Saturday, June 15, 2024

Eye on Life

Broad interest online magazine


Preparing for a twitch

There is a plaque on the wall in the garage stating the obvious: Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. If only we could remember to apply this to everything in life! As a beginning birder, there is no more vital piece of advice when setting out for a day in unfamiliar surroundings to spot a Little Brown Job or maybe even something larger and easier to see. I have put together a checklist drawn from experiences to date that have caused a trip into the countryside to be a little less than relaxing:

1.         Clothes: Be ready for all weathers: wind, cloud, sun, rain – all of these conditions can occur in the span of a few hours, particularly as you gain elevation inland. Everything from a summer top and shorts to full rain gear, beanie and gloves might be required. A sun hat is essential to reduce the glare as you stare.

2.         Footwear: Wear stout walking shoes. Never underestimate the distance you will walk to see a rare bird, or the ruggedness of the terrain. Hiking boots with high ankles are best, as they will also be a good defence against the risk of snakebite or spiders running up your leg. If you are in a marshy area looking for waders, wellington boots will lessen the anxiety as you slop through mud and mire.

3.         Maps: Google Maps has many shortcomings and will send you on wildly peculiar routes that may not get you to your destination. Only use it on satellite mode so that you can actually see the surrounding terrain and identify your location. Even better is to use a good old-fashioned paper map that gives accurate details of the roads. This can lead you along scenic country roads that you would never have known about. But most of all, read it up before you leave home – there is nothing worse than trying to find the route while driving and particularly when there is no cellphone signal! It must be mapped out in your head before you start the car.

4.         Food: I always have emergency rations on me – nuts and dates, water – but when the hunger pangs start and the nearest shop is 20km away there is nothing more exciting than opening the picnic hamper and finding your favourite snack foods inside. The old staples are hard-boiled eggs, cold chicken, interesting cheeses and savoury biscuits. Nothing that needs cutlery or a plate, and wet wipes to clean your hands. Jazz it up with chunks of chocolate or a bit of fruit and that dreadful takeaway burger is the furthest thing from your mind. A flask of tea or coffee and spare water is a given.

5.         Equipment: Binoculars are #1 – I once went on a birding tour without binoculars! The best you can afford will give the greatest pleasure. Camera to suit your desired level of photography – cellphones not much use here. A scope is on the wish list for those far away birds on the island in the middle of the vlei, which is most often.

4.         Weather and time of day:  if it’s windy where you are going, chances are the birds will be doing the right thing and hiding in the bushes, so you will see nothing. If it is raining, probably the same. Early morning is the ideal time to see a bird foraging, midday less likely, and late afternoon after you have gone home will be the time the bird shows itself well. The tide plays an important role when viewing waders at estuaries or lagoons – get yourself in position on a falling tide to give yourself at least 3 hours of sitting hunched in the hide.

Despite having to plan your outing to perfection, much birding happens on the hoof so to speak, as the cellphone pings to advise of another rare bird sighting about 50km from where you are and everyone leaps into their cars for a twitch. It’s always easier when there are plenty of other birders (identified by the colossal cameras they are carrying, multiple pairs of binoculars slung around the neck and a purposeful walk. Kind of makes up for the days when you dip (don’t see the bird).

One thought on “Preparing for a twitch

  • Most useful tips, thank you 😊


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