Birding for Beginners

If you are wanting to start Birdwatching (or Birding as we know it) as a serious recreational hobby or pastime, like my wife and I,  then this special section may be of help. Before we start you may want to click on the following link (if you have not already done so from my Home Page) and read it first then return to this page:

>>> Why Birding is a Healthy Hobby: ‘The Benefits of Birding’   

Before we share useful hints on how to get the best out of observing our Australian birds, it is useful to be aware of what vital equipment and knowledge that is helpful to get started:

  • Binoculars suitable for birdwatching: Between 8×23 and 10×42 (Magnification x Objective lens in mm). To calibrate your binoculars for both eyes do this: Look at an object through the left eyepiece with your left eye. Rotate the focusing ring until you see a sharp image of it. Then, focus with your right eye with diopter adjustment ring on the right eyepiece. Look at the same object through the right eyepiece with your right eye until focused. Your binoculars are now ready.

  • A current Field Guide of Australian Birds: (found in most book shops) See Helpful Birding Hints (below) for more help There is also an iPhone Bird app available (see link on Info links section on this page below). These books help identify and locate birds and include useful information about their behaviour and where you may find them. It also describes variations in plumage for age and sex of the bird, as well as nesting practices.

  • Protection from the sun: (broad brimmed hat and sun screen +30) apply sunscreen well to face and neck as face gets exposed to the sun when looking up at birds in trees.

  • Water: Always carry a bottle in summer months and sip regularly to maintain hydration, esp. for walks over 1 hour.

  • Insect repellent: (with DEET is preferable) may be required around swampy habitats. Spray on is best for fast coverage.

  • Sturdy pair of walking shoes or boots which have been waterproofed: Essential for the serious birder.

  • Camera: (not essential) An SLR with telescopic lens >200mm is ideal for creating a personal bird album.

  • Bird Record Diary and Check List: (not essential) to record sightings of different species, where and when. Bird Checklists can be found online for most regions in Aust.

  • Membership with a local Bird Observer Club: (not essential) and conservation organisations such as Birdlife Australia can be helpful in finding out information and help save our birds. Also not essential but helpful.

  • Follow weekly birding blog posts: and gain additional information: e.g. www.  where a weekly blog post gives useful photographic and behavioural information on our birds which you may find very interesting and educational.

Now that you are adequately equipped we can move to our first birding lessons on how to find birds and locate them for viewing. Click on the link below:

>>> 5 Steps for Better Birding

Below are listed some helpful information tips when birding, which we have found from our experiences and from our reading. This page will be updated from time to time, with new tips being added:

  1. 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 giving them a golden hue. Each birding experience is like the box of chocolates Forest Gump spoke of, ‘you do not know what you will get’. 

  2. 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.

  3. 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 home. 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.

  4. 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 3:00 pm 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.

  5. 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 400 mm 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.

  6. When visiting shore bird habitats on mud flats (tidal rivers) the best period to view waders and shorebirds on river mudflats 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. However, the incoming to high tide can also be best for ocean shorebirds on rock platforms, as the tide pushes them into the shoreline to roost till the next tide change. This is good for those doing bird counts.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Make contact with the local bird clubs, tourist information centres and conservation organisations in the area you want to explorebefore 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.

  10. 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 pocket 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 birds 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 400 mm, 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.

    For Books that may be helpful to get started identifying Australian birds as well as learn more about the recent research on birds click here.

Helpful Info Links

Now you have enough info to get out and about birding. If you need more help, send me an email from the bottom of this page. Here are some links to useful sites that may give additional information:

  1. 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.

  2. The Australian Bird Guide by Peter Menkhorst et al is the latest up to date Australian bird field guide (released May 2017) and includes the most recent name changes to several of our birds having been reclassified in subspecies which are now recognized as endemically Australian. This book has more information though is not as easy to find the bird you want as is Michael Morcombe’s book. This book is available from most book stores and National Parks shops.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. Hunter Bird Observers Club for those living in the Newcastle NSW and  north of the Central Coast.

  6. Blue Mountains Bird Observers for those living in the Blue Mountains area west of Sydney NSW.

  7. Illawarra Bird Observers Club  is another club but is more for those living south of the Sydney area. You might do well to search the internet for your local Bird Observers Club.

  8. Canberra Ornithologists Group  is for those living in in the Canberra ACT area of Australia.  

  9. Birding NSW  is an organisation 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.

  10. Birdlife Southern NSW  is an organisation sub branch of Birdlife Australia dealing with bird preservation in southern NSW from Port Macquarie down to Canberra and west to Broken Hill.  Birdlife organisations are good places to make contact with people who know and care about local birds and their conservation and location.

  11. 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.

  12. Birds in Backyards is a very useful site for Australian bird identification and for information of attracting birds and caring for their habitat.

  13. 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.

  14. Accomodation in the Capertee Valley – April Mills at ‘Binalong’ 4651 Glen Alice Road, Glen Davis 2846.  Contact: (02) 63797326 or email 

  15. 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

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NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed  by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.

9 comments on “Birding for Beginners

    • Thanks so much for your encouraging comment. I am delighted that my posts enlighten as to bird behaviour as this an area I study and enjoy and many do not touch on. Recent research is quite fascinating on brain function and physiology of birds and how intelligent and socially organised they are. We can learn so much from them, which is what I share in my book “What Birds Teach Us”. Enjoy your week! 🙂


  1. Pingback: Birding InfoTips | aussiebirder – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

  2. Thanks for the tips. I lug a Sigma 170-500 mm (plus tripod) around, usually extended to 425 mm. I’m thinking a canon prime as my next lens, but that could be years off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks thelocals! My first birding lens was a Sigma 18 – 250mm which I still keep as a spare it is much lighter, being mostly plastic construction, than the Canon . I would suggest you feel the weight of the Canon L series lens before purchase as most find it very heavy due to the solid steel and glass construction, not to mention the many machines within. I am different to most photographers in that I seldom use my monopod and never have a strap, I carry the thing everywhere and it strengthens my wrists. This is how I catch those bird moments which can be easily missed. Usually my wife spots with binoculars and I shoot. As you already know the largest problem is steadying the lens at full extension, even with the stabizers on. In manual mode it can take several shots to get a tiny bird in focus at a long distance. You will be surprised at the distances I get many of my photos, as I have an eye problem also, it has been a painful art practiced over many years. I have checked your pics on your site and they look great, we saw our first Pale-headed last week in Moree. Sue and I both follow each other’s blog and she has also purchased my book. I look forward to us sharing our bird experiences. If you would like to learn more about the Striated Pardalote check this past post of mine:
      Have a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been ‘birding’ for a little more than a year and am enjoying the learning curve. My Sigma has no stabilisation, so I use my tripod as a monopod for morning shots and (if the sun is out) without a pod in the afternoons. That’s for the link for the Pardalote. All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Becoming a Recreational Birdwatcher (‘birder’) | aussiebirder

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