I recently had the honor of attending the 2015 Polar Educators International Conference in Hannover, Germany. Being my first trip to Continental Europe, I was keen on seeing some new birds in new places. The conference, however, was booked pretty solidly with activities, workshops, and presentations relating to polar education, not birds. So I was going to have to sneak in some opportunistic birding during my week in Germany.
Traveling by plane always presents challenges with weight and space, particularly since birding wasn’t my main focus. I painfully left my APO-Televid scope and tripod at home. I opted for a compact mirror-less camera with a 300 mm zoom over my more substantial DSLR rig, and toted my 8×32 Ultravid HD binocular instead of my 7×42’s to get a bit more space and weight advantage. With camera and bins in my backpack I was always ready for some stolen birding time, whether waiting for a train, on a 10 or 15-minute stroll during lunch break, while participating in a fun run/walk, poking through a park near our flat or during a walking periglacial geomorphology field trip in the countryside near Sonnenborstel. I even got three lifers (Tree Creeper, Serin, and Fieldfare) while eating lunch in a countryside inn by sitting at a window!
A wonderful thing about birding in a brand new region is that many (or most) of the birds are fresh, no matter how locally common. I enjoyed the mental exercise of associating German birds with their North American family equivalents, learning new bird vocalizations, experiencing ID pitfalls that would likely make a local birder chuckle, and sharing the birding experience with many who were new to the experience. It is amazing how language barriers drop quickly when you hand someone your bins to look at a bird and then pore over a field guide to work out the nuances of what was seen. Photos (no matter how crappy) and field notes made for excellent reference material while working on lists at a restaurant or around the kitchen table before retiring at night. And I know that my students will enjoy some bird pictures and stories along with the more typical tourist shots I took on my trip.
The takeaway is that you don’t need to be in full birding mode to get in some quality field time. Whether on a business trip or just during a lunch break at work, sneak a look-around because if you make time for birding, there’s always time for birding!
– Bill Schmoker, Leica Birding Team