For a birdwatcher, experience counts for everything – but it takes time to accumulate. Birding on your local patch will provide you with many hours of enjoyment, but eventually you’ll want to spread your wings.
I remember as a kid thumbing through my bird guide and drooling at the thought of seeing new species in different locations. As a crow flapped over my London garden, I fantasised about seeing a golden eagle gliding over a Scottish glen.
- As a new birder, you may feel nervous about venturing beyond your local patch. One way to gain confidence is to join a local bird club, an RSPB or BTO group or just get together with some like-minded friends.
- The benefits of group birding are that everybody learns collectively and there may be a more experienced birder on hand to explain why those coots are fighting or how to tell a sparrowhawk from a kestrel.
- Local groups are also instrumental in conservation, often helping to manage local nature reserves. This can be a lot of fun, so get involved if you have time.
- Eventually, you’ll be ready to think about visiting birding hotspots around Britain. My birding debut outside London was to Norfolk. I’ll never forget seeing my first avocet at Cley Marshes Nature Reserve and a gorgeous barn owl that drifted over our car. I was literally shaking with excitement.
- You’ll start to see birds you’re not familiar with, so ask a more experienced birder to help identify them. Most are only too pleased to share their knowledge, but occasionally you may meet an unhelpful soul. Don’t despair – they’re rare.
- If you go out with a group, try not to chat loudly – this will reduce your chances of seeing birds. And keep your eyes open wherever you are, not just in the hides: I once visited Minsmere RSPB Reserve once and watched a little gull fly over a group of babbling people – not one of them noticed it.
- Some of the best reserves for beginners are the London Wetland Centre, Barnes; Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk; Conwy RSPB Reserve, Conwy; Musselburgh Lagoons, East Lothian; and Bog Meadows Nature Reserve, Belfast. Now, get going…
DAVID’S TOP TIP
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the more knowledge you will gain.