[Simon Thurgood Images] [Simon Thurgood Images]

Gallery - Ramblings?


Just a few thoughts;o)

How to watch birds

[duck in park]

Anybody can watch and study birds, simply by walking through the local park or looking out the window at your garden will often support a bigger and more varied population than an equal area of countryside.

If you have an inquiring mind, a good ear and a retentive visual memory then you are off to a good start as a birdwatcher. You will need to learn or rediscover the art of "hide and seek" and how to move silently and unobtrusively through the woods and fields. You will find though that most birds are not unduly concerned by your activities, they may stop feeding and study you for a while but as long as you make no silly movements like waving your arms in the air they will get back to what they were doing. The important thing to do is to avoid any action that that might alarm them, walk slowly and deliberately making use of what ever cover is available. It is important to wear sensible clothes; you are not going melt into the back ground of green hedges, grass and trees wearing a bright yellow coat! A lot of this is common sense I know but I often see people who say they haven't seen anything while wearing stuff that should be in the disco rather than the field ;o)

[sanderling on beach]

Take care not to appear suddenly in their field of view, raise and lower binoculars gently and be as calm as possible, act as you have all the time in the world and enjoy the experience.

How close you can get to a particular bird depends on what bird it is and where it lives.[woodpigeon]

In a park Woodpigeons will feed on the grain at your feet but in the country where they are shot it will be difficult to get within 100yards of them.

The more you know about birds, the more productive and enjoyable your bird watching will be.

The good thing about it is you need minimal equipment to start you off; a good guide book is a must. I would recommend you get one that specialises in birds from Britain and will fit into a pocket or rucksack; the newer books tend to have photos rather than drawings. While not a must, but a help, is a pair of binoculars. There are several types and the best one for you, is down to your personal preference. If you get the chance, see if you can try out a few before you buy as it can be an expensive mistake if you get the wrong one. A lot of birders these days use "scopes" on a tripod especially if they are sea watching.[men with scopes]

These can be expensive but can give a lot of pleasure if you can spend the time looking out to sea for birds such as Shearwaters.

It is good to get to know your local area, especially if there is a reserve on your patch. The more you visit, the more knowledge you will gain about the wildlife around you and hopefully the more knowledgeable birders will help and point you in the right direction. I travel a lot and meet many very nice, helpful people in bird hides all around the country. But also frustratingly also find a few snobs who don't like strangers and huff and puff if you have a camera. I also get frustrated at those who moan about kids in hides etc, It is perceived that birdwatching is lets say "mature persons" hobby, which is absolute rubbish! We need to help and encourage children to enjoy what is around them, so all you grumpy old buggers out there "Chill out" and help educate the birders of tomorrow.

Photographing birds


Birds are watched by more people than any other group of wild animals and probably more books have been written on the subject of photographing birds than any other group of wildlife.


Before I go any further I must state that the bird is far more important than the photograph, I know how easy it is to get carried away but you must stay disciplined as there is always another day. Unfortunately there have been a few photographers who have let the side down by harassing birds and flushing them just to get a picture; I promise you it's not worth it!

Generally it is assumed you need expensive equipment to take pictures of birds, but I have seen great pictures taken of birds in the park and on a bird table taken with a camera phone. SLR cameras are now being used with telescopes, while this can be a bit cumbersome especially if the bird is moving; it is an option to look at.[camera gear]

You can go to the extreme option and kit out with expensive cameras and several lenses which is fine if you can afford it, but if you can't get near the birds it is an expensive piece of junk!

It is essential that you learn about the birds, the habitat they favour, what food they like etc. The more you learn the easier you will find it.

Before you go out in the field especially with a new camera use the local park or the garden with the house being the hide, so many great pictures are taken from here. [Siskin on feeders]

Have the bird feeder close to an open window and poke the lens out between the curtains; this will give you a taster for what can be achieved and a good starting point. Another good one is set up a bird bath; you can get some great pictures if you set it up right, try to have a dark background to catch the water drops as they splash about. Don't worry if you have a digital camera with how many pictures you take, they have a great button called the delete button. I will often take twenty to thirty pictures at a time and just keep one or two, it can be frustrating when birds are moving and the pictures look blurred or you miss the head, don't worry we have all been there, be patient and you will get results.

Another option is to visit the local reserve and use there hides which are normally placed in positions which are busy with birds, you might get a few moans from some birders who don't like cameras but on the whole people are helpful.


Also you could erect your own hide, not normally allowed on reserves, but if you are aware of say wild ducks on a pond in a farmer's field and you gain his permission, this is certainly an option. You could go to an army surplus store and buy some camouflage net and with the help of at least four stout poles you have a basic hide. I have learnt through mistakes that when you set up to take everything you need such as food and drink, seat and camera equipment at the start and not to keep leaving the hide to go back to the car as you just give the game away.

