Suitable Clothing for Bird Watching
The first point to remember is that although you wish the bird no harm you are in fact a ‘hunter’ – a hunter of facts about live birds. You do not wish to kill but to observe as closely as possible without frightening the bird. Bright colours for birdwatching, such as the orange or yellow cagoules, therefore, are out. You need to be clothed in greens, browns and greys or the natural colour of that part of the countryside in which you are working. Khaki has not too pleasant memories for the older generation but is an ideal colour; dark greens, olive and browns are also good as a general rule but can stick out conspicuously on a beach or sand dune. Camouflage jackets, suits and hats, which are regularly advertised in the sporting magazines, are extremely useful. The correct sort of outer garments are more often obtainable at a gunsmith’s than at a normal clothing store. A hat is essential, particularly if you are fair-haired, but it is also important to break up the outline of your head, to hide your eyes and shade and darken your face. Pigeon-shooters sometimes use a camouflaged face-mask in order to hide the brightly coloured splodge of their face and, if they do it, why should not a keen birdwatcher?
Peter Hartley, who studied camouflage in the last war, wrote an article for the RSPB in 1954 called ‘Camouflage for Birdwatchers’. He says that camouflage really means avoiding recognition. Nightjars and Woodcocks, for instance, can crouch in full view and yet not be recognized. Whilst soberly coloured clothing is important, Peter Hartley also noted that there should be a strong tone contrast between garments – a darker coat with lighter-coloured trousers or vice versa. Other points are that a patterned material is less conspicuous than a plain one; a symmetrical object tends to be more conspicuous than an asymmetrical one; also it is particularly important to disguise the shape of your head and shoulders. Any easy way to see what I mean is to observe others when they are bird watching. Which outfits merge best against a wood or a field, and which part of the body sticks out like a sore thumb? Then decide what could be done to make the other person blend in with the countryside. Nine times out of ten I would guess that it is the pale face of the observer which is most obvious on an otherwise camouflaged person. The best camouflage is made more effective by absolute stillness and slow and gentle movements.
On many of its reserves the RSPB has built hides. However, the reason for wearing naturally coloured clothes and disguising one’s features is to obviate the need for a hide when you are birdwatching. Hides are essential for close-up photography or making a detailed study of the nesting behaviour of some species. They are also useful if you are studying an open area such as a pond, but the average birdwatcher will not normally wish to carry a hide around with him. On the other hand, camouflage nets are fairly easy to carry in a haversack. A number of ex-Government nets are still advertised in shooting magazines but they are also easily made using a length of netting (approximately 3 x 15 metres with a 5-centimetre mesh). At regular intervals strips of grey, brown and green material can be tied to the net. There should be sufficient strips to disguise the observer’s outline from the bird while allowing a clear view through the net. Again stillness adds to the effectiveness of the natural coloration. The net can be simply draped over the head and shoulders or tied between trees or bushes.
A second point about clothing is comfort. In winter the pleasure of watching birds can be ruined by getting wet and very chilled. With the waterproof garments available these days it is possible to remain dry even in the heaviest rain, and many coats of suitable colours lined with quilt for extra warmth are advertised in bird and country magazines. Thermal underclothes can also be highly effective during the cold winter months. Some people like cagoules, but for myself I find that they are too noisy, particularly in cold weather, the rustling does not always frighten birds but it does make it much more difficult to hear them. A birdwatcher would never choose for birdwatching some of the fluorescent colours in which cagoules are made for climbers. However, if you are climbing or indulging in some occupation involving risk, you must obey the safety rules for that occupation.
Feet must be kept warm and dry. Whilst it is easy to keep feet dry by using rubber boots it can sometimes be a problem to keep them warm especially if a lot of standing about is entailed. It is now possible to buy socks made of polyester-filled quilted nylon which are especially designed for use in rubber boots and which are extremely effective.