Stealth is the trick and silence is vital. The best attire is cammies, shoulder hides or basically anything that hides the human profile. Don’t worry, you’re not going off to war. These are basic tips for the beginner birdwatcher. This is the first in a line of birdwatching articles by Nation in consultation with Colombo University Professor in Environmental Science and Field Ornithological Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) Co-founder, Sarath Kotagama.
“Birds are colourful, active creatures with one intriguing aspect; they can fly,” he says. Bird watching is one hobby recorded throughout history. In Sri Lanka, there have been parks for birds, which allowed people to feed the birds and watch their behaviour. The reason may very well be that birds are the only animals that have not generated phobia among the humans.
“When you see a bird, it looks so different and cuddly. Chick is like a ball of cotton and as it gets bigger, the change is in its size is generally accompanied by a vivid colouring. Adults use birds as a mean of pacifying the kids. Most behavioural studies on areas such as imprinting and conditioning were theorized,using birds as experimental subjects.” All this brings about a familiarity with birds that is not found with regards to other animals.
The concept of birdwatching evolved in developed countries with the rise of protests against using feather on clothing and accessories. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is one such example. Bird Shooting is another controversial hobby that contributed to bird watching. Ducks Unlimited is one North American group, which promotes safe and regulated waterfowl hunting.
Today, it is a form of enjoyment, at times even an expensive and lucrative one at that. It has certain financial gains, in addition to personal satisfaction. It has its health values, considered all the walking you have to do and the fresh air you inhale. It is a major form of tourist attraction, from the ‘crazy birders’ or ‘tickers’, whose only aim is to see the maximum numbers of birds and tick them off their list, to the more serious nature lovers. For organizations such as Birdlife International, the purpose of bird watching is conservation.
“Anybody can be a birder,” confides professor Kotagama. “All you need is the desire and patience. You should have the ability to interpret what you see. Everybody has the ability to distinguish between a crow and a chicken. It is this inborn ability you have to develop in order to discriminate when you do bird watching. Identification comes with practice. You should develop your own guide and come up with your own method to discriminate among the birds. An average person has the ability to label 15 different types of birds. So, what a beginner could do is make a list of the birds you know and then ask how each of them would differ.”
He believes that you should refer a field guide available in the market only after this.” However, any field guide is only a guide. What matters most is how you apply what is in the guide.” Roger Peterson field guides are informative, with the Peterson’s method for identifying birds. Basically, this involves drawing a line in the book to indicate the features that distinguish it from other birds. There are also guides based on colour, and on distribution of bird families.
You should be dressed in earth colours, such as greens and colours that blend with nature, as camouflage is an important aspect when approaching a bird. It is also important to dress in a way to break the human profile, for example, you could wear a hat, a cloak, a poncho or baggy clothes, and carry a hide on your shoulders. Birds should be approached with stealth; hiding behind trees and squatting rather than walking are good ways. It is crucial that you freeze if the bird recognizes you, especially if it is a water bird. “Watching birds with the naked eye makes you a proper birder, at the same time silence is a vital factor. Don’t make yourself the element of destruction, do not harm the environment,” he concluded.