[song thrush chicks]

Photographing birds at the nest can be rewarding but can be fraught with dangers. You must put the bird's well-being first and many birds are protected by law,

Schedule 1 breeding birds are protected by law, which means you need a licence to photograph them at or near the nest. Please check the schedules list before you take any photographs.

If your bird is not legally protected, please still consider whether you really need to photograph it at its nest. You will always cause some disturbance to the bird, which may result in it deserting the nest. You might also draw attention to the nest, which will make the birds more vulnerable to predators.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981Schedule 1 - Part I

Birds and their young, for which it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb at, on or near an 'active' nest. Schedule 1 status also infers a right of arrest by a police officer if someone is suspected of committing certain offences against one of these species.

More information about the Wildlife and Countryside Act can be found on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

[oystercatchers flying]

Probably one of the most difficult birds to photograph is one in flight. There is so many variables, the direction of the lighting, the position of the bird relative to the camera and the position of the head, wings and feet, some of the most dramatic pictures are of take off and landing, especially on water.

Another interesting subject is parts of birds such as their feathers, beaks and feet and trying to take pictures of footprints of waders in the mud or sand can be fun and rewarding as well.

This just a snapshot which I hope to expand on at a later date.

Attracting birds to your garden

Birds have four primary needs that need to be met in a safe environment: food, water, shelter, and a place to nest.


[birds on feeders]

The more range of foods you have on offer the greater range of birds you will have. Wild flower seed heads, berries and other fruits will encourage Thrushes and Finches while peanut feeders will bring in members of the Tit family, nuthatches and if you are really lucky Great spotted Woodpeckers. Niger seeds, Fat cakes and Mealworms are all ways of bringing birds into the garden. Many of the above can be bought at your local pet/garden shop. Safety of the birds should be taken into consideration when placing feeders and bird tables. [sunflowers]

Not only cats and squirrels but birds of prey like Sparrow hawks need to be thought about. Also be careful of putting feeder close to clear windows as they might fly into them, use blinds or net curtains so the window is visible.



An ideal water source for birds should be about three inches deep and three feet off the ground. You can buy plenty of "interesting" birdbaths for this job or even make your own. Another option is a pond, which not only will attract the birds but other wildlife as well such as Frogs and Dragonflies.[tawny owl]

But please be careful if you have small children, please make their safety a priority, you may have to fence it off or look at other options.


Birds need shelter to protect them from the elements and allow them to hide from predators. Dense, twiggy shrubs and evergreens are the shelter of choice for most birds.

Nesting Sites

[Great tit]

Different species of birds have different nesting requirements, in the garden shrubs and hedges are popular or you can put up nest boxes ether on trees or on the side of the house. These days you can buy boxes with small cameras in which will give you hours of great fun watching the eggs turn into chicks and hopefully fledging into your garden, believe me a truly wonderful experience.

Also sheds and garages are also popular with Robins Wrens and Blackbirds, so watch out when moving things at nesting time.

Nests, Eggs and Nestboxes

[Herring gull eggs]

In the past, ornithology like every other branch of natural history has gone through a collection phase. The collection of eggs, both by amateurs and professionals was a necessary part of this important stage in the advance of ornithology to scientific status. Now however, we have no need to collect eggs anymore, as it cannot justify or add to any scientific remit.

There is though plenty of room to record and watch the breeding cycle of birds, for example the BTO collects this data from many volunteers for the "Nest Record Scheme".

[Longtailed tit nest]

I have often stumbled upon a nest or accidentally flushed a bird while walking through long grass and must admit still look upon in awe at the engineering involved, you only have to see a Long-tailed tits nest to understand what I mean. At this point a word of warning about covering up your tracks after you have found a nest. Many other animals and birds are on the look out for an easy meal of eggs or chicks!

[Blue tit]

Nestboxes have moved on from the early days and there seems to be a different box for every type. Great fun can be had from getting a camera inside and connecting to your TV to watch the whole cycle from nest building to fledging of the chicks, although you might have to put up with the distress of a dead chick or watch the lot die. [Tawny Owl chicks]

I set one up at the school I work at and have had both success and failure. Watching nature in the raw can set off allsorts of emotions

I would recommend two books

1) The Pocket Guide to Nests and Eggs by R.S.R. Fitter and R.A. Richardson-published by Collins

2) BTO Guide 23 Nestboxes by Chris du Feu

Bird migration

[baby swallows]

As a child I thought all birds migrated from Africa and the only reason they went south from England was because they were chasing the sun and who could blame them? The big Icon of this was the Swallow who without fail would return to the same nest site every year. I thought that all birds that migrated went to Africa for the summer and it was a north south affair. It took a long time as a child to get my head round the fact that they might go in other directions and some just go a few hundred feet,( it was possibly down to well meaning parents trying to answer a complex question from a child and trying to keep it simple so that it could be understood).

