Birding For Beginners

Birding For Beginners

Courtesy of Thomas Wolter, Pixabay

Disclosure: once upon a time, we didn’t know how to birdwatch. We didn’t even know that we should be birdwatching, or how wonderful it was. In this post we’ll cover some basics on how to begin, as well as drill in that message that it’s good for you.

We know we may be preaching to the converted, but there’s still a chance you’ve either not fully given birdwatching a go yourself and are just curious but maybe a little shy, or you know someone you think would find birdwatching interesting, and you could do with some concrete information to pass on.

Birdwatching is … one of the most accessible and inexpensive hobbies out there.

Well, we would say that, wouldn't we?

Obviously, we are biased, but we find it hard to think of a more interesting, relaxing and fulfilling hobby than birdwatching. It has everything you need – peace, mindfulness, science, sandwiches, poetry, fresh air, fascination, knowledge, sandwiches, challenges, triumph, contemplation. Did we mention sandwiches?

Birdwatching is to observe birds in their natural habitat, simple as that, and is one of the most accessible and inexpensive hobbies out there; you can take it as seriously as you want.

Courtesy of Daniela Mackova, Pixabay

People choose to just get pleasure from spotting and watching them, or want to learn more about them to then study them as more than a hobby, or to spend a good deal of time and money trying to find as many species as they can.

The whole spectrum is in there and you can be one or as many of those things if you want.

If you or a neighbour don’t already have feeding stations set up, the best way to start is to go outside. You’ll need to find out if you live in an area where birds actually come, because one of the biggest reasons for not persevering given by fledging birders (pardon the pun) is that they never see any of the little darlings.

Courtesy of GeorgeB2, Pixabay

Where the wild birds are

Birds, like us, will hang around food sources, so take a look at the vegetation and geography of your space.

If there’s at least a few bushes, it’s highly likely there’ll be birds nearby. If you live near water, either inland or coastal, you’re bound to have birds nearby, as those kinds of environments are magnets for many birds, due to the huge variety of insect species you’ll get there which will be vital food.

Courtesy of StockSnap, Pixabay

If you live in an inner-city or more industrialised area, you may need to give them a bit of encouragement, which we’ll discuss in another post, but even so, you’ll probably be able to spot pigeons or gulls, wagtails, sparrows, dunnocks, robins, magpies, and other ground feeders desperate for a morsel of dropped food from one of those human things.

The next thing you need to be, is QUIET.

You’ll need to be still for a bit, and watchful, but if you are in an area where birds visit, which to be honest is a lot of places, it shouldn’t be long before you notice a flitting out of the corner of your eye or see a swooping thing go overhead, maybe even the monosyllabic tweet of some hiding sparrows.

Bingo, birds live here. Feel free to stay there for as long as you want and try to count how many different types you see, even if you don’t know what they’re called yet. Make sure you are somewhere reasonably quiet, and if possible, with no other potential predators around; birds will stay clear from any kind of threat, like the local cats, or people walking dogs.

Courtesy of HeungSoon, Pixabay

Lots of birds, especially those in urban settings, do become tolerant to ongoing noise like roads or trains, so don’t necessarily let that put you off.

Next, buy a field guide. There are many different types, and you’ll find that what one person says is their favourite book ever is shunned by another. Simple life rules: choose the one that feels right for you.

The main thing you’ll need when just starting out is one with plenty of pictures, ideally also showing birds in flight, as appearances change as soon as they open those wings, and often you ‘ll only see the undersides as they flap off over your head.

Courtesy of debowscyfoto, Pixabay

If you’re more of a moving images kind of person, we can’t recommend the BBC’s Life of Birds series narrated by David Attenborough enough.

Other incredibly useful things to look for in a book are a paragraph each for feeding habits, breeding information and describing the voice. Books with maps of their range can be a great bonus, as this can explain where they go at certain times of the year, but not exactly necessary unless you are wanting to learn a lot more about the species you see.

Keep this book handy, close to a favourite indoor spot to watch from if you have one, or just by your bed to have a flip through a few minutes each morning or night. Don’t worry about how to identify anything at this point.

Courtesy of stevepb, Pixabay

I spy

Purchasing a pair of field glasses is in no way necessary, but can be a wise move, despite the initial expense. People who sell these items are often very knowledgeable and will talk you through the kind of thing you’ll need without pressuring you into parting with too much cash.

The general rule of thumb, though, is pick a pair that works on a ratio of 1 to 5.

This means that the magnification amount (how many times bigger you’ll see them - the first number) goes into the lens size (second number) five times, e.g. a pair with 7x35 or 8x40 are perfect.

Courtesy of weaverbl, Pixabay

Until you get more familiar with the technology surrounding optics and scopes, any pair of these will improve your experience immensely.

Birdwatching expands your knowledge of the world.

So, you know where you’re going to watch from, you have a book or an app on your phone that can help you confirm your sighting, maybe you’ll have some device to zoom in on your bird, and you’ve packed your sandwiches.

The next thing you need to be, is QUIET.

Courtesy of weaverbl, Pixabay

Not so much for scaring birds away, although sudden noises can do that, but many birders rely on sound even more than sight. Lots of birds have distinctive songs, making them far easier to spot if hidden in trees or shrubs.

Identify the source of the sound, and wait. You’ll soon become familiar with those songs.

Why birdwatch?

Put simply, your life is going to be better with birds in it.Birdwatching gives you a reason to explore, and learn more about your natural environment. It helps you pay attention to the world outside of you, take note of every sound, the rustle of leaves, the babble of water, and if you spot an elusive bird, the feeling of gratefulness on being permitted to see it is second to none.

Read more about benefits of birdwatching here.

If you join groups, you’ll have a chance to meet like-minded people, and make some good friends.

It encourages you to live in the moment, to be mindful. How often do we run around like crazy fools running errands without even noticing our surroundings?

Courtesy of Thompson Greg, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons

Birdwatching expands your knowledge of the world. The more knowledge you gain, the more questions there are to ask, and that's a good thing. Also, you get to take sandwiches.

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