Birding with a Novice: Join me as I stumble my way into birding for the first time
I’ve always had an interest in nature and wildlife in general. I was born in Paignton, Devon, but spent my early years living in the Essex countryside. Where we lived, there were no real made up roads and very few neighbours so consequently I spent a lot of my childhood roaming the fields alone looking for things to do (or mischief as my grandparents called it).
Quite near our home, there was a derelict house that had a large overgrown garden. It had belonged to an old lady, called Mrs Jones, who had long since passed away. Her old garden always had a huge amount of interesting things to do so I used to go there quite often looking for adventure. I’d often play inside the house as there were no doors or glass in the windows but it was the plants, trees and animals in the garden that were the most interesting to me. I loved the butterflies that seemed to be far more abundant back then than they are now and there were always nesting birds darting in and out of holes in the brick work underneath what remained of the guttering. The garden, despite having been neglected for years, had a large orchard and mixture of wild and domestic plants so provided a varied diet and habitat for different birds and animals.
Fast forward to 2023 and I find myself coming out of retirement to help man the fort at Southwest Optics. I’m first to admit that I know little about binoculars, spotting scopes and the like as most of my life has been dedicated to photographic lenses but some of that knowledge crosses over and in the few short weeks that I have been there, I have met some very knowledgeable and interesting people. What I lack in knowledge, I make up for in enthusiasm for our products and customer service.
I’ll also admit that I had no idea that there was a difference between bird watchers, Birders, and Twitchers. I’ve pretty much had that explained to me now and think I get it and so, for the record ( rightly or wrongly ) I’m putting myself at this time firmly in the “watchers” category, with the hope of heading towards becoming a “Birder” in the future (when I grow up!).
Up until now, I’ve never had a specific interest in birds but I must admit, I’m finding myself more and more drawn to getting out and about to see what I can spot and write down for my records. I have seen a few interesting things in the past such as a light phase family of Buzzards, a Peregrine that landed on a wall about 15 metres away from me while I sat in my car and an Osprey on Dartmoor (yes really!). The thing that sparked this recent interest was seeing a small flock of Redwings feeding off our holly bushes in the garden of our last house. They only stayed a few days but were quite beautiful and were kind enough to wait until after Christmas before feasting on our berries.
It's a steep learning curve for me. None of my friends are birders so I’m having to gather information from the internet and anyone I can bribe with tea and hobnobs (chocolate of course) for ideas of how to get started.
As it happens, I realise I’m better off than I thought. I already have good walking boots and outdoor clothing as I have to walk my Labradors (Freddie and Ralph), rain or shine, so I won’t be able to use bad weather as an excuse to stay home and watch Bargain Hunt.
I do have some binoculars, they’ve been around for some years now but recently I’ve been spoilt by looking at the top end brands that we keep in stock. Sadly, I’m not allowed to take those out as they have to stay in pristine condition for our lovely customers, but occasionally I get to try the preowned stock that comes in for part exchange. Now I have the bug, I’m saving for a better pair even though the pair I have are perfectly adequate for getting me started. As with photographic lenses, I was always encouraged to buy the best that I could afford so it makes sense to me to apply the same principle regarding binoculars. By the time I’ve saved up, I’ll know one way or the other whether or not serious birding will be for me.
I’m very lucky that near where I live there’s an abundance of varied habitats that offer a beginner like me easy access to start watching birds. Five minutes away, there are lakes where you can often see Herons and Kingfishers and a multitude of different species of ducks. Of course, I’ve no idea what they are and I’ve only seen the Heron from a distance while walking the dogs (without binoculars) but it’s just the sort of place I shall be visiting, swapping the barking twins for a pair of bins. I’ve never seen the Kingfisher but a friend who is an avid (and excellent) wildlife photographer has photographed it many times.
Of course, I realise that you don’t even need to travel to see birds. My neighbours have a large well stocked garden with trees and shrubs and I’ve convinced them when they see me looking out of the bedroom window, I’m merely bird watching and not spying on them while sunbathing in the garden (I think they believe me).
Anyway, it’s now time to stop the chat and spring into action. I’ve decided a trip to the lakes is the venue for my first solo outing for bird spotting. Last night’s thunder storm has ensured that the footpaths will be wet and muddy so waterproof walking boots are essential along with my old pair of Bushnell binoculars. Also, in my rucksack is my new bird identification book, notebook and pen, phone, snack and drink (I never go anywhere without a snack), and a light weight fold up rain coat just in case. Wish me luck!
Written by Frank from the South West Optics Showroom
Update. First trip went reasonably well. Saw some interesting birds and a few other things such as a family of rats enjoying a frolic and even managed to get a few pictures which I’ve included. Can’t wait for my next trip.