With the coming of autumn in the Northern hemisphere, there is the usual migration of birds to warmer areas of the continent. There are a number of challenges that go along with birding in the autumn.
Young birds are harder to identify as their plumage may not have reached maturity. They may not match up to the bird you are looking at in your standard birder's guide.
Birds may also be molting at this time of year.
Another issue may be the changing color of the leaves and the grey skies of fall (depending on your location and the exact time you are bird watching of course). Hawks and other autumn-toned birds can be harder to spot.
To spy birds best, you will ideally use a well-kept pair of 8x-12x binoculars to see birds from far away - across wetlands and ponds, for example. You will want to carry a tripod with you, so you can set up for long views (especially with lenses of 50mm or wider). A retractable tripod will make it easy for you to quickly move to get a better view.
Backyard Bird Watching with Your Binoculars
There are a number of things you can do to improve your bird watching experience for autumn.
In preparation for the winter, you can build a winter roosting box. This will increase your experience with birds. These boxes have a door underneath or near the bottom and are more spacious than other bird houses. This allows birds to get inside and out of the cold winter wind. On sunny winter days, you will have more birds to keep you company, especially if you can keep them out of the cold other days.
You will increase the variety of birds you see if you increase the variety of bird houses you own.
Provide birds with water. If you are in the northern states or Canada, unfrozen water will be harder for them to find. If you can supply them with a consistent source of water, they will stay around.
Suet: get to it! You can make your own or you can stock up. Suet is the easiest way to feed birds and it is very valuable to them in the cold winter months. Suet is really only fat; you can grab a pack of lard from the corner store.
Leave some of the dead flowers in your garden. These are full of seeds. You won't need to keep all of them for next year's planting; leave them, and you just may be rewarded with a rare sighting.
Keep your binoculars clean and keep your field guide at hand - preferably near your window onto your backyard. During the migration season you may see birds that are completely unfamiliar to you. Avid, vigilant birdwatchers find at least one or two surprises every season.
Bear in mind that seeds and berries are plentiful in autumn, so birds may not be attracted to your bird feeder. If you need to get out to where the birds are, water is the place to go. Know the local hotspots where rarely seen birds tend to congregate.
Use Google or other mapping resources to find all the secluded ponds in your area. This is where the wild and rare birds will be found, the ones that are not used to civilization. Check out all the coves and bays of any coastline near you. The key, as always is to be patient and to have your binoculars ready.
Once winter comes and the leaves have all fallen from deciduous trees, you will be able to tell who has been nesting near you. Identifying nests is an underrated part of bird watching. This is a fascinating way to increase your knowledge the birds in your area.