Birding requires minimal equipment and suits a variety of travel budgets. From backyard viewing to international excursions, here are several tips for birding on a budget.
Myscha Theriault, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Choose a place that's rich in bird life with affordable day-to-day expenses to maximize your money. For example, Uganda is home to half the bird species in Africa, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Numerous national parks offer spotting opportunities there, including the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Murchison Falls. Vanessa Townsend, tour guide for Volcanoes Safaris in Uganda, favors Queen Elizabeth National Park in particular, for the more than 600 species of birds that call the refuge home. However, according to Amos Wekesas, owner of Great Lakes Safaris, the entire nation is fair game. Says Wekesas, "In Uganda, birding starts at the airport and continues throughout the country." Adios Adventure Travel's Jacquie Whitt recommends Mindo, Ecuador, with more than 350 bird types and rooms as low as $50 per night.
Sheridan Samano of Reefs to Rockies, a conservation tour company, advises purchasing the best pair of binoculars you can afford. It will make a difference in the level of detail you'll be able to see. Samano says it isn't so much the size but the glass quality and light-capturing capabilities that are important. Audubonguides.com sells affordable mobile field guide apps for smart-phone users, while traditional paperback guides are available from both Sibley and National Geographic. A few sun-protective clothing items should be included. Tilley makes an Audubon hat, for example, that provides protection from solar rays and includes a hidden security pocket.
Wildlife refuges offer free and inexpensive bird-spotting opportunities. McCurtain County, Okla., has three: Beaver Bend State Park, Little River National Wildlife Refuge and Red Slough Wildlife Management Area. Michigan's Department of Natural Resources has a first-time campers program that includes two-night park stays with the use of all necessary gear for $20.
Carpool and share accommodations with other birders to save money. The Blue Heron Inn in Darien, Ga., west of Interstate 95 and close to the state's marshy coastal lowlands, offers a four-bedroom cottage at $250 per night with a three-night minimum stay. The inn is minutes from Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, part of Georgia's drivable Colonial Coast Birding Trail. Similar trails exist in Maine, Oregon and Texas. Of note is the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail, linking Minnesota to the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Myscha Theriault is co-author of "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget," and founder of trekhound.com, a website for independent travelers. She also founded thelessonmachine.com, a website for teachers.