Birding and the RV Lifestyle – 10 Tips!

birding-and-the-rv-lifestyle-–-10-tips!

Birding and RVing go together like, well, like soup and sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, retirement and adventure.  

Birding has had a resurgence in popularity in the US and now is considered one of America’s most popular pastimes. Whether you are the casual observer of birds or have a ‘life’ list, your RV can take you to the right places to realize your dream. 

Just ask James Massey and his photo partner and wife of 43-years, Susan. Although by his own admission, James does not classify himself as a birder, he is a photographer who enjoys the beauty of nature and who loves the freedom of the open road that RVing offers. 

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James and Susan Massey

In a recent interview, he said, “RVing allows us to expand our photography interest, finding new landscapes, subjects, and challenges to tell the story of the place we’re in/exploring/enjoying. The RV Lifestyle facilitates access to these interests. Rolling down the road, wondering what’s next, is all part of the adventure.”

The Masseys live in College Station, Texas home of Texas A&M University. They have a home on an acreage overlooking a pond where they observe nature on a daily basis. 

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James is a pilot and readily admits that while flying provided the freedom to go and experience unique places it was expensive. As they sold their plane, he and his wife looked into RVing as an alternative to feed their travel interest and never looked back. 

How They Roll

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They began RVing in October of 2017 in their Class-C Motorhome. Last year they added solar and all the necessary boondocking upgrades to their rig so that wherever and whenever they want to go, they can. 

James said the RV, like their plane, opens the opportunity to see and experience destinations that are only limited by their imagination. RVing allows them to expand the range, experience and time spent together in some pretty unique places. 

Although they don’t sell their photographs, which they take to please themselves, they love sharing their experiences and helping others to share their same passions. With 45 years of photography experience, they have a lot to share.

Sometimes people feel they need expensive equipment to be successful at capturing birds in their natural environment. This isn’t necessarily true.  

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According to James “equipment is important, but having expensive cameras is not required to be successful photographers. While we’ve found that our digital cameras and interchangeable lens work the best for us, the improving quality of the cameras in today’s smartphones can provide a high-quality photograph of most any wildlife that we may encounter while exploring while camping.”

He said that they are inspired by the thought that “… photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…it has little to do with things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliot Erwitt

THEIR FAVORITE PLACES TO BIRDWATCH

The Massey’s have a few favorite places to birdwatch and see and photograph wildlife in their native Texas. If you have ever been to Texas, you know how varied and diverse it is and how excellent the birding can be. Each spring and fall nearly 2 billion birds migrate through Texas. As the old saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” … and typically, is.

Palo Duro Canyon, Caprock Canyons, Fort Parker State Park, and the lakes near Burnet Texas

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Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the US and is only 30 minutes from downtown Amarillo. (See our previous article for more info). Only about 90 minutes further is Caprock Canyons State Park one of the Massey’s personal favorites. It’s a place of rugged beauty and it is where the State Bison herd roam.  

Camping Available

Caprock Canyons State Park offers RVers sites complete with water and power for $17 and $22 a night. The topography there is a photographer’s paradise.

There is also Fort Parker State Park where you can park your RV within 20 ft of the water. And, as every birder knows, anytime you have water, you’ll have birds.  This is a place where you will have the opportunity to hunt for the perfect shot.

Burnet, Texas is the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas.  

That alone would make it a must-see on your RV travels.  It is surrounded by rolling hills and lakes.  The Masseys took a boat trip with Vanishing Texas River Cruise down Lake Buchanan to watch the Bald Eagles.  Every year they nest there.  Photographing eagles in their natural setting was the highlight of the trip.

Other places where the Masseys enjoy taking pictures include:

Natchez, Mississippi

Allows for photo shoots along the Mississippi River. You can get an idea of how that looks by viewing our Natchez Trace Playlist over on YouTube, too.

Rocky Mountain National Park

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James enjoyed the park with his family as a kid and later with his wife 40 years ago. Last year they visited the park again. They rented a jeep and hired a photographer guide. Elk walking in downtown Estes Park, Colorado like a Saturday night out was a highlight.  

Durango, Colorado

They highly recommend Blue Spruce RV Park and Cabins. Their full hookup sites are nestled in a pine forest that backs up to the mountains. It’s a perfect backdrop for your birding adventure.

OTHER BIRDWATCHERS’ FAVORITE PLACES

  • Southeastern Arizona -The best time to go is April through September. Just some of the species you will see are the Elegant Trogon, Painted Redstart, Gray Hawk, Mexican Jay and a dozen hummingbird species
  • J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida B Burnet – The best time to go is December through April to see Mangrove Cuckoo, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, White Ibis, plus ducks in winter and songbirds in spring
  • Everglades National Park, Florida – The best time to go is December through April. Among the birds that you will see are Limpkin, Snail Kite, Short tailed Hawk, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Greater Flamingo.
  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida – The best time to go is March and April to photograph Wood Stork, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, songbirds, and waders.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore, California – Go for the Spring and fall migrations to see Seabirds, shorebirds, warblers, woodpeckers and so much more
  • Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico December through March you will be able to see and Gambel’s Quail.
  • Monterey Bay California is best seen October through April. There is amazing bird diversity from Black-footed and Laysan Albatross to Anna’s Hummingbird.

