Spotting & Approaching Birds

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  Rifleman … Awatere Valley, Marlborough.

  ( 1/2500 @ f/7.1, ISO 400 )

  One of the wonderful aspects of our back country travels as trampers is the encounters or interludes we have with birds. They always make for very enjoyable ‘tangents’ which provide entertainment, wonder, knowledge and often inspire us.

  There are several things we can do to enhance these experiences initially by learning how to find, locate and spot birds more readily and secondly by ensuring we make the most of any encounters ….

  1. Peripheral vision – Whether you are walking or sitting still peripheral vision is by far the best way to locate birds. Birds are inherently very ‘busy’ and are seldom still for long so this constant motion can be used to our advantage to spot birds. By consciously using your peripheral sight it is surprising how even the tiniest movement out of the corner of your eye can be detected. I’ve found this is the best and really only method to find Rifleman (New Zealand’s smallest bird) amongst the very dappled and confused bush environments.

  2. Listen – Many species of birds are also inherently vocal and sometimes downright noisy. Being relatively small, often living high in the canopy, possessing superb camouflage along with being quite elusive at times means that our first clue as to the presence of a bird will be its ‘song’. No doubt you will know many common birds’ calls but it is the unfamiliar and odd calls to listen out for. Rest stops or lunch breaks are great ‘quiet’ times to be extra vigilant with your ears as there are far less distractions going on around you.

  3. Approaching – Only two main things to remember here …. Keep low and move slowly !! Keeping a low profile ensures that your dreaded and feared human shape becomes at least less intimidating. Wild animals and birds have an almost genetic, in built fear of the upright, two legged shape. Crouching, kneeling or even sliding along on your bottom or belly should give you a much better chance of closing the gap. If you do decide to walk towards the bird, attempt to approach in a zig-zag or in a series of angles, gradually getting closer. While approaching in this manner, also try to avoid direct eye contact. Slow and deliberate movements tend to ensure the bird/s remain calm and relatively passive. Time your movements to coincide with when the bird is busy with feeding, preening or such like and when it looks at you, stop your approach remaining still until the bird seems at ease again.


Good luck,