Whether you have just moved somewhere totally new like I have or you are traveling the world seeing new places every day, trying to orient yourself and learn the best spots to watch sunset, see a particular bird, or get a good beer can be tricky, time consuming, and often frustrating. The easiest and most effective way to get to know an area is to find a friendly local to show you around. No guidebook or website can beat a knowledgeable local when it comes to familiarizing yourself with an area.
Over the past few weeks, I have been doing a lot of exploring on my own. Typically, I look at the map, find a nice pretty green area, and go see what I can find. Occasionally, input from a website or email can put me on the right track. Some days it is extremely rewarding and some days it’s simply frustrating. Yesterday I took a bit of a different approach and joined up with a trip led by the Cayuga Bird Club to a nearby park.
The trip proved to be a spectacular morning, cool and crisp with a little too much wind, but beautiful none the less. We explored the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, a place I had planned on visiting on my own earlier in the week before learning about the trip. We didn’t see too many birds, but I was able to explore the area led by a local who has spent a lot of time in the woods there.
We stopped at seemingly random intersections of back roads that often proved productive. If I hadn’t been with the group, I probably would have just driven past without ever stopping. I received many tips on better times of the year to visit and particular hotspots for specific birds during other seasons. I learned a lot more about the local plants and which produced fruit and berries that are good food sources for birds.
All of these little tidbits of natural history may not be earth shattering, but the more I know about any area, the more I can utilize that information to create exciting photographs that tell the story of the birds, plants, and land in this region. Whether in Costa Rica, the Everglades, or traveling Australia, I have shadowed naturalists in the field and been infinitely more knowledgeable for it. There’s a lot to learn about an area and while field guides and books can be helpful and a great place to start, a knowledgeable flesh and blood guide can make the difference between seeing a few things and opening your eyes to a new world.