In this, the final feature in our four-part series on beginning birdwatching, we take a look at some ways you can take your budding birding hobby to the next level.
The Birding for Beginners series is brought to you in association with Hawke Optics
Birding is an exciting and diverse hobby that has something for everybody. One of the real beauties of catching the bird watching bug is that it’s a pastime that can grow with you to offer a lifetime of enjoyment and discovery. You’ll never know everything: there are always new challenges out there, always something new to learn, always more birds or bird behaviour to discover.
Broadening your birding horizons
Initially, you’re likely to focus much of your birding effort on your garden and local patch. Getting to know your local birds well is a fundamental part of developing your birding skills, but sooner or later (and inevitably it’s usually sooner) you’re going to get itchy feet and want to check out different locations and habitats near you.
- Ask around: One of the best ways to find good nearby locations for birdwatching is to ask people. If you know other birders in the area, or anyone who’s into wildlife ask them for advice on the best local spots. Anywhere that’s generally good for wildlife is likely to support plenty of bird life.
- Keep an eye out: Another useful way of discovering new birding areas is to keep your eyes open when you’re out and about in the car — make a mental note of any patches of interesting looking habitat, open woodlands or parks that look promising, and go back later to explore.
- Go online: Social media sites and forums are a mine of useful information for the budding birder — subscribe to wildlife and birding forums, follow organisations groups and individuals on your favourite social media platforms, and ask for advice on the best places to go birding.
- Buy this book: Finding Birds in Ireland by Eric Dempsey is essentially the Irish birder’s site bible. Fully revised and updated in 2014, it details key birding locations around the country on a province-by-province, county-by-county basis.
Take a birding trip
A birding trip or holiday is a great way to expand your birding horizons — taking in new birding locations and new bird species and habitats in your own country or abroad. On a dedicated birding trip, you’ll typically have access to an experienced local guide who will share his or her knowledge of local birding hotspots, show you the best locations and point out the birds you see.
Don’t let your guide do all the work though. Take some time to explore yourself: discovering new places and finding new birds on your own (or with a group of birding friends) is a crucial part of honing your birding skills.
NB. Ireland’s Wildlife offers tailored bird and wildlife guiding services in the South West of Ireland, as well as our series of Discover Wildlife Experiences based on the West Cork Coast. Get in touch via the contact form for more details.
Of course, once you’re “switched” on to birding it travels with you. Wherever you go, whether you’re on a business trip, a city break or a family holiday you’ll find yourself noticing birds wherever you go. A peregrine through a meeting room window in central London, a reed warbler singing from cover at a family wedding, or more exotic birds on your foreign travels, there’s always something to discover. Many birders keep trip-lists of the species they encounter while they’re away from home, and it can be a great way to expand your birding knowledge over time.
Spend time with local birding or wildlife groups
Another great way of getting to know the birds and habitats in new areas, and to meet other people interested in birds and wildlife is to join local birdwatching groups on the regular “outings” they arrange around the country. Birdwatch Ireland, the Irish NGO responsible for bird conservation, has a network of branches around the country who organise regular events that are free for all — members and non-members alike (if you’re not a member we would encourage you to join Birdwatch Ireland to support bird conservation in Ireland).
You’ll find a schedule of local Birdwatch Ireland events around the country here. Travelling to join events in other parts of the country can be a great way of discovering new birding locations.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on your local newspapers and/or community websites — there could well be other local birding and nature groups that organise outings near you that could help expand your birding and wildlife knowledge.
Surveys and Science
As well as enjoying birds, most keen birders are also interested in bird conservation to some degree. One way you can use your developing birding skills to help birds is by taking part in bird-related volunteer surveys. These provide valuable data for bird conservation organisations here in Ireland and abroad and are really easy to get involved in.
Birdwatch Ireland relies on volunteers to do a lot of the fieldwork for their nationwide bird surveys. There’s something to suit every skill level, from the annual Garden Bird Survey through the Countryside Bird Survey, the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (IWEBS) and the ongoing Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP). You’ll find full details on the surveys and how you can get involved on the Birdwatch Ireland website here.
Participating in these surveys can be an enjoyable way to make a worthwhile contribution to bird conservation in Ireland and further afield.
These are just a few ways you can start to broaden the scope of your birding knowledge and experience, meet other birders and enhance your enjoyment of this fascinating hobby as you evolve as a birder. Do you have other suggestions? Please share them in the comments below.
Check out the rest of the series
- Birding for Beginners: “Why watch birds”
- Birding for Beginners: “Getting to know your local birds”
- Birding for Beginners: “Bird watching equipment”
This is the last article in this series on Birding for Beginners… we hope you’ve enjoyed it, and wish you many years of enjoyment from your birding and wildlife watching.
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