Bird Watching: In the Field
I have emphasized that if you want to get close to birds or if you want them to come close to you, you must behave like a hunter but without his desire to kill. Your subdued clothing will disguise you, and a peaked or brimmed hat will hide the paleness of your face. Thus equipped, you must match your clothing. When you move, your actions should be slow and quiet. If you are with a companion it is best not to talk but if you must, it is better to keep a low voice rather than whisper as sibilant sounds often carry well. When moving, it is best to keep your arms still and, even when you bring your binoculars up to your eyes, be patient and slow if possible, because a hasty movement will disturb what you are looking at. If the bird has already flown or has already seen you and is flying away then you must move fast, remembering, however, that you may disturb something else. The clothes you have chosen should be made of a material that does not rustle as you move about. When walking through a wood avoid treading on sticks that will snap noisily. Old twigs will not always snap if you put your weight on them gently. The quiet approach and then a wait in cover giving a reasonable view may give the best results. If you let the birds treat you as part of the scenery they will come closer.
It is a good idea to arrange your binoculars and held notebook in such a position that they can be used without too much movement. If you are in a wood you should sit or stand with your back to a tree or behind a thinly-leaved bush which can be seen through – it is better to look through such a bush than over the top. If you are on open ground and intend to use a low hedge or bush for cover never look over the top but try to look through them or creep slowly round to the front – hopefully your clothes will blend in sufficiently for the birds not to notice you. If you are walking along the top of a sea or river wall you will be outlined starkly against the sky and will frighten the shy waterfowl and waders for a good distance around. It is better to walk along the wall bottom, which unfortunately is often muddy, and crawl up the bank on your belly and peer carefully between the stems of tall plants along the top. However, if this alternative appears rather daunting, walking along the ‘bird-side’ of the bank is better than along the top.
Try to make use of any cover as you approach the bird, remembering that if you can see the birds they can see you. If you are careful and cunning you may be able to deceive them for a time but watch their reactions as you approach; ducks’ heads may go up to watch you, the nearest may fly away and take others with them. If they are satisfied that you present no danger, they will drop their heads and go on feeding or loafing. If you want to try a second approach remember that the birds will already be aware of your presence and therefore much more alert. Small waders may not show much head movement and may simply run ahead of you when you come too close. In many small birds the first sign of anxiety is shown by raising the head, moving the wings out of the breast feathers and an increase in the rate of calling.