10 Tips for Birding

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We asked James to give us some tips that will help you enjoy your bird photography adventures and he delivered 10! Think about these as you plan your next trip.

LOCATION

Research the birds/wildlife that you want to photograph. Determine their locale, which includes any seasonal migratory traits of the bird(s). Once you’ve found a likely location where you might see them, determine when the bird is the most active. Some feed and roost at different locations and different times of the day, so planning your photo excursion appropriately is very important.  Sunrise/Sunset photos of birds in flight can be dramatic.  

KNOW YOUR BIRDS

A bird identification book is a great way to figure out what you’re looking for or looking out for without constantly having to be on your cell phone while you’re trying to enjoy the woods.  The Audubon Society Field Guides are considered the standard, and they’re broken down by region to make it easier to find the birds near you.  

EQUIP YOURSELF PROPERLY

Use the right camera for the right mission. A smartphone may be sufficient for more intimate shots, but for longer distance opportunities the right camera/telephoto lens combination is necessary. We use a NIKON DSLR with either an intermediate or a longer zoom lens for most of our shots. Depending on your needs, consider using a camera tripod or monopod to steady your shot and support the weight of your camera and lens. Our camera of choice is made by NIKON, the lens includes a 28-300mm moderate zoom, 200-500mm super zoom, and 24-70mm wider zoom lenses.  

KNOW YOUR CAMERA

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While most of us have not read the camera’s manual from cover to cover, you will be more successful if you understand the operation of your camera and lens. A basic understanding of how your camera focuses sets its exposure and the multiple setup options of your camera will greatly improve the quality of your photograph. Birds don’t usually sit still for very long and if you fully understand how your camera and lens work, you will be more likely to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot.  

BE CREATIVE

The composition of a photograph is the difference between technically taking a picture and creating a photograph. Capturing a bird sitting on a limb can be a nice picture, but getting a shot of the bird as it lands, takes off, or is flying can greatly improve how interesting the photo turns out. Also, be aware of your background. A wonderful photo of a bird, correctly exposed, focused, and technically correct but has an unintended distraction, (a dead tree, a powerline, a parking lot, etc.) in the background will diminish your satisfaction with the shot. Sometimes you can’t help what’s behind the bird, but at least try to find a shooting location that minimizes the distraction. Or learn how to use certain photo editing software to remove those distractions.

BE CAUTIOUS OF YOUR SETTING

If you have to venture off the trail to catch that best shot of a bird or other animals, be aware of where you end up treading or standing. Changing terrain, dense woods, snakes, and wild animals can be a threat as you move into find that best shot.  

LEAVE NO TRACE

The growth of camping and RVing has also unfortunately brought with it those individuals who do not respect the opportunity to share the experience with others by not cleaning the area they use while camping. As a lesson learned very early in my life have found its coining as to ‘LEAVE  NO TRACE’. The same is true when birding or searching for that unique bird photograph. Keep in mind the most important rule of bird photography is to do no harm. Don’t get too close or in a position that might injure the bird or you. Taking the perfect shot isn’t worth hurting the bird, its environment, or you.  

CREATURE COMFORTS

Carry a comfortable chair or stool. Be sure to bring drinking water and a snack for extended shoots. Wear appropriate clothing, shoes, and a hat to protect yourself as you look for that one great photo.  

LET SOMEONE KNOW

As all good hikers do, expecting the worst, let someone know where you are and how long you’ll be gone. Should there be an issue while you’re away, give those who might come looking for you a better start.  

ENJOY YOURSELF

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Be ready for the unexpected and enjoy your time while photographing birds. Some of the best times I’ve had in the woods end without the photograph of the scene or subject I was intending to find. Enjoying the outing by paying attention to the things around you can be calming and fun, especially if the setting is new or different. Whether you find the bird or the photo you’re looking for, enjoy what nature has to offer.  

“… photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… it has little  to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliott Erwitt  

If you are looking for more information on birding and photographing birds here are some sites to check out

There is so much to see and do, so many birds to photograph. So, grab your camera, smartphone, field guide and binoculars. The birds are waiting.

Thanks to longtime RV Lifestyle Community member James Massey and his wife Susan for adding to the adventure of the RV Lifestyle.

All the images in this post were created by James and Susan Massey. Let us know where YOU birdwatch in the comments.

Want to read more about birding destinations? 6 Great U.S. Destinations for Birdwatching

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