

▪ Barred, Eastern screech, and great horned owls

▪ Bobolink

▪ Common nighthawk

▪ Eastern kingbird

▪ Golden-crowned kinglet

▪ Least bittern

▪ Osprey

▪ Peregrine falcon

▪ Purple finch

▪ Savannah and white-throated sparrows

Savannah Sparrow bird
Savannah Sparrow, Adobe Stock | Brian E. Kushner

▪ Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker bird
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Courtesy Anthony Macchiarola

▪ Warblers: blackpoll, black-throated blue and green, Canada, Kentucky, magnolia, yellow-rumped

▪ Willow flycatcher

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