Birding Basics

Do you want to learn about birds but don’t know where to start? Do you often see or hear birds but don’t know how to identify them? Are you looking for a safe, different outdoor activity?

More than just pretty animals, birds are an important part of the ecological system, including the Ogeechee River basin. Various species inhabit different layers of the food web — from birds that eat seeds and insects to the most expert hunting predators. They keep populations in check. They also help spread seeds and pollen which is vital for plant growth. Maintaining a healthy environment for birds to thrive is crucial to the balance of ecosystems locally and globally.

Red-shouldered hawk. Photo by Chris S. Wood, Macauley Library

What is “birding”? 

Birding is the act of birdwatching for either recreational, research or citizen science reporting purposes. Also known as ‘birdwatching,’ it’s the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a hobby or an amateur activity.

Wood Storks. Photo by Mary Ellen Urbanski. Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

I see birds all the time, but I don’t know what I’m looking at. 

Learn what to look or listen for when birding starting with color, shape, flight pattern, body size, bill or beak shape, calls and more. 

Check out these sites for bird guides. 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birdwatcher’s Digest

Rare birds in our watershed

Northern parula on red twig. Photo by Dan Fein.

I’m enjoying this. How can I get better?

Consider purchasing a pair of binoculars (aka “bins”) and searching out local birding trails or sites. You might also join a local chapter of the Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to protecting birds and sharing resources for enthusiasts.

Audubon Society

Ogeechee Audubon Society

Coastal Georgia Audubon Society

Georgia Audubon Society

Birding trails in Georgia

Always follow the American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics

American Goldfinch. Photo by Adam Jackson, Macauley Library.

I want to share some of the amazing things I’ve seen. Is there a way to do that?

Engage in citizen science. Download the eBird app for free. It’s a digital way to keep track of the birds you see or hear while birding. This type of citizen science reporting — the collection of scientific data by amateur scientists — benefits the people participating as well as researchers.

Read about Isaiah Scott, birding enthusiast and local student

Adult male Barn Owl. Photo by Shlomo Neuman, Audubon Photography Awards

ORK Birding Activity

  • Plan a birding trip in your backyard or neighborhood park, near a waterway or in a city greenspace.
  • Download eBird and record what you see/hear. If you aren’t sure how to ID a certain bird, you can search through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website by characteristics. 
  • Share your checklists with Ogeechee Riverkeeper through eBird by searching “Ogeechee Riverkeeper” or via ORK’s eBird profile

You may also share your findings and photos through email at

Tag us on social media with your research adventures and use #ORKOutside.

Additional Resources:

This activity is compatible with Project Wild “Bird Song Survey” activity which is geared towards middle and high school students in science and environmental education. Birding in general can be a fun family/friends outing for all ages, abilities, and environments. 


Nature-based Yoga Class

Enjoy a gentle flow style yoga class with a watershed ecology theme alongside Melanie, our education & outreach coordinator (RYT 200).

This class is open to all ages and levels. It meets Georgia Standards of Excellence in Science for 7th and 8th grades with some topics and vocabulary appropriate for other grade levels. Contact for more information.

Suggested Activity

Listen for these vocabulary words during class and see if you can remember the definitions:

  • Watershed
  • Headwaters
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental stewards
  • Wiregrass ecosystem (aka Longleaf Pine Ecosystem)
  • Ectothermic
  • Keystone species

Setting Seasonal Intentions for the Environment

via National Wildlife Federation

Do you find it hard to make and keep New Year’s resolutions? Try setting a seasonal intention instead!

Use your creativity and science skills to come up with ways you can help the environment. This can be as simple as reducing energy or water use within your own home or a larger-scale river or community clean up. We can all be stewards of the environment on a local or global level — at any age.

Identify 3 ways you can be an environmental steward* and set these as your seasonal intentions. Keep a journal of your adventures, take pictures, make art, or use any other creative method to track your progress. Share your seasonal intentions to inspire those around you. 

Send in images of your activity so we can share it on social media. Email us at

*Environmental Steward –  Someone who is a responsible user and a protector of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices.

