Becoming a Better Birder ... For the Sake of Bird Photography – Part 2
by Matthew Studebaker
3. Becoming a good birder means not only being able to identify your subject, but also knowing something about it. It means knowing something about the area in which the birds live. Good old fashioned research is often the element which separates the rookies from the pros.
Before going to your local grassland to photograph sparrows, for example, you should find answers to the following questions: At what times of year are the sparrows here? Do they leave for the winter? If they breed here, when is nesting season? What do their calls sound like? Memorizing the calls of your local species or the species in an area which you are about to visit will do wonders for your bird finding abilities. What is the most common species of sparrow found in the grassland and what are the other possibilities?
Knowing what species to expect is often half the battle. Are the sparrows conspicuous perchers/singers or will you have to search through the underbrush to find them? What are the key field marks to distinguish between the species, genders, and ages of the birds? Do the sparrows have a favorite set of plants (most birds do, so finding the plant is the first step to finding the bird)? What is the weather like at this time of year in this area? Are there any dangers to be aware of in the grasslands?
The internet is an invaluable resource for finding answers, One can also learn a lot from field guides, birding books sold by the American Birding Association, and by subscribing to birding magazines and online hot-lines or bird alerts.
4. Get out there and have fun. If you’re not enjoying it, you’ll probably quit. If you find yourself intimidated or burned out, focus on learning about the species which interest you most.