Things You Will Never Read in a Bird Book:
Practical Birding Tips
In order to see birds, it is necessary to become part of the silence.
When birding is slow, look and listen for chickadees. They are flock formers.
“Carolina Wrens just don’t say, ‘Tea kettle, tea kettle,’ anymore.” —Marlene Woo Lun
Even the most expert birder can miss a bird ID.
Everyone cannot identify every bird every time.
“On its wintering grounds, Least Flycatchers at rest will raise their tails slightly upward and then downward. The downward motion will ratchet down like a screen door on a spring until it comes to rest.” —Steve Howell.
A few IDs differentiating Cooper’s Hawks from Sharp-shinned Hawks in the field cannot be made with one hundred percent certainty. They are “tweeners.” The same goes for Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.
Blackbird flocks’ flight patterns: Red-winged Blackbird flocks fly like an accordion-expanding and shrinking. They also show dark patterns (males) against light patterns (females). Starling flocks fly in unison. Common Grackle flocks show a combination of long tails (males) and short tails (females).
“Snow Buntings hate snow.” —Milt Trautman.
The two most beautiful bird songs that birders rarely hear are Winter Wren and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Don’t waste your time “spishing” in Asia, Australia or Europe. It does not work.
Song Sparrows always come to “spishing.”
Vireos and flycatchers do not have flight notes.
Do not contradict someone when they report a bird sighting that is not likely. He or she will hate you forever. Just nod your head and move on. One thing is for certain—you cannot see or hear exactly the same thing that another person sees or hears.
Be willing to agree to disagree on bird IDs.
You will learn something about birds you never knew every time you go birding if you carefully observe.
After puberty it is very difficult but not impossible to learn bird songs.
Use your car as a bird blind.
Look at every bird you see through your bins, especially birds in flight. Practice makes perfect.
Before you bird, adjust and clean your lenses for clarity.
Never leave a “hotspot.”
When looking for a bird in a dense area, pre-adjust your bins’ focal length for the distance where you think the bird might appear. Also focus on openings or sight lines where you think the bird might cross. This saves valuable seconds to clearly see the bird. It will also gain you lifers.
Keep your bins close to your eyes so you can raise them quickly to see the bird.
You have an average of three seconds to see and identify a bird.
When searching for fruit eaters like parrots, look for fruiting trees.
When searching for hummingbirds, look for flowers.
Birds have great fidelity to a particular location and will return faithfully but don’t count on it.
Wear a harness strap on your binoculars to distribute the weight across your shoulders and reduce the weight on your cervical spine.
“Birding is best in the morning, but you can’t be everywhere every morning.” —Dr. Tim Fitzpatrick
Do not wear camouflage outside of the U.S. That is what rebels and militia wear. You might end up on the wrong end of a bullet.
Winter is the best time for beginners to learn birds in Eastern North America. There are small numbers, but no leaves and no confusing fall plumages.
Stay tuned for more from Bernie Master’s personal memoir, No Finish Line. To be published one week from today.