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Top Tips for Beginner Birdwatchers

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BIRDWATCHING

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TOP TIPS FOR BEGINNER BIRDWATCHERS 

Southern and eastern Africa are hotspots for birdwatching. The diversity of habitats – from savannahs to forests to wetlands – means a spectacular diversity of bird species. Birding is a great way to immerse yourself in different countries and landscapes as well as to connect to a huge network of like-minded people. If you’re new to the birding scene, here are Pembury’s top tips for birdwatching beginners.  

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1. Binoculars

Experienced birders will know this but if you’re new to the birdwatching scene don’t underestimate the power of a good pair of binoculars. There are several binoculars ideal for birding. We recommend a pair with a 7-power or 8-power magnification. The Nikon Monarchs are a great model if you’re a beginner. Don’t forget to adjust your binocular before your game drive, you don’t want to miss a viewing because they’re out of focus!

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2. Use your Naked Eye

Granted not all of us have 20/20 vision but don’t be too hasty to grab those binoculars. It’s a lot easier to look for a bird without magnification, especially if the area is dense. Once you’ve spotted the bird, take note of what’s around it and use that as guiding points once you start looking through your binoculars.

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3. Use a Field Guide 

­­­If it’s your first time birdwatching in southern Africa it helps to be prepared. There are a lot of unique bird species, so we recommend having some way to identify them. If you’re not afraid of technology, try using a mobile app. There are several great birding apps out there, we’d recommend the Newmans’ Birds app. It includes 975 bird species as well as photographs, illustrations, bird calls, feeding habits and habitats. If you’re in a Wi-Fi-free zone (hint: Okavango Delta) or just plain old school, the original Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa book is the ideal birding companion.

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4. Research

Another birding tip is to research – a little preparation never hurt anyone! The best birdwatching spots in southern Africa, like Kruger National Park and the Okavango Delta, have over 500 species of birds each. Before your trip, do a little research into the different species, their habitats, rarity, appearance etc. so you know who and what to look for.

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5. Teamwork

Another key birdwatching tip for beginners is to remember the value of teamwork. Birdwatching can be a great social experience and you may find yourself with fellow birders on a game drive. If you spot a bird first, make sure you give proper directions for finding it. Be specific as possible – adjectives, adjectives, adjectives!  Use large points as a reference- “the acacia tree on the far left” and then go into the details “now move two trees left, find the branch closest to the ground with no leaves.” The clock system is also a good way to describe a bird’s location. It seems pedantic but it’s a great way to ensure everyone gets to enjoy an incredible sighting!

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6. Life List

One of our top birdwatching tips is to keep a life list. A life list is a list of every species of bird a birder has ever seen. This is a great way to keep track of what you’ve seen. It’s also extremely satisfying checking off a bird the first time you spot it. Again, you can go old-school and keep a physical record, but there are mobile apps if you want your life list in the palm of your hand. We recommend eBird, it’s an app that tracks your lists, archives photos and sounds, shows bird hotspots near your location and allows you to share your sightings. It’s a great way to involve yourself in the birding community.

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