How to Prepare for a Birdwatching Adventure
Tips and tricks for a great day out with the birds
According to the RSPB, “some three million adults go birdwatching every year in the UK”. Some make a hobby out of it, while for others it’s a casual enjoyment. For us, it has become a passion - hence the name Flock. Equipped with binoculars and Alba’s camera, we’ll be out birdwatching most weekends.
Few other countries around the world have such an active birdwatching base as the UK - what more proof do we need than the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch? Up and down the country, professional and amateur birders alike prepare for the event, and spend hours observing the birds in their garden or local green space to report their findings back to the RSPB.
Birds are one of the most visible species that we share our planet with - which might explain many people’s fascination with them. Whether you’re in the middle of the city or lost in the countryside, chances are you’ll spot or hear birds pretty much on a daily basis. Even when we can’t actually see them, they are singing all around us - all we have to do is stop and listen.
Of course, the amount and diversity of birds we can spot varies a lot from one place to another. Unfortunately, most species in the UK are threatened to some degree, and we are rapidly losing them from our landscapes, meaning that if we want to see different types of birds we’ll have to travel further. So, if you’re craving a trip out in nature and are feeling inspired to learn more about our feathered friends, we’ve put together some tips and tricks on what to pack and how to prepare for a birdwatching adventure.
This might just be our favourite item, so we’re putting it first! Waterproof trousers may not seem essential, but they can make all the difference. It’s incredible how magical even a cheap pair of waterproof trousers can be. Not only do they keep your legs extra warm on a windy day, but popping on a pair of these feels incredibly freeing. It doesn’t matter if it’s wet, sandy, or muddy - you can sit down anywhere without worrying about getting your clothes dirty and enjoy the sights and sounds surrounding you.
As any good birder knows, binoculars are essential if you really want to get a good glimpse of a bird up close. Many birds shy away from human presence and will likely fly off if we get too close, which is why it’s important for us to respect them and to keep a certain distance.
It’s difficult to get a proper look at a bird with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars can reveal a bird’s beauty and personality - from the sparkle in their eye to the flutter of their feathers - and can bring us closer to them.
Bird book (or app)
One of the most exciting moments while birdwatching is being able to put a name to the bird you’ve just seen. Unless you know every species by heart, more often than not, you might struggle at first to identify the bird you are seeing. This is where a trusty bird book comes in handy. It will typically include illustrations or photos, descriptions, information on a bird’s behaviour and habitat and much more.
Having a bird book on you while birdwatching allows you to immediately compare the bird you have spotted to the ones in the book - does the plumage look right? What colour are its legs? Is the beak the same shape? Was it flying in a particular manner? It’s a bit like playing a game of spot the difference, although in this case it’s about finding the similarities and checking which bird matches yours to a T.
If you’re not a fan of carrying books around and you're going somewhere with good Internet signal, there are also many apps that provide the same information, and that can also be a great companion to the modern birdwatcher.
This is actually an item that we only recently started carrying around, but a notebook is incredibly useful for recording any bird sightings. You can’t always identify a bird right away - it might be a little too far to see clearly or its plumage might match several different species. Having a notebook where you can record where you saw it, its plumage, size or any other details can be really useful.
Writing down the information, or even just making a voice note on our phone, saves us the hassle of realising later on that we've forgotten the details we were so sure we would remember and allows us to cross-reference our notes when we have more time and resources.
Sit, wait, listen
As tempting as it can be to want to get up close and personal with the birds, it’s important to enjoy birdwatching responsibly. Rather than chasing the birds, let them come to you. Find a spot to sit and just observe, and you’ll soon realise that the air around you is full of life. As exciting as it is to get a good view of a bird, what we might perceive as harmless can actually disrupt and threaten birds’ lives. Getting too close to a nest, for example, might cause the parents to flee leaving the eggs unattended and at risk of predators. If we are mindful and respectful, people and birds alike can enjoy the space.
It’s also important that, while walking through a nature reserve or a wild landscape, you try to stick to the paths as much as possible to avoid disturbing ground nesting birds or any other wildlife that may be hiding nearby. We must remember that this is their home, and it doesn’t just belong to us.
The next tips apply to any outdoors activity, not just birdwatching, but they are just as important.
It’s important to prepare a few essentials to keep you safe before embarking on a trip outdoors. For starters, make sure you’re dressed for comfort and for the weather - bring spare warm layers to make sure you don’t get cold, wear appropriate footwear, and pack at least a waterproof jacket that can keep you dry if the weather turns rainy.
Don’t forget to also pack enough water to stay hydrated and snacks to keep your energy levels up. If you’re going to venture off track, take a map and compass too and make sure you’re familiar with the area you are in to avoid the risk of getting lost with no internet signal to help. Speaking of phones, make sure yours is well charged before heading out, you never know when you might need it.
Finally, if you are venturing for a day out alone, let a friend or family member know where you will be and what your plans are. The National Trust suggests sharing “your route, your start and finish points, estimated time of return and also any changes during your trip”.
Promote diversity in the outdoors
Outdoors activities and access to the outdoors seem like something that everyone should be able to enjoy equally, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Research shows that people who belong to minority groups participate in outdoor activities significantly less and do not consider the outdoors as “their” space.
Is it any surprise considering that in the media and in many people’s minds the outdoors is depicted as a straight white man’s world? Regardless of this, a love for nature and the outdoors belongs to everyone, so remember to be friendly, considerate and welcoming outdoors no matter who you're meeting on the trail or in a bird hide.
Birdwatching not only helps you gain a better understanding and appreciation for birds, it also motivates you to get outdoors more often and can help you connect with other people who share your same interest - whether by joining a local or online birdwatching community or just by stopping and chatting with a fellow birdwatcher that you cross paths with.
We’d encourage anyone who wants to give bird watching a go to grab a bag, pack the essentials and head out! Two years ago we’d never have imagined that we would one day be able to identify birds without even seeing them. Now we’ll find ourselves smiling at the sound of an Oystercatcher screeching somewhere nearby or getting excited when we recognise a tern’s flight pattern from a distance. It feels a bit like stumbling into Wonderland and realising that a whole beautiful and magical world was hiding right beneath your nose.