If you enjoyed the previous series of posts “The Birds are not Locked Down” – you might be thinking about taking up bird watching as a pastime. Bird watching (or birding) encompasses activities such as spotting birds, identifying them and observing their habits and behaviour. This enriching hobby is not limited to nature reserves and other natural areas only, but can be pursued everywhere. Furthermore, getting kids involved in bird watching might open their eyes and minds to the natural environment, creating a new generation of passionate nature lovers!

More good news is that not much is required to partake in this very satisfying nature activity! Firstly, the most important requirements are a passion for nature and enthusiasm for birding. Then, of course, good quality binoculars and at least one bird guide (book or/and electronic) are indispensable.

Regarding binoculars, when acquiring a pair of good quality you will not only spend money on a famous brand name. You will also get better quality lenses and prisms, durability, etc., and as a result, much clearer vision for many years to come. Apart from the brand name, etc., binoculars are also described by figures such as 7 x 35, 8 x 40, 10 x 50, 10 x 42, etc. The first figure (8, 10, 12, 16, etc.) refers to the magnification, while the second figure in the equation applies to the diameter of the front lens. I recommend binoculars with a magnification of 8 or 10. When selecting a pair also take into account aspects such as weight and shock and water resistance.

A variety of very useful bird guides (books and electronic) are available. Various authors approach the subject differently, e.g. some supply information in species accounts which may be absent from other accounts, and some make use of photographs of birds whereas others make use of sketches, or in some cases, both. Most often possessing one guide is sufficient, in particular for beginners, as the initial focus usually is on “easier” and more common birds.  Before acquiring a bird guide, it is recommended that you consult experienced birders to determine what is available and for recommendations. You are most welcome to contact me in this regard via e mail. When trying to identify a “difficult” bird I myself prefer using at least two guides, one with photographs of birds and another one with sketches, as they complement each other.

Because of a wrong approach when trying to utilize a newly acquired bird guide, many novices might experience feelings of confusion and despair. Therefore, in order to understand how to use your guide properly, I strongly recommend that you start by studying the introductory sections. Then you page through the guide, studying the different groups of birds, noting common features.

Some species of birds have characteristics unique to them, making them easy to identify, such as:

Common Ostrich (Volstruis)

Ostrich Picture - Louis Jordaan

African Hoopoe (Hoephoep)

Helmeted Guineafowl (Gewone Tarentaal)

One has to be able to correctly identify a bird by oneself before it can be ticked off as a sighting. However, inexperienced birders in particular, find that trying to identify many unknown species can be rather taxing. Hoping to alleviate matters, I gladly share a six step approach to the identification of unknown birds, which I found works for me. This course of action should put an end to paging from the first page to the last every time you try to find the bird that you have observed! These steps will be explained in the next six episodes in this series.

A last very important piece of advice: Species accounts contain essential information regarding aspects such as characteristics, habits and habitat. Scrutinise (not scan!) the species account for each bird you consider to be applicable to the bird you are attempting to identify!