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How to locate birds in dense foliage?

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Old Thursday 21st May 2020, 17:28   #1
fazalmajid
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How to locate birds in dense foliage?

With the arrival of spring the trees are covered in dense fresh foliage. I can hear the birds, but am having a hard time locating them. I'd be interested in tips or techniques you may have to make this easier.
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Old Thursday 21st May 2020, 17:50   #2
etudiant
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Give thanks that you can still hear them, some of us underachieve on that aspect.
Patiently looking for motion is what I do, preferably motion upward, as lots of stuff drops randomly in spring.
It may be better to look at trees into the sun rather than with the sun behind the observer, because that really highlights the motion, rather than burying it behind the green curtain.
It would be nice to have a quality dual power 2x-10x glass, with the 2x offering an ultra wide FoV to pick up the motion and the 10x allowing immediate focus on the area of interest. I lose lots of birds in the gap from noting the motion to getting my 10x42s on it.
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Old Thursday 21st May 2020, 18:05   #3
jan van daalen
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fazalmajid View Post
With the arrival of spring the trees are covered in dense fresh foliage. I can hear the birds, but am having a hard time locating them. I'd be interested in tips or techniques you may have to make this easier.
Not being a birder (for that I started years to late), but they are around us every day, I noticed that birds in trees have noticed me much sooner than I do them. My "trick" is to stand still for a few minutes and just wait. Once they've accepted my presence they start moving again and I can spot them much easier.
Patience is all it takes (and peace of mind)

Jan
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Old Thursday 21st May 2020, 20:50   #4
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The trick is to move slowly and look from different places, checking all possible places in a bush or a branch of a tree.

If you stand in one place, the bird is probably hidden behind leaves from your position. Most likely it purposefully perched this way. You will not see the bird unless it moves, by then it may be too late.

I learned it by watching natives guides in New Guinea, who using bare eyes found birds which I could not find with my binoculars.

Also, cupping your hands near your ears helps narrowing down the source of the sound.

best,

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Old Thursday 21st May 2020, 21:35   #5
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Some great advice already.

If you know what bird is doing the singing, it can provide some clues about where it is likely to be inside of a tree.
For example, a Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Sapsucker, or Creeper will often be found on exposed branches, or the trunk. However, an Orange-crowned Warbler singing from a leafy green tree is an exercise in futility. I wait for those to perch where I can see them.

-Bill
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Old Friday 22nd May 2020, 00:59   #6
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Google ''pishing.''

Works great in eastern NA and tropics but not at all in the SW.
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Old Friday 22nd May 2020, 01:19   #7
chill6x6
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1. Many times if a bird is singing he's not moving and can stay that way for a while. I scan the area with my binoculars. Many times they will stick out like a sore thumb once you put the binoculars up.

2. It helps to know the song. Then you know the bird and then it's behavior and then where to look.

3. Often the bird isn't as close as you may think..ie the bush/tree it sounds like...but will be in the trees/bushes behind. I tend to move more than some of my cohorts.

4. Pishing can sometimes help.

5. Go birding with a partner. Four eyes are better than two.
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Old Friday 22nd May 2020, 02:03   #8
fazalmajid
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jan van daalen View Post
Not being a birder (for that I started years to late), but they are around us every day, I noticed that birds in trees have noticed me much sooner than I do them. My "trick" is to stand still for a few minutes and just wait. Once they've accepted my presence they start moving again and I can spot them much easier.
Yes. There was a Great Spotted Woodpecker merrily tapping at the tree across the balcony. It spotted me and cheekily moved to the hidden side of the tree trunk.

Like all wildlife, the birds have been reasserting territory vacated by humans, but the Thursday 8pm “clap for the NHS” events seem to throw them in a tizzy...
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Old Friday 22nd May 2020, 03:22   #9
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Give up on seeing them unless it is convenient, that's my snarky advice. Birding is really all about finding birds by knowing habitat and identifying them based on vocalizations. Seeing the bird is a luxury! I know that isn't a helpful thing to say, but it is something that isn't appreciated enough, perhaps because of the term "birdwatching". What is possible does differ from place to place, I'll admit. In North America, the timing of the main woodland passerine migration is such that trees are fully leafed out in Texas, mostly leafed out in Kansas, and barely leafed out in Minnesota. Many birders in MN are thus spoiled and don't know how to find their beloved warblers when visiting parts south or when spring is unusually warm and trees develop leaves earlier than usual.

