How does one become a better birder? This is a question I have been asked many times. It is difficult to answer without preaching, but I’ll give it a try.
The first thing I would recommend is to join a bird club such as the Denver Field Ornithologists. They have regularly scheduled fieldtrips every weekend. By taking part in these and admitting you’re a beginner, you will find the trip leader and most of the participants will be very helpful. They love to help beginners see a new bird, and being human, they love to see a newcomer make the same mistakes they did when they were just starting out.
Two of the cardinal sins of birding are motion and talking. This puts me in big trouble because I am a talker, and I use my hands when I talk. Both of these habits are no-no’s to birding. You cannot wave your arm to get others to come see what you have found for the motion will startle the bird, and it will be gone before anyone can come to see it. Loud talking, they say, will also frighten a bird. Therefore, no chattering, gossiping or other sounds that might frighten a bird. Just be silent and look for bird movement in the brush ahead.
Another thing to consider is what to wear while birding. Some leaders say you should never wear red or white in the field for their brightness makes you more noticeable and therefore more likely to frighten away the birds. I have a white windbreaker that I frequently wear in winter. I do not stand out against the snow and often can approach birds quite closely. Red is often an exciting color to birds for it is often connected in some way with their courtship, so unless you want to be attacked by a wild turkey, it is probably best to leave that new red shirt at home.
Many people advise wearing green as it allows you to blend into the background. If that is your goal, khaki is probably a better choice locally for things turn tan very early in this dry area. I don’t find color is that important unless it makes you stand out against the background.
Birding is fun alone or with a companion, but I find large groups to be disconcerting. This is because in a large group, you will inevitably find a group of chatterers, and there is always more motion. Two people can work together by walking along opposite sides of a hedgerow, one often scaring a bird into the vision of the other. A bird scared by the birder on the right side of the row will fly into the row and emerge on the left side where an observant partner gets all the birds. This works well as long as the two people keep their pace coordinated.
One other thing that helps make you a better birder is to learn to look. Few people really look at the world around them. It is important that you learn to be observant about what is around you. In other words, you need to turn on your birding mode to be alert to what is around you: Watch for movement of birds and listen for song or scolding notes. You’re not just out for a walk; you are birding.
I have a friend who walked every morning about a mile along a back road near her house. She walked the same little piece of road every day and recorded the birds she saw. Her bird list was incredible. During migration, almost anything might show up; during the summer, only the regular nesting birds were there. But her list was amazing because she wasn’t just walking, she was birding and looking carefully at every bird she saw.
This same kind of alertness is necessary to see all the birds at your feeder. You should never look at your feeder expecting to see the same old thing. It is possible that a rare wintering bird may show up.
The Quaintances who live near Bailey have an amazing number of unusual birds at their feeders. This is partly due to their location in the river valley, but it also is because they are aware of what birds come to their feeders. It is also due to Mike’s incredible patience in setting up cameras to get pictures of any odd birds that may show up.
I wish you all many new birds in the brand new 2013.
Enjoy becoming a better birder.