Well now, I know that most of you probably know how to watch a bird. But lately I’ve seen more and more birders just walking by birds of all kinds.
Starlings, sparrows, pigeons, ducks. Ignored.
Robins, finches, doves. Ignored, waved off.
Wait! Super-duper, ultra cool rarity. Watch! Look! Listen! Tell others, hundreds of others, actually. Invasion of birders. Hopefully they’ll behave.
What makes a watchable bird, well, watchable? And if one finds a watchable bird, how does one actually go about watching it?
Well in my opinion a watchable bird is any bird actually worthy of being watched. Which, from a watchers point of view could be practically any bird. Chickens even. How many of you have spent time watching chickens? You should try it sometime really, it’s quite refreshing.
Alright, here we are. A watchable bird! The first thing I do after initially spotting such a bird.. (well I supposed it’s the second thing, since, actually, the first thing was spotting the bird)
..is to keep my eyes on this bird. I watch it. Seriously. I watch it with my eyes. (Write this down) Then, if I have the time, I bring my binoculars that have been hanging around my neck by a fancy strap up to my eyes and aim them at the bird. No kidding. Now I’m watching the bird THROUGH my binoculars, ever done this? It’s remarkable! The bird looks ten times closer! And now, the serious watching begins.
*(I don’t mean to imply, however, that watching birds without binoculars is not a serious endeavor, it is, but that is the subject of another post entirely.)
I focus my attention on the overall appearance of the bird. Hmm, this one looks big! What would such a big bird be doing in a tree? I usually try to decided what shape the bird is. Round, long, fat, skinny. I also extract clues from the birds behavior. What’s it doing? Ewww. Sick. Oh well, nevermind. Another important factor that doesn’t involve seeing is listening. Is the bird singing?
Then I begin to look at color pattern. Can I get somewhat of a feel for what this bird is by shape and color pattern? Now is the time, also, to look at the size. Is it little like a chickadee or big like an eagle or something in between? Keep looking at the bird!
So many people take a quick glance a the very cool watchable bird and then start looking at a field guide. DON’T DO THIS. Look at the bird the whole time it’s there!
If the bird is cooperative and is still around, I’ll then look at it’s wings and head for specific field marks. Stripes, bars, crests and the like. I’ll make a mental note of all these things. Sometimes I even say such things out loud. It helps me remember.
AACKK! It flew! My watchable bird example just left. Now what? Turn to your field gui.. nope. Not yet. Get out your note pad. Write down everything you remember about the bird. Do it immediately. I’ll wait. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . Done? Ok, good.
NOW we can look at the field guide. If-you-look-at-the-bird-then-look-at-the-field-guide-without-writing-down-what-you-saw-before-you-know-it-your-eyes-will-begin-to-glaze-over-with-all-the-birds-that-look-almost-like-the-one-you-were-looking-at-and-you-won’t-be-able-to-figure-out-what-it-was-because-you-have-forgotten-everything-about-it.
Then you’ll probably think it’s some amazing rarity, when in fact you just invented another species, but no one will believe you.
So I hope you figured out what kind of bird you were watching, and I hope this little guide, technical though it is, will help you in becoming a better watcher of watchable birds.