Birding on foot is one of my favourite ways of spending time in nature.
Relative to driving around the bush it forces you to take it slow. This affords you the privilege of exercising your senses, and so you hear, feel and see life on a smaller scale.
Along with getting in a moderate form of exercise, birding also means you get to explore places you would never have considered before. The ranging team are currently taking part in a Birding Big Year, in which we start our lists again and record as many species as possible in 2021.
So with birding on all of our minds we invite you to take part in your own birding big year, and for those of you who don’t know where to start, here is a short guide on how to get into it.
1. Start off with a well-illustrated bird book. What I mean by this is choose a book with an illustrated glossary on the inside of the front or back page which gives you a clear image of prominent species from different family groups. This will go a long way in helping you narrow down which bird you are trying to identify.
2. Take note of the bird’s general impression of size and shape. This is known as its “GISS”. How big is it in comparison to a common bird that you see all the time such as a dove or a sparrow? What colour is it? Does it have any prominent markings or features such as a ring around its eye or a crest on its head? If you are birding with other people it often helps to say these observations out loud so that everyone takes note of it and can work together as a team when identifying it a bit later.
3. Look for more detail than you think is needed. Often there are two birds which look alike and taking note of a small feature can make the difference in achieving a positive ID.
4. Make up rhymes to help you remember certain calls. It makes life so much easier when you are looking at a bird that you are not absolutely sure of and it gives a call that you know, allowing you to identify it.
5. Behaviour and their habitat. Take note of your surroundings when viewing a bird. The habitat you are in will rule out a whole bunch of candidates. Watch what the bird is doing. How does it fly? Where does it land – low to the ground or high up in the canopy? Although it sounds absurd these observations make the difference.
6. Start with the pretty ones. There is no doubt birding can be tedious. It’s not fun when it is boiling hot and you’ve been scrambling through thorny sickle bush trying to identify a backlit cisticola. So start off by showing interest in the flashy beautiful birds and this might spark your interest onto the more challenging ones.
7. Exercise patience. Birding is not something to be rushed. Birds come and go as they please. It’s impossible to see them all so take it easy by sitting in a nice spot and let them come to you.
8. Work on strengthening your core and neck muscles! This is a joke, but seriously staring through your binoculars into a forest canopy and trying not to shake becomes tiring after a while.
So when you visit us on your next safari ask your guide how many birds he has ticked in 2021 and try help him or her add a few more to their list.