Today as a 50yr old Iam still in awe at the distances some of these birds travel, it's just an extraordinary phenomenon. It is incredible to think that millions of birds travel from their wintering grounds to their breeding grounds each year, only to make the return journey a few months later. Through lots of reading and talking to people far more knowledgeable than myself I've found out the following facts:

1) Migration is the movement from one place to another, normally in search of better conditions for either feeding or breeding.

[evening sun]

2) Many songbirds migrate at night and feed and rest during the daytime. Scientists believe some of the reasons behind this, are that the air is cooler and denser at night. This will lead to less risk of dehydration, less energy used to provide lift (the force that acts upwards) and less turbulence, caused by thermals rising from the ground, to throw the birds off course.

3) Other birds fly at very high altitude for a similar effect, for example: airline pilots have observed Whooper Swans at altitudes of 8850 metres (29 000 feet).

4) Scientists believe that the bird's internal clock and cues taken from seasonal events govern the timing of their migration. At the appropriate time, the birds prepare for migration by building up their fat reserves by eating insects and berries. Some species, particularly warblers, complete their migration in one non-stop flight and can double their body weight beforehand.

[willow wabler]

5) Some species, such as Willow Warbler, may moult their feathers ready for the migration, while others will moult only when they arrive at their destination.

6) Some scientists think that birds use their senses, such as smell to follow odours, their remarkable eyesight to follow the Sun, the stars, the Earth's magnetic field, and landmarks, and wind directions to achieve navigation.

7) Some species take a different route in their summer migration to the one in the winter.

8) There are three main types of bird migration: summer visitors, winter visitors, and passage visitors.

9) There are other types of migration such as partial, altitudinal and moult migrations as well as cold weather movements

Here is a general description of the various types;

Summer Visitors


In the United Kingdom, the summer visitors are birds that have migrated in the spring from around the Mediterranean and Africa, some from the furthest tip of South Africa or further. Arctic terns are the ultimate long distance migrants - summer visitors to the UK and winter visitors to the Antarctic.

If Migrant birds stayed in Africa the competition for limited food supplies would be high, but in the more northern latitudes there is more food and more daylight hours in which to search for it. So there is more chance of rearing their young successfully.

However, staying in the U.K. during the winter months when food becomes short would lead to starvation and death, although some of our traditional migrants, like the Blackcap and Chiffchaff, are now over-wintering in Britain.

Willow Warblers and many other warblers fly non-stop and take 4 or 5 days to complete their migration. On the other hand, Swallows can take 2 or 3 months to complete their migration as they stop off every few days to roost and feed.

Winter Visitors


These species migrate from their breeding grounds in Greenland, Scandinavia and northern Europe where food becomes hidden under snow and ice.

Redwing and Fieldfare are good examples of these also Brent Geese which breeds in Greenland, Spitsbergen and northern Russia arrives in October and leaves again in March. The smallest swan in the UK, the Bewick's arrives in Britain in mid-October after spending the breeding season in Siberia.

[little stint]

Passage Visitors

Many sea birds and waders are Passage Visitors who use these shores as a stop off point to re-fuel for the forward journey. An example of this is the Little Stint which can be seen on our shores, mainly juveniles in August-September; it's less likely to see the adult birds in their passage in late April early June.


Irruptions are sudden invasions of birds. One of the better known examples is Waxwings, which sometimes move into Britain when rowan berries have failed in Scandinavia and northern Europe.


Partial Migration

In some bird populations, only part of the population migrates. The Goldfinch is a classic example, ringing studies have shown that a proportion of the Goldfinch population in Britain and Ireland move south to France and Spain for the winter.

Altitudinal Migration

[snow on food]

It is not always necessary for birds to make great journeys. Some species can find better feeding conditions by just moving downhill. A good example is the Snow Bunting which breeds in the uplands of Scotland. It moves downhill in winter, and some move as far as the coast. Their breeding grounds are covered in snow during the winter and food is hard to find. Lapwings also are known to move from their breeding areas at the end of the season to low-lying areas.

Cold Weather Movements


At times when it is very frosty or there is a lot of snowfall, which makes it difficult for them to feed, birds will move out of the area in search of better conditions. Often birds will move to gardens and urban areas were it is warmer and more chance of food and shelter.


Moult migration

Birds need to replace their feathers; some species do this in stages, replacing 1-2 at a time whilst others lose all their flight feathers at the same time so they can't fly. Prior to moulting, birds move to an area that is safe from predators and where there is an abundance of food. A good example of this is the Shelduck; recently they have formed a new moulting area in Bridgewater Bay in Somerset.

I would recommend you look at both the BTO and RSPB websites for more information and if you get a chance look at the following books;-

Bird Migration (Birdwatcher's Guide) (Paperback)

By Dominic Couzens (Author)

Time to Fly: Exploring Bird Migration (Paperback)

By Jim Flegg (Author)

Bird Migration: A General Survey (Oxford Ornithology Series) (Paperback)

By Peter Berthold (Author)

© Simon Thurgood 2024
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