The secret life of birdwatching. My top 5 tips on how to be a birdwatcher.

Hi I'm Doug and I'm a birdwatcher. For as long as I can remember I have identified as a birdwatcher. I took it for granted that at a young age I was able to tell the difference between a house sparrow and a dunnock. As you may have read in my blog on the lockdown blues It has always been something which brings me tremendous pleasure. With the Covid 19 lockdown inspiring new hobbies, I thought it would be a good idea to show you how to be a birdwatcher.


Me birdwatching with my Mum circa 1995 at St Abbs Head

1. There is no right way - No matter what anyone tells you there is no right way to birdwatch. Yes you can sit in a hide. Yes you use a big telescope. Yes you can travel a long distance to see something. Yet you can also watch the birds from your window with nothing but the naked eye and enjoy the natural winged wonders. That said there is 1 golden rule and that is to put the wildlife first and so do your very best not to disturb.


2. Start small- I worked in wildlife conservation for about 10 years and I have been fortunate enough to have some unforgettable experiences seeing birds in wild and remote places but some of my most memorable encounters have been in my garden or local neighbourhood. Like the time a mistle thrush nested just outside my window or a woodcock ended up on my neighbours doorstep in Central Glasgow during a winter storm. Start small and look at what is around you.



A woodcock which wound up on my neighbours doorstep in urban Glasgow during the 'Beast from the East'

3. Get a book- There are not many pieces of kit required but one thing which is super helpful is a good bird guide. There are plenty of free resources out there but investing in a good bird book is an excellent way to advance your birdwatching skills. At first it may be overwhelming that there are so many little brown birds that look the same but ultimately it is a process of elimination and a real world game of spot the difference. A bird book is also a beautiful thing. They are small collections of artwork. Much like a good novel they are also a means of adventure and an escape to a beautiful and innocent world. I still have my original copy of the birds of Northern Europe by Lars Jonsson which I must have had for over 20 years. As a child I used to study it and imagine seeing the birds in the wild. If you're in the UK the Collins Bird Guide is a good starting point.


4. Bring the wildlife to you - this could be with some binoculars if you have the means but if not it can be as simple as feeding the birds. I'm not here to give you a review of the best Binoculars but a good starting point would be something at 8x42 magnification. It's always worth checking 2nd hand shops and, if you can, try before you buy.


A mistle thrush that fledged from a nest outside my bedroom window

5. Stop, look, listen and enjoy - In a world where electronic devices, social media and advertising are constantly trying to get our attention- bird watching is one of those things that can be done offline and connect you to the real world. Taking a moment to stop, look and listen is good for the soul and is a sort of meditation. A time for you to connect with the natural world in any situation you find yourself in. The more into it you get too the more you will find yourself seeking out those places of solitude and beauty.


So there are my top 5 tips on getting into the art of birdwatching. Now is as good a time as any to start looking at the birds around you. Not least because it is good for you (fact-spending time in nature is good for our mental health) but there is also a whole community of like minded people doing the same thing. If you want to connect with other people or learn more then the RSPBs #BreakfastBirdwatch could ease you in and there is more than likely a local birdwatching group on Facebook for your area. Happy birding and I look forward to hearing all about what what you have seen.


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