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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to spot wild birds that are trying hard not to be seen

Spotting birds in nature has challenges that often discouraged us.  Too often the birds win and we slink away in disappointment.

First, don’t use your binoculars to begin with. Binoculars severely limit your area of view to a very small portion of what it should be;  a “target bird” may be just a few feet outside of your area of view, and you’ll never know it. Instead, keep binoculars handy, but in your lap, to use only when you actually see a bird.

At first, look at the whole expanse in front of you with your unaided eyes. Try not to focus on a single area or item, but let your eyes cover the whole viewing area. Movement is much easier to spot that way, which will easily locate a bird among motionless branches and such (since birds have a need for almost-constant motion). I try to ‘back off’ putting anything in sharp focus until I see motion.

Cedar Waxwing
When you see motion, it’s probably an actual wild bird. Swing into action! With a reference point in mind, bring the binoculars to your eyes and train them on the bird. (Practice doing this without losing your target bird). Then adjust the binoculars, focusing to get the sharpest view.

Resist the urge to look up the bird right then in a field guide. Instead, deliberately recite its characteristics to yourself such as “small bird, brown body, one white wingbar, short pointed beak, two white bars on head“ and such. After the bird flies away (which he’ll probably do in 5 or 6 seconds) you’ll have plenty of time to check your field guide.

That’s about all there is to it; except for obvious matters like avoiding loud noises, sudden movements and bright clothing. Also hope for a relatively calm day, when strong winds don’t put branches in motion, and more birds are out and about.
Hooded Warbler



OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.  

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