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Practical Tips for Bird-Watcher Beginners

Basic Pointers for the Bird-Watching-and-Listening Experience
Publication of Discovery: June 30, 2022
Issue: June, 2022

Bird-watching may seem to be an easy hobby to carry out; however, it involves various techniques, study and practice. That is why we have been meaning to inquire about this outdoor recreation’s basics and suggestions. So we interviewed William Ríos, a bird-watcher aficionado who for the past 8 years has been immersing in his favorite open-air pastime: searching for, watching, listening and identifying birds.

William has participated in diverse bird-watching activities and bird counts organized respectively by Ornithology Society of Puerto Rico (SOPI, acronym in Spanish) and Para La Naturaleza, a nonprofit organization that fosters environmental conservation in Puerto Rico. He has taken various bird identification workshops offered by SOPI and related to Puerto Rico’s endemic birds as well as shore birds, aquatic birds and warblers that may be seen in Puerto Rico. Considering William’s passion and admiration for birds, it is not surprising that for the last 5 to 6 years he has acted as volunteer guide during bird-watching events, and field trips part of bird identification workshops, both coordinated by SOPI.

If you are curious about bird-watching recreation, we believe you may benefit from William’s basic and practical tips shared below. You will find out that this activity not only involves sight sense, but also hearing sense.

Basic Tips for Bird-Watcher Beginners:

1) Pointers about Some Equipment and Accessories

(a) Binoculars for beginners: 8x42 binoculars are a good option for beginners because their lenses magnify image 8 times and provide wider field of view than binoculars with higher magnification power. A wider field of view is convenient for beginners as it helps spotting the bird easier.

10x42 binoculars’ lenses magnify image 10 times and the field of view is smaller than 8x42 binoculars’. So using a 10x42 binocular requires better skills.

(b) Camera lens- If you plan to take photos of birds seen from far away distance, the recommendable minimum for the camera lens’ focal length is 300 mm.

(c) Bird identification cards regarding the applicable geographical region, and small notepad to write list of birds identified and any characteristics you wish to record, including those of birds you were not able to recognize while birding. Bird identification guides are additional information sources useful when reviewing information prior to a bird-watching activity or afterwards.

(d)Accessories for a comfy experience. For example, you may buy a binocular harness strap designed to wear over shoulders and around the back. This one may be more comfortable than traditional binocular straps to be worn over the neck, considering that bird-watchers usually look upwards when searching for birds. Binocular harness straps also help keep binoculars handy while close to the chest. In addition, you may buy an adjustable shoulder camera sling strap to wear diagonally.

2) Assure your Equipment is Apt

A few days before any bird-watching activity, verify the conditions of your equipment and take care of it, if applicable. For instance, clean your binocular’s lenses. If you plan to take pictures during the recreation, check if your camera’s batteries are working properly and have sufficient charge.

3) Consult Bird Data Resources and Review Pertinent Birds’ Traits prior to Trip

An example of a recommendable source of information is eBird digital application (www.ebird.org), a project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which provides a database with information about birds identified in diverse geographical regions.

You may read recent reports posted on eBird digital platform to learn which bird species have been seen or heard in the natural area you are planning to explore, including dates when these have been most identified in such place. As you read, you get a heads-up about which birds may possibly be found in such place at the time of your visit. This is helpful information because you can check which of these birds you prefer paying attention to, and later review in advance their vocal sounds and characteristics for easier identification.

Description of bird species’ traits can be found in various resources, such as bird guides and identification cards, and specialized online databases. Also, some digital applications allow listening to bird species’ vocalizations. For instance, you may use eBird, Birds of the World, and Merlin Bird ID digital applications, projects of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for the above-mentioned purposes.

4) Consider Using eBird to Report Birds Discovered, and Tracking your Hike

The eBird platform allows to record a list of birds identified during the hike. You may search for workshops or other resources to learn how to use this digital application for such purposes.

If you want to track details about your walk on a path, using eBird for that purpose is a good option. eBird may track your path and provide information, such as distance and time spent. This tracking function may be turned on once you start making the list of birds identified.

5) Appreciate Birds’ Vocal Sounds and Be Calm

Most of the time, birds are detected by listening to their distinctive vocalization rather than observing them. So value recognizing birds through this technique. If you have been studying vocal sounds of birds in your geographic region, it may be easier to identify them by using your hearing sense.

Being calm helps paying attention better to birds’ sounds, either vocalization or those resulting from motion. If you listen to bird’s movements, you may have more chances of spotting the bird.

6) Make Proper Stops and be Attentive to Sounds and Motion

In order to have more possibility of detecting a higher number of bird species when walking in a natural site such as forest or area next to mangrove, lagoon or reservoir, make stops after walking a 50-to-75-foot distance. If you stop after walking a shorter distance from one point to the other, it is probable that you will hear or look at the same bird species identified in the previous spot. However, you may stop after having walked a short distance if you hear a different bird’s sound. It is possible you may be listening to a particular bird species that was silent during your last stop.

Once you hear a bird and stop, search for any shadows near trees’ foliage. If you see a shadow, pay attention to any motion around leaves since a bird may be there.

7) Do not Lose Sight of the Bird when Reaching for Binocular or Camera

Once you spot the bird, slowly grab your binocular without taking your eyes off the bird. Likewise, do not lose sight of the bird when extending your arm to get the camera.

The above summary includes examples of suggestions mainly for engaging in the adventure of watching and listening birds. Following your discovery of this recreation, you may learn further techniques, and immerse in bird identification study and practice.

For information about SOPI’s scheduled activities and resources, you may contact SOPI at 787-469-3164. W: https://www.sopipr.org

tour provider: Yourself at Nature
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where the crew ate: At Home
photograph by: Lisandra Ayerdi

Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all details with the pertinent businesses before planning your trip. Please be cautious. The company behind this publication assumes no responsibility for your safety when participating in the activities mentioned in this article. You are responsible for confirming whether you are capable of participating in any of these activities or tours, regardless of the effort level or any other information provided in this website.

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William Ríos, Cidra, PR: “Ever since my wife and I discovered bird-watching recreation our lives changed in different aspects. We have met sensible, special, good and excellent people. Also, [this pastime] has allowed us to connect with nature, reconnect with our hearing and sight senses, be exposed to sunlight very early in the morning, see sunrise on our way to our destination, meet people from foreign countries,… It recharges our batteries incredibly. We have lots of energy at the end of the activities.” (translations ours)

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