This activity can be used as enrichment alongside Project Learning Tree activity “Every Drop Counts.” Every Drop Counts is appropriate for grades 4-8 under science, social Studies and math. The Seasonal Intentions project is appropriate for all ages and incorporates both STEM and art learning concepts. 

Nature poetry

Updated: October 28, 2020

Turn to the outdoors for poetic inspiration. Sit and observe nature for a few minutes. Notice what you hear, smell and feel. Take your impressions, focus on specific descriptions, and compose a short poem. 


  • Read other poems to get an idea for the styles you like.
  • Use comparisons (simile and metaphor).
  • Read it out loud to yourself so you can hear how it sounds.
  • Listen to tips from Kwame Alexander, NPR’s poet-in-residence

Submit your entry by Wednesday, September 30, 2020 to Include your name, age, poem (20 lines or less) and the location that inspired it – attach a photo if you want! ORK will award a t-shirt to the top three poets.

This contest is now closed. Read the winning entries below.

Photo by the poet

The Mill Pond at George L. Smith II State Park
By Wesley Hendley

Paddling through cypress trees and tupelos,
The air cools, the sky grows dark.
Raindrops surround the boat with tinkling music.
Thunder rumbles, lightning pops!
The torrent comes,
But summer storms don’t last long.
Quiet returns.
The calm water has a glassy sheen.
Then a rainbow points the way to its treasure.

Reverie in Smith State Park
By Peter Relic

Crush the scull
through the water’s top,
a black silk parachute
gilded with bream
rippling across the face
of the lake.
Mind like a millstone
thirsty for grist,
hair piled high as
a wagonload of corn,
you lie back in rented kayak
as if it were your
new turquoise coffin
and stare straight up
at cypress sentinels
and tupelo goalposts,
to chart the ghost
of a gopher tortoise
skating across the sky.
You gonna paddle or not
grunts the tour guide.
What can you say?
We should all be so lucky
to go out this way.

The Bridge
By Mark Dallas

He carries his chem kit under the bridge to test the water.
A few drops of thiosulfate change the sample from indigo
to amethyst to clear, revealing the level of dissolved
oxygen. Now, the darting barn swallows eye the man who stands
so close to their nests stuck to the beams above him.

                                                                                                  So many
times he’s canoed here, upstream from the lake to the south, taking
in the cypress and tupelo, herons and hawks—while floating
through the effulgence of sunlight filling the water, the trees.
Paddling beneath the bridge, he thinks each car that rumbles above
inhabits another world—of deadlines and noise. So often
he’s driven the bridge himself, in that other world, most times looking
down longingly to see where the water measures on the cypress
trunks. The bridge is a nexus of two worlds he knows so well.

But once a month he drives to a place in between, parks beside the
road, walks down to the halfway world of test tubes and barn swallows.
He holds aloft the sample bottle—a small vial of the creek—
after the first three chemicals but before he adds the starch
indicator and sodium thiosulfate: the sample
glows golden in the sun. This is the place he’s bottled the
effulgence, the place in between, the bridge between two worlds.

Watershed Trivia

Generic illustration of a watershed

A watershed is a system of how water flows through an area moving sediment, water and dissolved materials into a common point. Think of how a river or creek flows into or out of a lake. The Ogeechee Watershed (see map) has many types of ecosystems within it including freshwater from the Piedmont region, to blackwater rivers and swamps in the Coastal Plain region and runs all the way to the Georgia coast.

Description of Activity:

Submit your trivia answers to by July 31. We’ll send a free t-shirt for the first one to get all answers correct. Although it is tempting, try not to go straight to Google for answers. Go outside, and look for the answers. Use books and maps rather than the internet for your research, if possible. 

Trivia Questions:

  1. How many watersheds does GA have?  Bonus: Name 3.
  2. How many major river basins does GA have?  Bonus: Name 2. 
  3. What are the 5 geographic regions of GA? 
  4. Name two creeks in your watershed.
  5. What is the biggest city in your watershed?
  6. Name three animals that live in the Ogeechee River watershed.
  7. Name one rare plant that lives in, but is not limited to, the Ogeechee River watershed.
  8. How many people does the Ogeechee River basin provide drinking water for?
  9. Name as many state parks as you can that are located in the Ogeechee River watershed.
  10. What is an aquifer?