Bird Watching Travel Tips

Are you traveling to a new bird watching site this year? If so, then you might want to keep a few travel safety tips in mind. You can never be too careful, and while we don’t like to ask people to be too paranoid, it’s always good to make sure that you’re not naive either. It’s a fine line, but one that’s good to consider!

Tech Tips

When you travel abroad you should make a point to only use secured networks. This actually goes for whenever you’re at home as well. You never know who else is on the network or who is spying on the traffic. Airports are a huge hub, for example, and all someone has to do is to creep up on your computer and install some spyware. If you have an anti-spyware software tool such as this one then you should be OK, but even so I try to remind everyone to try not to conduct too many transactions over an unsecured network.

Do you have your computer backed up? The fine folks over at We Hate Malware have written up a few guides telling you what to back up and where – whether it be on an external hard drive or a cloud drive. It’s not that hard to set up, and if you take the time to do it, then you won’t have to worry about your laptop getting stolen. Well, you should worry, but you won’t have to worry about losing data.

Get an international cell phone data plan. When I went to Japan I can’t tell you how valuable it was to me to have a bit of data so I could use my Google map while wandering Tokyo. I didn’t get lost! And it was a great tool to help me find certain things while I was wandering around. The enntire plan didn’t cost that much, and it definitely enhanced my trip quite a bit.

Other Travel Tips

Have you considered getting travel insurance? I think it might be worth it. In the even that anything gets stolen you will be covered. I personally like to use my American Express card as it gives me travel insurance automatically, but you must check with yours to ensure it does the same thing. I think travel insurance is a great idea for longer trips. I know when I buy it I feel much more relaxed about everything and less OCD :P

Make a small itinerary, but leave room for wandering. I like to plan a little bit, but I also like to leave time to just wander the streets. One of my favorite days in Tokyo was when my friend had to go to a work meeting and I just got to wander around. I didn’t have a plan…I just walked! And I saw so many interesting things. I love doing that – then you’re not forced into seeing something touristy, and you can check out the local shops that the locals go to. I’ll never forget wandering the small alleys and looking at the apartment buildings, then stopping into a Starbucks for a hot coffee when I got cold.

Trumpeter Returns

Helping Trumpeter swans to relearn their migration patterns can be difficult, as they have a hard time changing the ways that they learn in their first year of life.


The problem with trumpeters is that although they live 25 to 30-plus years, they seem to learn everything they ever want to know about migration routes on that first autumn flight from nesting to wintering grounds with their parents. The swans that knew their way to Florida, Texas, or California were shot generations ago, so no cygnet today can pick up that ancestral knowledge naturally. What’s more, the easy life at Red Rock Lakes has favored generations of birds that have lost the drive to migrate at all.

By the early 1980s, Shea and others began to recognize that the crowding was growing perilous. Then, in February 1989, icy winds blasted the temperature down to -40 |degrees~F, and virtually all the open waters in eastern Idaho froze solid.

The ducks and geese simply flew further south, but 500 of the tradition-bound swans sat on the ice at Harriman, unwilling to fly into the unknown. Distressed local residents braved the blizzard to throw grain to the starving birds, but 100 swans died before an emergency release of water from a nearby reservoir melted the water at Henry’s Fork.

News of the disaster prompted the Idaho chapter of the Wildlife Society to petition USFWS to list the swan as a threatened species. Ironically, although the petition was denied, it helped spur the agency to initiate the kind of heroic and costly management effort usually reserved for critically endangered species like the California condor or the black-footed ferret.

“The petition to list got some people’s attention that might not have given it otherwise,” agrees Peck. “For one thing, a listing would have had big impacts in a lot of western states on how water is managed.” To maintain water volume sufficient to keep the streams open for the swans during the winter might require the regular release of reservoir water, a move the agricultural and ranching communities would likely oppose.

“This is the way we ideally should manage any species: recognize when it’s in trouble and take action before it gets to the point where there’s no room for error,” says Peck. He also notes that permits and planning for the current trapping and relocation program would have been enormously more complicated with a listed species.

All that aside, a little charisma never hurts a creature either. “This is a benign, snowy white bird that stands up almost tall enough to look you in the eye,” says Peck. “Swans are hard to hate and hard to ignore. They have the kind of constituency other animals don’t. Lots of things like that have made this a lucky bird.”

At first local residents, who take a proprietary interest in the swans, had grumbled about trapping plans. Then in 1989, the year after the big blizzard, a record number of swans and ducks arrived at Harriman and stripped the river bare.

“That year it looked like the Sahara Desert with water on it,” says Shea. Loss of the aquatic plants to grazing birds threatened the region’s world-class trout fishery, an economic mainstay. Objection to swan dispersal died down.

Over the first two winters, trapping and moving hundreds of swans to balmier wintering grounds has cost USFWS approximately $200,000 per year, Peck estimates, and plans call for at least several more years of effort. So far, he says, the dispersal program is meeting its goals.

“Between 15 and 20% of the translocated birds have returned to the new sites the following fall or winter. |Most of the rest went back to the Harriman area.~ We don’t consider any of these release sites well established yet,” Peck says. But at some sites these marked birds have returned accompanied by their young of the year or by unmarked adults who seem to have tagged along.

“This is particularly encouraging because if we have to rely on getting birds to these sites only in crates, we’re not going to be successful,” he says. The dispersing birds also seem to be using new migration routes west of the Continental Divide as well as the traditional route down the east front of the Rockies to the Yellowstone region.