Below are listed some helpful information tips when birding, which we have found from our experiences and from our reading. You may have some to share also, so please feel free to do so. This page will be updated from time to time, with new tips being added. The tips may include birding, photography, viewing birds, precautions while in particular habitats and other related issues.
Go birding with an attitude of gratitude even if you do not see many birds, any new birds or any birds at all. Enjoy the experience regardless, being mindful of the beauty of nature that surrounds you, and be thankful with a grateful heart remembering how privileged we Australians are to have so many beautiful places we can escape to, so many National Parks, Reserves and State Forests available for us to enjoy. Appreciate the whole experience, trees, flowers, wildlife and even fungi. Breathe in the fresh air with its reviving scents such as in damp rainforests, feel the breeze on your face and the warm sun, take in the way the light filters through the trees, and the colours of sunset light up the tops of trees even if the birds are few on that day. Each birding experience is like the box of chocolates Forest Gump spoke of, ‘you do not know what you will get’.
Most seasoned birders know that many birds tend to move about their habitat, especially honeyeaters and insectivorous ones. Some cycle around near their nesting areas, others are purely territorial and stay in their allotted area careful not to intrude on a neighboring male of the same species. This all means that if you see birds moving around but they move away and you can not get a good view of them, or they scare on seeing you approach, the best thing to do is sit or stand perfectly still and quietly wait and they will come to you. We sometimes just sit in a Nature Reserve on the picnic seats provided, have our morning tea or lunch and it usually is not too long before birds appear out of curiosity or just looking for food. The less threatening you are the better. We once had several birds all come and go from standing on the same post within minutes of each other and got some amazing pics.
As many forest birds and shorebirds are seasonal in their habitats it is useful to determine the best time to explore particular habitat locations, and what birds might be found there before you leave. This can be done through searches on the internet for the location you want to visit. National parks and local councils often have useful information on their sites. This is particularly important for our shorebirds as they are migratory and spend our Winter in Siberia returning to nest here in spring and summer months. Many birders make notes of what birds they found, where they found them and on what particular date or month, then comparing their findings with bird lists shared on bird sites on the internet.
The best time of day to view most forest birds (perching birds or passerines as they are known) is when they are feeding in their habits, birding is generally best early morning and late afternoon. In the Australian bush, especially in late spring and summer months it is best to avoid the middle of the day especially from midday to 3:00pm as many birds are inactive during the heat of the day or quietly resting, being difficult to find and snakes are usually sunning themselves in forest openings and on tracks. Still sunny mornings with blue sky are best for seeing birds and for photography.
Windy, cloudy and rainy days produce less visible birds. The small birds may be moving about as usual, but you will have trouble seeing them and viewing them, due to diffused light and/or tree tops swaying and being blown about. If you use a hand held 100 to 400mm lens in strong wind it will jar the camera and give imperfect shots, even with lens stabilizers on. Diffused light from the clouds will give a silhouette effect when pointing cameras up into trees, which will make you subject appear dark. Many modern cameras including my own have the HDR setting (High Dynamic Range) which allows the camera to take three shots immediately after each other of the subject and choose the best mix to give a better exposure. Use this setting in these situations. I use my digital photo software to do the same at home on my computer, however, you will be limited by extent of darkness the subject is in, as to how much you can lighten the subject without ‘greening’ it.
When visiting shore bird habitats the best period to view waders and shorebirds is at low tide, as this is when the waders are actively scanning the shoreline of beaches and estuaries. They are often found resting at high tide.
When seeking out raptors (eagles, falcons, kits, kestrels, hawks etc) the mid morning to late afternoon is often a better time to view raptors, as this is the time when they can soar best on the warm jet stream of the thermals without having to flap their wings. They can stay for hours soaring and gliding as they hunt for food. Raptors usually avoid cities and large towns and are usually territorial so they are easy to locate once you know where they have been previously seen soaring or where their nest exists.
Young, immature and juvenile birds may not have the same coloured plumage as the adult bird. Many immature passerine birds (bush or forest birds) go through several stages of plumage development, from newborn chick to immature fledgling, juvenile and finally adult. In some species such as Satin Bowerbird, and many others full adulthood for the male can take up to seven years to complete, but only take three years for females. In many species the male and female birds may all look female and be indistinguishable till they approach mature age. This can make positive identification of specie and sex very difficult at times, even for the keenest birder. The bird field guide you use will need to highlight the various stages of development where possible. Many immature birds are coloured brown or brown and white, many being speckled or striped black on white as new born chicks. The plumage is more puffed out and fluffy in all birds. Birders have a generic term for brown birds, because so many exist and they are difficult to identify. They call them LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). The key to identifying a bird which does not show characteristic colouring for identification, is to look at the body, head and beak shape of the bird, and get an impression as to kind of bird it resembles. Next take note of what other mature birds were sighted in the area where you saw this bird, that are around similar size, shape and beak structure. Lastly confirm this by checking bird field guides and internet records, by doing searches for immature or juvenile photos of the bird you think it might be. Failing all this, submit your photo or description to a bird club member for identification. I have lists of bird club links in my Helpful Birding Links featured below.
Make contact with the local bird clubs, tourist information centres and conservation organisations in the area you want to explore before you launch out. These are places of local knowledge which can not be found in books and brochures. Locals know where local birds can be found, and birders love to help other birders who share their passion. Most bird clubs have websites (some of which are listed below in my Helpful Birding Links). We have found an email or phone call to the local Tourist Information centre in the town we are visiting to be most helpful, as they often have brochures for birders, many of which can be downloaded free online. They are now aware that birders bring business to their towns. Many local councils are adopting the creation of birding wetlands for recreational use from the outflow of their sewerage treatment works. This has been a major success in many local council areas, attracting picnickers and birders alike. We have blogged and will blog several of these successful areas in the future.
