The most important lesson I can teach anybody interested in bird watching is to respect the environment they will be in. When you are out there in a natural area, it is not just a good idea to leave the area exactly as you found it, it is imperative. It may not seem like a big deal if you leave a little trash behind, but if others follow suit, it may damage the ecosystem of the area irreparably and drive out the birds that live there. And if you have to make a fire, please please be smart and careful about it.
There are simple things to keep in mind: park only in designated areas; don’t leave any trash behind; walk on designated paths where available, and if not, watch where you are stepping (you don’t want to accidentally trample something valuable) and follow the rules on any signage you come across. If there is something there telling you not to walk on sand dunes because birds are nesting there or you could cause erosion, be sure to obey the posted warnings. Especially when it comes to the nests!
But our environmental impact can go the other way, too. I tend to remove any trash I come across when I go birding, which I like to think is helpful. I am also more aware of my environmental impact. Spending time out in nature makes you think about the things you leave behind, and want to be more “green.” I am more conscious about throwing out things that might be hazards to birds, like those plastic rings that hold soda cans together, and pay extra caution near drains that go out to a bay and that sort of thing.
Because I take photographs of the places I go and the things I see, and I sell them in my shop, I do end up talking to tourists about them. If I happen to catch a bird that is on the endangered list, I can talk to people about it and possibly inspire them to make smarter decisions, too. It can also inspire others toward conservation efforts—either to preserve an ecosystem or create a wildlife area, or to champion the cause of a specific species that might be struggling. Any small impact I can make in that regard makes me feel like a true superhero, and although it isn’t a huge reason why I got into this hobby, I’d definitely list it amongst the perks.
Personally, I think that if people are smart and respectful when they participate in any outdoor hobby, not just birdwatching, they can have a profoundly positive effect on any part of the environment they happen to find themselves in. I do believe, however, that because the goal of a bird watcher is simply to observe a bird in its natural habitat, we are not tempted toward disturbing the surrounding environment or harming these beautiful creatures, we are truly good for the environment!