Bird Watching and a Book Review (How to be a bad bird watcher by Simon Barnes)

My Xmas stocking (2023) contained, along with an apple, satsuma and gold coins, a book and a bookmark (Photo 1). This is an oldish book first published in 2006 - proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Saint Nick, or maybe his elves, is not averse to finding a bargain in a secondhand bookshop. The pyrographed bookmark was a nice and classy touch though!

Simon Barnes is a journalist and author - although originally (and maybe still) a sportswriter, I came to 'know him' through his wildlife articles for The Times and the RSPB's in-house magazine. I've always enjoyed his writing style (gentle, humorous, descriptive, informative & evocative) covering a wide range of wildlife topics but especially birds.

How to be a bad bird watcher (To the greater glory of life) is a pure joy to read - easy on the eye and difficult to put down.

Photo 1: Book and Bookmark

This quote from the book offers a good summary:

Look out the window.
See a bird.
Enjoy it.
You are now a bad birdwatcher.

Indeed, we are all birdwatchers - come on, be honest, who can resist looking skyward upon hearing the mellifluous dulcet tones of a male blackbird singing his heart out from the rooftops as the sun goes down (Video 1).

Video 1: The Blackbird's Evensong (18:40 hours, 22/5/2023)

Of course, there are grades (bad to good) and types of bird watchers - (i) the fanatical twitcher who is interested only in the unexpected visitor, (ii) the box-ticking collector who thinks bird watching is a competitive sport, (iii) the scientific ornithologist who is as happy as Larry studying the behaviour and traits of, say, the common house sparrow and (iv) Jo(seph)(ine) Bloggs who just observes and enjoys  birds and birdsong as they go about their everyday life.

Having enjoyed "How to be a bad bird watcher", I will now keep a lookout for Simon Barnes' other books.

My bird watching skills are poor, so I'm a bad birdwatcher, but that doesn't detract from the pleasure I get observing them through binoculars or filming them in the garden. Mary, an ecologist, is a good bird watcher achieved through many years of practice.

The easiest way to become a bad bird watcher is to attract our feathered friends into the garden. And the easiest way to do that is to have a bird table and/or bird feeders. Always have your camera phone or camera handy for that award-winning nature shot or you can install outdoor cameras (here and here) for more intimate and close-up pictures and videos.

Here is a short video recording (Video 2) taken on a camera phone (Pixel 7 Pro) through a double-glazed window. The starling action is over in a flash ...

Video 2: Camera Phone Video Taken at Normal Speed

Fortunately, there are a number of free video editing tools that will slow down the action for you. In this case, I used Adobe Express to convert Video 2 to a slow motion version (Video 3) ...

Video 3: Normal Speed Video Slo-moed using Adobe Express

Alternatively, you can save individual frames from Video 2. For example ...

Photo 2: Still Photo of Starling in Flight from Video 2

Photo 3: Still Photo of Starling in Flight from Video 2

... and stitch them together to make a video. I was able to brighten up the photos in Google Photos before Google, without any prompting from me, came back with a recommendation to turn the 13 still photos into an animated GIF (Video 4). [note: I had to convert the GIF to mp4 in order to import it into Blogger]

Video 4: Animated GIF from Photo Stills extracted from Video 2

Finally, some thoughts:

  • buy or borrow a copy of "How to be a bad bird watcher' 
  • get a pair of binoculars (a cheap pair is fine) because birds are even more fascinating in close-up and they will help with identification
  • find a simple field guide to help identify the less common birds; for example, if you are in the UK you might choose a guide on British Garden Birds and graduate up to Birds of Britain. Don't complicate matters by using a guide to Birds of Europe or the World!!
  • think about setting up a bird feeding station in your garden - if you do, please keep it clean and hygienic
  • allocate some time to bird watching - this might be sitting quietly in the garden or by a window or it might be taking the dog for a walk in the country, in a park or by the river
  • if possible, have a camera or camera phone to hand - it may help with identification once you return home
  • don't expect to identify every bird you see - just enjoy the moment
  • if you enjoy birds you will enjoy nature - you might want to try observing and identifying butterflies next!
  • you decide, according to Simon Barnes, whether you want to become a better bad bird watcher by learning flight patterns, bird calls, preferred locations, etc.


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