The Science of Birding
Birding also fulfils the quest for knowledge, even if you don’t realize it; each time you participate in the act of birding you gain more knowledge about the environment in which we live, not just about birds’ themselves but also about their songs, their behaviour, and how they connect to their natural environment. It’s a perfect opportunity to enjoy a unique human pleasure—the successful exercise of lore.
Birders often have the opportunity to make real contributions to scientific knowledge, today; much of what ornithology knows about birds has come from dedicated birders whose observations were consistently recorded.
What do I need to get started?
A pair of binoculars, a field guide, a hat, some water, a notebook, if in unknown territory a map and compass and a camera.
- Binoculars: Choosing a pair of binoculars is a matter of personal preference. You should test out several brands with different magnifications and apertures (lens diameters), before deciding what would work best for you. Binoculars usually have at least two numbers to give you this information.
For example a binocular reading 8 * 42 means it magnifies distant objects 8 times and has a reasonably wide lens (42 mm).
- Ranges from 6x to 12x or higher.
- The smaller magnification gives you lighter binoculars and a wider field of view, which makes it easier to find a distant object.
- Increasing magnification gives you a better view of the distant object, but increases the weight and also narrows the field of view, making it harder to find the distant object.
- Aperture determines the light gathering ability
- The bigger the lens, the more light is entering the binoculars, so the brighter the image. This is critical when birding in poor light conditions, like overcast or rainy days, at dawn or dusk.
- However, the bigger the aperture, the heavier the binoculars.
- Apertures can range from 35 mm (not great for birding, but compact, light and good for general viewing) to 50 mm (great for birding, but heavy and bulky)
An 8 x 42 pair of binoculars works well for most birders and under most birding conditions. But it is a personal choice.
- Field Guides: are also a matter of personal preference, some birders like ones with photographs of a good representative, some prefer illustrations that capture the “average” appearance of the species.
For beginners, a good place to start is with “Birds of Coastal British Columbia” by Nancy Baron and John Acorn. This inexpensive book is a great introduction to the most commonly found local birds, with great habitat, behaviour and song descriptions. The species descriptions are personable and humourous too, for example, the guide describes the male Scoters as the “Sylvester Stallones” of the duck world, and gives easy tips for distinguishing similar species (e.g. Huge Hairy Woodpecker ~ 9.5 inches vs. Diminutive Downy Woodpecker ~ 6.5 inches.)
The bird guides most recommended by expert local birders are:
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (6th edition)
The Sibley Guide to Birds (Second Edition, Second Printing) [NOTE: be sure to look for the Second Printing of the Sibley 2nd Edition, which has improved the colours from the 1st edition.
The National Geographic’s “Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America” is preferred by some medium birders; it avoids having to wade through lists of species that you wouldn’t normally find here.
- A Hat, Water, a Notebook and a Camera: Any old hat will do, however when you are birding the more unusual the hat the better, it should shade your eyes but not get in the way of your binoculars. A notebook a pen and a sharpened pencil to record when and where you have spotted your bird along with any habits you may have seen being displayed; having this note book actually assists you in your observations as you tend to pay more attention when you are able to record your sightings.
A camera is not a necessity, however you never know when you may be lucky enough to get a good picture; and if you have access to one a vest to put all your gear in as this leaves your hands free and maintains easy access to your gear.
This is on advantage of Birding, it is so inexpensive to get started it is the best activity to undertake during recessionary times. And the beauty of it is that you are not taxed on spending more time performing the activity. It takes a long time to wear out your gear and you can perform the activity as often as you want without additional expense.