“Do you wear a green anorak and hang around in bushes all day?” is a question I often get asked by curious friends. While, yes, this does happen from time to time, I also spend a lot of time walking, standing still, sitting in cars and even lying on my back – especially when the weather’s nice.
- You don’t have to wear a green uniform (blues, browns and mottled colours are just as good), but bright reds and yellows are a no-no. Having said that, I was once wearing bright red cycling shorts while creeping up on some oystercatchers and little terns in Rye Harbour, and they didn’t notice.
- The first rule of fieldcraft is to put the welfare of the birds first. Don’t flush them unnecessarily, especially tired migrants, so walk with slow, deliberate movements. I’m not suggesting that you crouch down on all fours – you may get funny looks – but a cautious approach will pay dividends.
- Secondly, stand still in a woodland clearing or secret yourself by the edge of a reservoir or lake and just wait. Spending time blending into the habitat greatly improves your chances of a close encounter. Recently, I did just that in a forest in Finland and I had foraging great tits practically standing on my head.
- Stalking a bird is something you will rarely need to do, and make sure you avoid it in the breeding season. But if a small brown bird flies up in front of you and lands, a stealthy approach may reward you with prolonged views of a meadow pipit.
- On moorland, farmland and shorelines, get into the habit of not breaking the skyline, or any birds will disappear long before you see them. If you have to break the horizon, do so cautiously (ideally crouching).
- Finally, why not try your hand at imitating bird calls. In the autumn, smaller birds have a few calls that are universally recognised as alarm calls or contact notes. Kissing the back of your hand, or better still between the crack of your forefinger and third finger, should produce a ‘chip-chip’ sound. This will get all the birds in the vicinity coming to check you out.
- Similarly, if you stand near some bushes and ‘pish’ – make a shushing noise – every blue tit in town will be flocking around you.
DAVID’S TOP TIP
Don’t judge a birder on the calibre of their optical equipment. Good observers rely on their eyes and ears.