Is it a bird?
Oh, Ok. Well which one?
You can’t answer this question, can you? You’re the butt of all your friends jokes, alone on your quest for feathery knowledge. Soon, after you finish reading our birding guides, you’ll be on your way to becoming what you’ve always wanted: Guru Raptor.
what is birding?
There aren’t many things cooler than birdwatching. Life is perplexingly beautiful and at the pinnacle of this beauty are the avian species.
But, birders get a bad rep. They’re often labeled as being crazy and lacking in the friend's department but let’s take this notion and flip it on its head. How about birders being incredibly passionate about their hobby? Don’t worry, you don’t need to travel 4000 miles to photograph a rare species. You won’t be letting the side down if you only want to travel 1000 miles.
Most of us living in built-up, urban areas agree we don’t get enough nature in our lives, those in the countryside probably feel this even more strongly. Cities are great for people but they were never designed with the intention of sustaining large ecosystems of native flora and fauna.
The modern forest, everyone
First things first - what skills are required to take your birding skills from someone who takes a peek from behind the bedroom curtain to a hunter who doesn’t harm a soul?
You have to have patience. Remember the wildlife doesn’t come to you (most of the time), you have to go out and find it. Often, this can pose a challenge. One day you could stumble upon one of the rarest birds in the world without much intention and other you could be waiting 15 hours and still not come across some of the more elusive creatures.
You have to be silent. Think of your experiences in birding as being at the movies. You’re observing a real-life drama before your very eyes and the last thing you need is for your phone to produce an albeit excellent rendition of Night Fever by the Bee Gees in your pocket.
You have to learn to move slowly. This is kind of an amalgamation of the last two points. Think of yourself as a jaguar on the rainforest floor stalking its prey. Let’s use our magnificent brains to outsmart these birds into letting us view them in all their glory.
The next step is learning how to look for birds. Evolution being what it is, birds are well suited to their environment and are experts at blending in with their surroundings. This can make finding them difficult to say the least. How do you find birds? You relax. It’s all about how you focus your eyes to look for movement in the background rather than zeroing in on one specific point. This is typically done by relaxing your eyeballs letting them unfocus, scanning all the visual information at once.
But what equipment do you need?
BINOCULARS for bird watching
Magnification - We’re sure you understand this already but just in case you don’t, magnification refers to how much larger an object will appear when looks down the lense of your binoculars. It’s the number next to an ‘x’, for example, 20x.
You’re looking down your binoculars and suddenly you see a Light-footed Clapper Rail 1000m away. Seems far, huh? Not when you’re staring at it with a magnification of 20x and it looks as if it’s 50m away, crisper than a freshly picked iceberg lettuce. Any lenses with a magnification of above 12x will need the aid of a tripod because of the size and weight.
Objective Lens Diameter - The objective lens is the one you don’t look through. The wider it is the more light can enter and the clearer your images are in poorer conditions. This is the number which comes after the magnification and is in millimeters. If you can get one with a ratio of 1:5, e.g. 8x40, you’re in business.
Lens - If two lenses are the same size they should pull in the same amount of light and image quality should be equal. If this isn’t the case and one is better than the other, it’s due to the coating applied to each. The coatings are intended to minimise reflection of the light and thus increase the percentage of light absorbed after hitting the surface of the lens.
Field of View - The field of view is distance in width you’re actually viewing when you look down your binoculars. Your objective lens could be 40mm but the image you’re looking at is actually 100 feet across in reality. The true field of view is measured in 1000 feet and apparent field of view is measured in degrees of angle. Conversion is easy when you know one angular degree is equal to 52.5 feet.
Weight - This one is straight forward. You’re going to be carrying your equipment around, sometimes for long periods of time so make sure it’s a comfortable weight. If not then sort yourself out with a tripod to compensate and reduce your back pain, you aren’t getting any younger, you know.
Waterproof - Another obvious feature is how much water it takes to damage the binoculars. Price directly correlates with the length of time you can throw your hundreds of dollars worth of equipment into a lake and leave it there for.
Using your binoculars
Birding binoculars have two ways of adjusting the focus to increase the image quality. There’s a central focusing wheel which focuses both of the barrels are the same time and individual focusing (diopter focus adjustment) on both barrels independent of the central focusing for finer detail.
Think of your lenses as demanding royalty, you have to do what they say or they get angry. Unfortunately, this means as well as feeding them grapes you also have to clean them regularly and in a very specific way. As soft as your sweater appears, it’s not suitable for your lenses and, if you aren’t careful, will result in thousands of microscratches. Over time these microscratches are going to negatively affect the quality of the time you can produce.
FIELD GUIDE BOOKS
With over 850 species of bird in the United States, no one will blame you if you can’t remember them all. It’s only fair you have a little helping hand in papery form. Which you decide to choose is dependent upon your preference.
The original field guides were paintings created by John James Audubon and are the foundation modern field guides such as The Sibley Guide To Birds, first release in 2000. It’s risen to the top of the birding popularity charts.
Many publications focus on specific aspects of bird life. For instance, a subset of species, plumage or habitat location.
Too much caffeine waiting to glimpse some bird watchers
For anyone wanting to birdwatch in the 21st century, there is a plethora of birding apps available. For example, there are apps ranging from identification manuals and location guides through to bird song recognition software which acts as the Shazam of the avian world.
What’s better than standard birding? Competitive birding. Race your friends and tick off all the species in your state, North America or even the world.
bird photography tips and techniques
This article isn’t going to get into the particulars of which cameras you should buy as it’s too vast and people have different requirements.
Who hasn’t wanted to fly once or twice in their life? Birds are the masters of the sky and photographing them in their domain is one of life’s privileges. That said, it comes with its challenges.
These tips are taken from a great article written Nasim Mansurov over at Photography Life, check out the article for more details.
If you want to take photographs like a pro then you need top of the range equipment. Unfortunately, with wildlife that’s just the way it is. You need a camera capable of very fast shutter speeds and telephoto lenses. Why? The fast shutter speed reduces the blur and grabs a crisper image and the telephoto lense is to get up close and personal from a distance. Unless you’re photographing semi-domesticated birds like fearless pigeons or ducks.
Learn when your birds come out. What are their eating habits, where does their prey live and what noises do they make? Of course, having all the equipment in the world is irrelevant if you can’t find the critters in the first place. Typically, prime time is sunrise and sunset. Start local and spread out.
Birds are edible, they taste good to many predators. This means they’re skittish and want to fly away at the first opportunity. Train to become the Bird Whisperer so you can detect when you’re entering their comfort zones, in time you’ll learn what it takes to keep them calm and earn their trust. Experience is key, but there are obvious things you can do to increase you chances such as wearing colours similar to the background and turning your phone off as soon as you cross the forest threshold.
portable GROUND BLIND
Sometimes it’s fun to play hide and seek with wildlife. Bird’s comfort zones don’t matter when they don’t know you’re there. You can set all of your equipment up however you like and even bring a sandwich as long as you’re downwind. Create an environment that’s home from home.
As you can imagine, for observational hides, or ground blinds, to be able to withstand sitting in the dirt for days on end, sometimes in very damp conditions, needs a sturdy and reliable enough material for you to not become part of the very mud itself. The material is measured in Denier and higher the number, the coarser the material.
The coloration is broken greens or browns in a camouflage pattern to merge into the surrounding landscape and are essentially purpose-built tents. Make sure it’s not glare to avoid disturbing anything you’re watching. You can even get hides suitable for sitting in your chair, they’ve thought of everything. In fact, it’s probably worth buying a chair regardless so you can sit down whilst in your ground blind.