What do I need for green birding?
Getting started is a lot easier than you might fear!
1. Get transportation.Your own two feet will do, or a bike, kayak, skateboard, horse, or a buggy pulled by your significant other – anything that doesn’t burn fossil fuels. Actually, transportation isn’t even necessary – you can green-bird from your armchair, if it’s next to a window. But you’ll see more if you go places. Start with what you have (any old bike will do) and you’ll soon learn what else you want. Ask your local bike shop to show you how to perform basic maintenance on your bike: cleaning and oiling the chain, changing or topping off tires, and changing brake pads are the most commonly required tasks, and all are simple.
2. Get comfortable.Riding a bike can be horrendously uncomfortable – but it doesn’t have to be. A quick visit to your local bike shop will almost always reveal something that you can change to fix whatever pain you are experiencing, usually without having to buy a new bike. If that doesn’t work, consult your physician and potentially a physiotherapist, who can quite possibly work minor miracles with something as simple as a stretching regime.
3. Get safe!Riding a bike (or even walking) in a car-centric culture is dangerous, but there are definitely things you can do to improve your own safety. Learn the road rules for bikes in your area, act like a car (the same rules, rights, and responsibilities apply to bikes in most places), and stay off the sidewalks. Please be as considerate as possible of other traffic to avoid contributing to the bad reputation that cyclists seem to bear – but if you need to take the lane for safety reasons, go ahead and take the lane. You’ll be more visible if you use lights, even in broad daylight, and reflective material on moving parts helps maximize your visibility at night. High-vis yellow is the best color to wear. I wear a construction vest over my clothes or bring warm layers in neutral colors to tone down my profile once I get to my birding destination, though I honestly don’t think the birds care what color I wear (I’m still a human, and whether or not that bothers them depends largely on the species, habitat, and how desperate the bird is to refuel). I have a rear-view mirror on my helmet, and it is incredibly reassuring to watch the cars move over as they approach me from behind. Riding in traffic is terrifying, but you’ll get used to it (eventually).
4. Take your birding gear.A backpack works, and you probably already have one, so start with that. Keep in mind, though, that carrying additional weight on your body will make your bottom even more sore when you’re riding a bike. “Panniers” are those bags that hang on the rear rack of your bike and are very helpful if you want to carry a spotting scope and tripod. Tying stuff directly to the rack can work too, although many road bikes will not take a rear rack. A harness will probably work a lot better than a single strap for wearing your binoculars, and some people like handlebar bags or top-tube bags for quick access to small items.
5. Find routes.Your state/province/country might have bike maps available that color-code the roads by traffic volume, shoulder width, and other relevant characteristics. Satellite images and Street View are also super useful for assessing road conditions and potential rest stops before you head out.
6. Get out there!Start with short trips and figure out what works for you. Seek advice when you need it, consider joining a casual group ride to build your confidence in traffic, and have fun!
I’m still learning as I go, too. Are you already green birding? Leave a comment with your top tip or favorite piece of gear!