BY: Saartjie Kidson
Experienced birders know that identifying birds can be challenging. Many birds are very active and you need a quick eye to spot as many details as possible in a short timespan. Some birds are a little more cooperative and may pause briefly on their way. The obstacles are many - the light may be dim, it could be a windy or rainy day, you could have the sun in your eyes, or the bird may have taken flight before you had a chance to study it well. When I started out, I saw more birds by just sitting still under a tree, perhaps near water or near a flowering or fruit-bearing tree, in a car, or in a bird hide, than I did walking about in the bush. Use your senses of sight and sound and follow up on any movement, birdsong or bird-squabble you become aware of. Don’t keep your binoculars in their case. By the time you get them out, the bird may have disappeared. Try to be as still as possible with minimum hand and body movement. Don’t look down at your binoculars – keep your eye on the bird and raise the binoculars to your eyes. Get the bird in view then quickly adjust the focusing wheel to obtain a sharply focused image. With enough practice and a lot of patience you will eventually be able to raise your binoculars to your eyes and focus on the bird with one smooth, flowing movement. Never point to a bird – nine out of the ten times it will take flight. Minimise noise by turning off your cell phone and speaking in low tones. Excessive noise will not only scare off nearby birds, but can also make it more difficult for other birders to discern birdsong that may help identify birds in the field.