Some birding tips

Are you a birding beginner. Or intermediate? I want to just share some tips at random, that I have been thinking about in my own development as a birder.

I would describe my birding history like this: When I first started to talk I have a word for birds within my first ten words (ref: Parents); at 8 moved to remote area in Kenya, at about 8 and a bit met a guy called Erik and learned about nature fanatics - we were first and foremost scorpion enthusiasts, and most of all pleased with their ability to scare our moms, but we were birding and I had a bird book of common birds in Kenya. I lost that book somewhere, but would love to see it again. I kept my first attempt at a life list in there.

All through high school I developed friendships with nature enthusiasts and birds and birding featured high...although I didn't keep a bird list at the time. Nor did I have a book or binos. Just learned some stuff from friends.

Then my studying years and the birders I met were 'listers.' I started keeping my own life list which I started in 1995. From that time I have been a little fanatical. I don't have a great life list yet (about 614 at the moment,) but love to bird my local spots. I really enjoyed getting to know the birds of the southern pro-Namib over the last seven years or so, and now I am really loving having the chance to get to know the coastal birds in a very thorough way.

I would like to not repeat to much of the stuff that you read in every "how to" post. I hope some of this stuff is useful. If not, well it has been to me.

Learn birding from mentors. Many birders have a habit of going out with clubs or with a birding buddy or often alone. I certainly have done most of my birding alone or with people who know less than I did (not because I know so much, rather it's just because I am a guide, and so most of the people I have birded with are not serious birders.) If you bird alone, there are many things that you can figure out, but eventually you reach a point where there are birds you get stuck on. Also there are many birds that if only a single little thing, how the beak probes the mud, who hard the woodpecker pecks, and so on...if they were pointed out to you, it makes the id's so much easier. I know this both ways. I have also found with guides that I am training, that there are so many birds I think are easy id's that they struggle with until I point out very simple things. I just had a case over the weekend of helping me with Terns. I have been so obsessed with bills for identifying terns that I have often missed the really easy ways to tell the common, and not so common Terns apart. Thanks to a little birding with a mentor, I have had one of those 'aha' moments with my tern identification.

Stalking and field skills. Many beginners don't really think about field skills, but if you scare the bird away, or don't get close enough, you can't identify it. Each habitat has it's own rules. Here again mentors can help a lot. Practice also matters. You will see sometimes with coastal birding that getting out of your car with chase everything away. Birds have great vision, so don't think you can sneak too much. Standing still is an important skill. In Savanna areas you will find that half an hour of doing nothing with slowly bring out a lot of life around you. Just some ideas...books can be written about the skills involved.

Study your field guides. I just today saw a warbler which I couldn't identify. It was one of two warblers, one with an eyebrow strip the other without, one with slightly longer wings than the other. I had a good look, but didn't take in the right field characteristics before if went back into the reeds. I could guess which it was, but I didn't have one of those 'got you' ids, and so I left it off. Had I properly sussed out the field characteristics before I was there, the very short look I had of the bird would have been enough - I would have looked at the right characteristics before it flew off. Not knowing what to look for, it took me to long to get the right characteristics because I was looking at everything, and the bird only gave me a couple seconds of good viewing. Know what you are looking for.

For rare birds, study even more. So I am looking to find some rare birds this year. I am at the coast a lot, have more time on my hands than before, and so rare bird finding, one of the most rewarding (if only for the pats on the back) parts of birding, is what I am gunning for. Summer is on it's way in, and so are the birds. Now I am no coastal hot shot. The guys who have been here for years have seen many of the birds we hope may show up. But I have only seen a few rare coastal birds in my life. So I am studying more than the others. One way I have found to do this is to look at photo blogs and websites from North America and Europe to study those birds that we very rarely have a chance to photograph. A good example...just a couple days ago we were looking at the little stints at the Mile 4 salt works in Swakopmund and trying to see if there were no Red-necked Stints among them. I have never seen a Red-necked Stint, but I have been looking at photos and picture, such as the Red-necked Stint pictures on

Equipment should work with you. Now I keep my binos without a strap because so much birding I do is from a car, and I don't like to have to pass my binoculars to my guests with a strap getting stuck all the time. So I just get rid of it. But now I did a boat trip in the Caprivi strip recently. The Caprivi has big rivers. The rivers have Crocodiles and hippos and they are deep and murky. Needless to say, I nearly lost my bins overboard, and so next time I got there, I will be sure to fix another strap. Actually, if you are in my situation, where others often use your bins, it is simply better to have two pairs. I don't like to lend out my expensive binos, because I would not possibly be able to replace them at this time in my life.

So, those were just some random thoughts buzzing though my head. Hope someone finds them helpful. Enjoy nature!
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