Bird watching is a hobby that anyone can take up. All it takes is curiosity and some time, but a bit of training can help people get started and headed in the right direction.
"Birding is a hobby that anyone can do. This is really something that you can start young, but a lot of people start when they retire," said Laura McDonald, the program manager for the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.
Folks from the Audubon Society is partnering with the county's Department of Parks and Recreation to offer a couple of workshops at Veteran's Memorial Park in Woodbridge in February and March to help people get started with the hobby. The workshops will help people learn how to identify some of the waterfowl that visit the area during the winter, which include the American Black Duck, Mallard, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Hooded and Common Merganser, and Ruddy Duck.
Dozens of migratory waterfowl species make their winter home in Northern Virginia, and some of them are kind of showy, if somewhat rare, McDonald said. "We do have one of the largest populations of tundra swans that overwinter in our area in Northern Virginia. For a highly urban area, that's great."
The $20 workshops, for ages 13 and older, are from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb 22 and March 15. Bird walks on the Saturdays following each of the workshops are included. The bird walks will be at Veteran's Park on Feb. 24 and March 17 and will occur from 8 a.m. until noon.
The Saturday outings are set for prime time waterfowl watching in the area, before the birds head out for the spring and summer, McDonald said.
While the classes are aimed at beginners, McDonald said experienced bird watchers could get something out of the workshops, as well. "It's really for beginning birders, but I've found that it's always good to take a refresher class. Some of these birds you only see once a year, so you might forget some of the characteristics from year to year."
U.S. Forest Service Migratory Species Coordinator, Greg Butcher, who teaches the class, said people don't need to bring anything to the class, but cell phone apps or field guides might be useful for the Saturday outings.
"Binoculars are helpful for the Saturday field trip, but we have some extra pairs to loan out. Field guides are good – especially Sibley and National Geographic – but smartphone apps are even better – Audubon is free, Sibley and National Geographic aren't, but they are very good," Butcher said.
People should also dress accordingly and bring a snack. "We stay out all morning, so appropriate clothing and a snack are vital. If the weather is warming, there may be some mud."
Register for one of the workshops at www.pwcparks.org. The activity number for the Feb. 22 workshop is 109101 VB; the March 15 workshop is 109101 VC. The workshops are limited to 25 people. Those who wish to attend the class should also check the Department of Parks and Recreation website, or call Veteran's Park at 703-491-2183, for any possible schedule changes.