Over the past few years, I’ve described the wide variety of birdlife that can be seen in our area, particularly down in the Clot which is a tremendous resource right on our doorsteps. So you don’t have to travel far to see the best of what Spain has to offer, but the other day someone asked me what do you actually need to get started in birdwatching?
The answer is – not a lot! As long as you have a serviceable pair of Mark One eyeballs, you are on the way. It would also be handy if your ears are in good shape and can hear the higher-register sounds, but this is not essential. As long as you are prepared to sit quietly in one of the several hides in the Clot, the birds will (eventually) come to you.
But you’d like to know what it is that you’re actually seeing, right? The first thing to say is that you cannot possibly hope to identify everything you see first time, even experienced birders are left scratching their heads at times. But a good handbook is fairly essential, and the best guide for our area is the Collins Bird Guide which covers Britain and Europe, and it shows everything you are likely to see in the Clot. You can either get the book version, or for those of you with smartphones you can get it as an app for both Apple and Android phones for about 2/3rds the cost of the printed book – this is excellent value as it also includes sound recordings of the bird’s calls, something which the book alone cannot do.
Of course you want to get an edge over the birds which are at a distance, so it is a good idea to get yourself a pair of binoculars. Now you could pay €1000 or more for a really good pair, but there’s no need to do this! You can pick up a good serviceable pair from somewhere like MediaMarkt starting at around €50, but a word of warning – whatever you do, don’t be tempted by those really cheap binoculars which you may find on market stalls in the area, these abominations will give you a headache, won’t focus properly and the worst ones are affected by optical fringing – which means that you won’t get any clearer a view than you would have using your eyes alone!
Going back to your smartphone, you could of course use the inbuilt camera to take shots of the birds so that you can compare them with the picture in your guidebook later. This is fine for the larger birds such as ducks and herons, but for smaller birds it’s really a non-starter. For the absolute beginner, I recommend one of the so-called “bridge” cameras, which have a built-in zoom lens and usually offer a simple point-and-shoot function; a Google search will show you what’s available, starting at around €250, brands to look for include Panasonic, Nikon and Canon. These little cameras can give surprisingly good results, I know, that’s how I started!
You can of course go for the ruinously expensive (and heavy!) SLR and mega-lens combination – you will see plenty of well-heeled folk sitting in the hides with this equipment, but it’s best to start off at the budget end to see if you, your camera and the birds are a good mix!
Whatever you decide, the important thing is to get out and about and see the birds – it’s good for the environment, your physical and mental health, and the only rule is – the bird’s welfare always comes first.
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next month.