Watching birds is a year-round activity that can be thoroughly enjoyed from anywhere, even your own backyard. All you need is a good pair of binoculars and some know-how on what to look for when you start studying our flying friends more closely. Whether you watch birds in your backyard or travel thousands of miles to see a rare bird, all you really need is binoculars.
Instead of a brown smudge in the distance, a good quality binocular will let you see the features of a bird. For instance, you would be able to see the white and yellow edging on the wings of a small bird, a bird with beautiful white patches, one with a combination of brown and gray with streaks of jet black near its eyes, etc. If you knew what you were watching for, you’d have said, “That’s the Bohemian Waxwing.”, or “That’s the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.” Buy the best quality binocular that you can afford so you can see every detail on these beautiful birds.
The good news is that an advancement in technology has led to improved performance with a reduction in cost. Before you buy a binocular, do some research online to find out exactly what strengths each one has. A good binocular will usually give a magnification that allows for as wide of a view as possible. If you wear glasses, you should know the minimum eye relief provided by the binocular, which is a miniumum of 15 mm for most people.
To get started, you’d need a field guide or some time to do research online to find out what species are in and around your area. A field guide is a book with pictures of birds and helpful commentary on how to identify them. Some may prefer a field guide with drawings, rather than pictures. Good bird artists portray birds in poses that make it easier for you to notice the bird and rightly identify them. Some photographs, due to lighting conditions or different postures, may hide important features of a particular bird.
Whether a drawing or a photograph, a good field guide must have highly accurate images so you can easily identify what you are seeing. A good starting point for beginner bird watchers could be The Sibley Guide To Birds (their store is closed for now, but there are links to shop elsewhere). Also, a standout app among all field guide apps out there is iBird, which is packed with pictures, facts, and illustrations. When you spot a bird through your binoculars, don’t try to immediately identify it. Keep watching it for as long as you can, watch its movements, the markings on its body, and the posture of the bird. Study the bird for as long as possible before it flies out of sight.
So now that you have your binocular and field guide with you, you know how to watch and what you are watching for. All you need now is a notebook to write down or sketch what you see, or use an app like BirdLog to keep a record of your observations. Using a camera is also helpful, because even a blurry picture could help you identify that rare bird that you thought you had spotted. Look at pictures shared online by bird watchers from all over the world for inspiration. A camera can be a very valuable addition to your starting kit, but is not a necessity.
Alright, you are all ready now to watch some birds! Just remember to be respectful towards nature and do not endanger the welfare of the birds or of any other animals around you. Happy bird watching!