The most suitable camera for recording bird sightings is a good digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera as this gives you the ability to catch the bird immediately. Many of the digital cameras have a 2 to 3 second delay before taking the photo and by then the bird may have flown the coop. The reason I suggest digital is that these are the most light sensitive cameras, with the most recent developments allowing photography in almost dark situations with improved ISO settings. For example my Canon EOS 70D has an upper ISO setting of over 12,000, allowing me to take photos in dark forest situations. Setting your SLR on Sport mode where you can get a burst of shots will give you the best option for catching that special bird moment, with flight pictures. I found this most essential when also doing whale watching photography. many of the SLRs now have High Definition movie capability and the recent feature of the Canon 70D allows the camera in auto focus mode to stay focused to the moving object. Also the ability to shoot in poor light has been improved to ISO 25600. The best lens for birders, which can be carried or tripod mounted is Canon L series 100 – 400 mm, this is what I use all the time now, and most serious birders carry the same or similar. This lens can shoot right between the branches into a forest and take pics of bird that can hardly be seen with the naked eye. The disadvantage with such a lens is it is heavy metal and glass structure and you have to hold it very still (though it has image stabilizers to reduce blur) when fully extended to 400mm, which is most of the time. Also the images tend to be darker since the length of the lens impedes the amount of light entering the camera. The advantage is that most good photo software allows the image to be lightened post processing, and even cropped since the picture size is quite large, without harming the original picture.
Helpful Birding Links
- Michael Morcombe’s eGuide to Australian Birds iphone app. is an invaluable field guide for identifying birds while out and about. The app stands alone as an amazing tool having both pictures and features of the male, female and immature bird with pictures, recordings of the birds sounds, bird locations in Australia where you may find them, including the different races of the same bird. The author packs into the app also the ability to limit the search to birds found in a specific state or territory of Australia. This by far was the best purchase I have made in my birding history. Other features include a person sighting register, and search functions. This app can be purchased directly from the Apple Store for under $40. Also my main authority for identifying and learning about bird is Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds (Steve Parish Publishing) which is featured on the same web site above, and is able to be purchased from book shops. There is both a glove box edition and the larger standard edition, we have both, one in the car and one at home. The books come in a plastic cover to protect them, as they get so much use. The illustrations and text are very impressive and highlight the essential distinguishing features of each bird and its sub species, important when several birds look alike.
- The Australian Bird Guide is the latest and most comprehensive field guide for birders, released early May 2017. It is on par with Michael Morcombes but is more up to date with specie name changes and extra information. The drawings are excellent and similar to Morcombe’s with updated locations and bird characteristics. I use both guides side by side, most of the time.
- Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia is an amazing book for new birdwatchers by Sue Taylor. She has authored several other books which you might find on her website. I was given a copy of this book by friend for my birthday, which he especially purchased knowing my love of birds, and of all the gifts this was the best. My wife and I would read a new location each morning and share Sues and Roger (her husbands’) experiences. This book not only gives you a great start into bird watching places, but has lovely pictures, listing the birds found on her several visits to these places, and is written in a very warm and sometimes humorous manner. We have used it when touring Australia and found it most accurate and helpful.
- Cumberland Bird Observers Club for those interested in joining a bird club in the Sydney area. They have regular outings both on weekends and midweek, a quarterly newsletter, and useful information on their website to do with bird watching and the use of binoculars etc. There is a yearly membership fee, though they welcome anyone to freely join them on their outings. All information is on their web site as to contacts and outing details. This is an excellent way for beginners to introduce themselves to this wonderful recreation.
- Hunter Bird Observers Club for those living in the Newcastle NSW and north of the Central Coast.
- Blue Mountains Bird Observers for those living in the Blue Mountains area west of Sydney NSW.
- Illawarra Bird Observers Club is another club that sometimes has joint outings with the above club, but is more for people south of the Sydney area. You might do well to search the internet for your local Bird Observers Club.
- Canberra Ornithologists Group is for those living in in the Canberra ACT area of Australia.
- Birding NSW is an orginisation seeking to protect and foster birding in NSW Australia and is growing to be a really great bird club with field outings and teaching sessions to those living in Sydney and Central Coast regions.
- Birdlife Australia is a very important organisation involved in the conservation and protection of Australian birds, many of which are under current and future threat of extinction, due to our ignorance and ‘modern progress’. This is a worthwhile organisation to support financially and in other ways. They send out regular emails to subscribers informing what the birds are doing, especially the endangered migratory birds, whose habitats are being destroyed all over the world.
- Birds in Backyards is a very useful site for Australian bird identification and for information of attracting birds and caring for their habitat.
- Birding NSW is the NSW Field Ornithologists Club Inc, holding regular meetings in Sydney city area, field outings and issue a newsletter, similar to the above bird clubs. They also have a Central Coast branch of the club.
- Accomodation in the Capertee Valley – April Mills at‘Binalong’ 4651 Glen Alice Road, Glen Davis 2846. Contact: (02) 63797326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Eramaea Birdlines NSW is a useful website where birders list locations of recent sightings of various Australian birds. Often rare and difficult to find birds occasionally are listed here for the keen enthusiast to pursue.
I will endeavour to add other links as time allows, maybe you have one I can add