Winter Bird Watching

It’s not easy to keep your students’ attention up when teaching and harder still to inspire interest and passion in a subject: Fraser Rush is very good at both.

On the 20th and 21st of November we followed his two day course on bird ID: despite the fact that we were working from pictures of birds it could not have been more interesting. Fraser had planned a bird ringing session, sadly, it was far too windy to make it happen but, because we had woken up far earlier than usual for it, we saw a pretty spectacular dawn so it wasn’t a completely wasted effort on our part.

There’s enough bird knowledge to fill a lifetime, let alone two days. Fraser jokingly promised he would teach us all of it and then actually gave us the tools we need to get better at bird ID on our own.

After learning what‘s most important when trying to identify birds, we practiced our new skills by looking at pictures, sketching the bird (with mixed results) and after a short time, the bird would ‘fly off’ (i.e. Fraser would move to the next slide) after which we would then try to identify it based on our drawings.

Some of the things I’ve learnt during the course:

  1. Shape before colour: birds are classified based on their shape so that should be the first thing to look at when trying to identify them.
  2. “Cute” is a perfectly valid adjective to describe a bird.
  3. Drawing a bird in 10 seconds is really, really hard.

It can feel discouraging, realizing how much we still don’t know and how difficult it is to learn sometimes but having someone direct our eyes, telling us what features we should be looking for and what isn’t as important as we thought (shape BEFORE colour) made a huge difference. And ultimately, we realised it’s more important to have fun with it and be passionate than to remember absolutely everything on the first try. Birds are so varied, some majestic, some cute, some downright ugly, that there’s a lot to be passionate about.                                                                                        © birdlife.org

We’ve had various occasions to go birdwatching since the course and it’s been good to see that, even when we don’t know what bird we’re looking at, we’ve had more confidence in how to find out. Just now, as I’m writing this post, we’ve noticed a woodpecker outside the window and we’ve all run to see exactly what kind of woodpecker it was (Great Spotted, if anyone’s curious).

It’s interesting to see how things you’d never even registered before beyond “oh, look! A bird!” suddenly have a name and are impossible to ignore.

For a chance to go bird ringing in Portugal with Fraser and the Ponza team visit http://www.ambios.net/working4wildlife-2020-co-funded-erasmus/