Birdwatching For Beginners With The Wildfowl And Wetlands Trust
On your adventures, you're more than likely to have come across a 'birder' (birdwatcher) or two. The most dedicated birders have lots of kit (and lots of patience!) but as with everything, everyone started somewhere. Usually, they began with a simple appreciation of nature.
The fact that you’re reading this probably means that’s an interest you have as well, or maybe you're looking for a new hobby it's possible to do without going outside. To help you get the most out of your first bird watching experience, we asked the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust for their best advice for newbies.
Start looking, noticing, recording
We’re kicking off with something obvious, but it’s an important one. Watch the birds in your garden or from your window, and you'll start to see different types of birds. If you put food out, they'll likely give you some great views.
Once you've seen the birds, make sure you read up on them while the memory's fresh. A few short trips are often more helpful than a big, long stint in the field. However you do it, the more time you spend looking, the better you’ll get at identifying birds.
Research your gear
All you really need is a decent pair of binoculars for birdwatching. If you want to go the extra mile, get yourself a telescope; you’ll be able to get a closer look and scan across wide, open spaces.
Set your alarm a little earlier
Birds are often most active around dawn, when the temperature is cooler and no one’s been around to disturb them. This is the time of day you’ll find them out in the open, calling, feeding and generally going about their business.
It’s much easier in the winter months, so take advantage of this January darkness and get out there with your bird watching binoculars!
Do your research and keep notes
There’re a lot of resources out there. Various books, apps and websites (like the WWT's blog) can help you to boost your knowledge and ability to identify different birds. You can even train yourself to learn bird calls with audio resources.
Keep a record of what you’ve seen and when. Most birders like to keep a country life list and a year list. The latter will help you prep for the upcoming year. For instance, you might note down a green sandpiper in the second week of June one year, so you can start to know what to expect by the following June.
For nature fans, birdwatching is a really educational activity. On a longer term basis, you’ll be able to see how various factors affect bird migration. For instance, a warmer spring might see swallows returning earlier.
Get to know your common birds
Temperature, daylight hours, precipitation, cloud cover, wind direction and wind speed can affect birdwatching in the UK.
For instance, a warm southerly wind with clear skies overnight in April will give you some spring migrants from the continent. But if that weather continues overnight, they’ll fly on past. Cross your fingers for cloud cover with light rain showers to ground them.
Get the family involved
Research tells us that birdwatching equips kids with the skills to develop better listening and observational skills. It encourages them to engage more fully with the natural world, too. Next time you’re heading out with your binoculars, it’s a great opportunity to make it a family event.
How to be a responsible birdwatcher
Bird watching in the UK is a popular activity. It’s estimated that 3 million of us do it every year.
Sadly, though, more and more of our native bird species are in decline. Because so many of our native birds and their habitats are under threat, it’s vital that we look after them.
- Avoid disturbing birds and their habitats
- Know the law and the rules for visiting the countryside
- Consider the interests of wildlife and local people before passing on news of a rare bird (particularly during the breeding season)
- Be a good ambassador for birdwatching
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