Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birdwatching + Geocaching = Just got more awesome

Long weekend, and what have I got to show for myself? Nuttin.  I only went out birding for about an hour over the course of the whole long weekend. Mud Lake was super quiet and the only new bird around that I saw was a great-crested flycatcher.

ANYWAYS, I do have something to write about, a little different than my usual posts. It's kind of about birding, but mostly about something else. Wait! Where are you going? Don't give up on me yet. There's something here for you bird nuts! So hang in there. But warning: You might pick up a new hobby. It's ok though, because you can do it at the same time as birdwatching. Just when you thought you couldn't get any more can.

What is it?


Well I don't quite remember how I got into it, but last year I learned about geocaching. I went out and found my first cache. Actually, come to think of it...I think I mentioned it in passing at the time on this very blog.

If you haven't heard of it, geocaching is like high-tech treasure hunting for adults (and kids). People hide "caches" (a container of some sort with a log that you sign, and sometimes there's other stuff in it). They post the coordinates online and you go find it. Anyone can hide a cache, and anyone can find it. They can be as big as a coffee tin (or bigger) and as small as a film canister (or even smaller).

I hadn't done any caching since last year, but I was out hiking with some friends on Monday and I offered to introduce them to geocaching, since they had heard me talk about it before, and they were curious. The iPhone has an app and a built-in GPS, so I shelled out the $10 for the geocaching app (you don't need it, because geocaching is totally free,but it's useful for logging and searching while you're out) and we used that. Apparently the phone GPS triangulates based on cell phone towers, so it is a lot more accurate in the city than in the woods. So I still need to buy a "real" outdoor GPS.

What does this have to do with birds, you ask?? Hang on...I'm getting to it!

My friends found their first cache, and last night I was on the Geocaching website to see if there are any around Mud Lake (there are lots), and I happened to click on one called "The Bird Brain Challenge." It's really random that I clicked on it because the coordinates posted were not the true ones; you have to solve a puzzle to find it. And then I got excited!

Because I realized that there is Group A, birdwatchers, and Group B, geocachers, and in a little spot where these two intersect, there are birdwatcher-geocachers. And in an even smaller segment there are birdwatcher-geocachers-photographers. Allow me to draw you a nice diagram!

So there are 3 kinds of caches that I can think of that might be of interest to birders. Let me describe them to you.
  • The traditional cache hidden at a birding hotspot.
    • This one is simple. Basically there are caches hidden all over the place, and I *bet* you that there is at least one at or near your favourite birding location. I bet there is even one not far from your front door. It adds a little something to your walk. Hey, why not find a cache while you're there? It gives you a little more direction and purpose. And if you didn't find the bird you were looking for, at least you found something else.  I would note that there are few geocaches in Ontario Provincial Parks because they are really sticky about it, but you can often find them nearby. A few examples. of many:

  • The bird-themed cache
    • Sometimes cachers leave little "treasures" in the cache. If you see one you like and want to take it, you have to leave something of equal or greater value. So there are caches out there that have birds as their theme, and the trinkets inside somehow relate to birds. Then there are some people who make "fake" birdhouses and hide the cache in there.
      • This one in Washington has bird-related items in it (of course, they have most likely been swapped out, hopefully replaced by other bird items!) GCGC1Q It's a bird thing.

  • Finally, the BEST kind, the bird puzzle cache. You have to use your superior birding knowledge to figure out the coordinates of the cache and THEN find it. The puzzles of these caches are based completely on birds. The posted coordinates are FALSE. Ok, these I am really excited about. Because it appeals to so much of the things I like...discovering and figuring stuff out. Seriously, have a look! Even if you don't find the cache, see if you can solve the puzzles!
So it's nice to be to combine all my hobbies (and it's not a little bit surprising that some of them lead to others)...a little birding, a little photography, a cache or two, hiking...all at once. Before I could do them at the same time and all, but geocaches fully inspired by birds and that's awesome.

Want to see if there's a cache near you? Let me know if you find one!


Ruhh said...

OMFG!!! There is a Coot Lookout!?!
Gonna have to make a point to check that out. I'll snap if I don't see one.

Ruhh said...

Geocaching does look fun. If I had more time I would likely get into it and looking forward to trying it Monday. It reminds me that there are so many interesting things out there in the world and no shortage of things to do. I am always annoyed with people that say Ottawa (or whatever town they are in) is boring. The place they are in isn't boring. THEY ARE!

deepdowndawn said...

Ron, find that cache and I bet it's a GUARANTEE that you see a coot. Ha!

And agreed on second comment!

Just found another puzzle cache, if anyone is ever at the Prospect Park Audubon Center in NY:

A Bit of Art History: Audubon Cache

dwaynejava said...

Great posting. Nice VENN diagram as well! You may have gotten too nerdy for me on this one... not.

I have a new GPS for my car, and I have wondered if I can just walk around with it and it give me co-ordinates.

My wife and I are going to try it out soon. Maybe the Ojibway one... thanks for the great idea!

Funkysandman said...

there's a cache in a tree near my local birding spot / swamp, but somebody cut it down? darn muggles.