OK, some more serious advice: use a 7 or 8x wide field binocular. When you see a bird, don't take your eye off it and keep tracking it even when it disappears from view--frequently, it should be possible to re-acquire birds as they move through the canopy as long as you don't give up and look away immediately when the bird disappears from view. Since I wear eyeglasses, I always wear a wide brimmed boonie hat to shade my eyes and oculars when birding. It's a good thing to do when using bins, and also helps to block portions of bright sky when eyeballing the canopy, but it does interfere with my ability to tell, using sound, where a bird is located. I have to take the hat off to get the best directional info.

--AP
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Old Friday 22nd May 2020, 06:42   #10
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I de-focus my eyes when searching for birds. De-focusing can widen your field of view and allow you brain to process the whole field of view the same way, whereas it takes a lot of brain computing power to resolve details which can give you tunnel focus. While de-focused I wait for any sign of movement, once I see it i can then focus on that area.

This has dramatically helped me find birds.
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Old Friday 22nd May 2020, 11:21   #11
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Defocussing as described above helps me too.
Took my 8x30E2 into the forest this morning and saw ...pretty much nothing, so popped over the road to Highams Park lake and was rewarded by great views of two grey wagtails, and a crazy cormorant flying high (way up with swifts) in circles like a buzzard. And lovely coot chicks.
Such is birding.
The Thursday 8pm NHS appreciation around Woodford (N London) now includes fireworks and the banging of ladles on saucepans. Our dog is not impressed.
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Old Sunday 24th May 2020, 18:47   #12
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Lots of good advice here...

Most experienced birders use their binoculars way less than their ears, eyes, and instincts / experience. If you know what to expect in a given habitat, and have identified the bird based on sound + behavior prior to seeing it, you have a better chance of predicting where it will pop up next. For example, here in coastal CA the Wrentit is a common bird that is frequently heard, but can be very hard to see. However, because I know the habitat and their contact calls, I know when one is coming in and expect it to be moving through certain bushes at certain heights and can anticipate where to be watching.

Do not stand there with your binoculars pressed against your face waving them around. You’ll never see the bird. Defocus your eyes and wait patiently, watching the right general area, and just let your relaxed gaze wait for bits of movement to hone in on. Once you think you have the bird, stay on it. Also move around as Chuck notes, as little birds are skilled at perching just right so a lead or branch is blocking your view. A slightly different angle, while keeping your eyes defocused and gazing in the right area, will often reveal the little twitch of movement you are looking for.

Do not put your binoculars to your eyes until you know where the bird is. If you want to scan a small area, do it quickly and then lower the glass and keep scanning naked eye with slight defocus. I like to keep my bins held just below my chin in these situations so I can snap them up the moment I catch the bird naked eye. There is an important technique to develop of placing your glass in between your eyes and the bird without changing your “aim”. If you put glass to eyes and then search, you’re done. If you see the bird, keep your eyes laser focused on the spot and just the glass in the path without altering the focus.

I also like to prefocus the bins if there’s a situation where I’m waiting for a skulker to pop into view. I’ll pick a spot in the general vicinity and quickly focus on a leaf or something, so that when I finally acquire the bird only a tiny adjustment of focus is needed. Many a flitting little bird has disappeared from view forever because you are spending an extra few moments swiping the focus wheel.

Finally, depth of field really helps. Once you finally have the bird and are trying to get a clean view in between the obstructing leaves and twigs, the extra DoF of a 7x or 8x is very helpful. I’ve definitely lost birds in dense foliage using 10x42 trying to dial in the focus with the shallower DoF.

And above all practice! But learning the “pro” techniques of using your binoculars less and your ears and eyes and knowledge more, but still having the glass ready to go instantly with decent prefocus and without breaking your aim, takes time and experience. But once you get there it becomes second nature.
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Old Monday 25th May 2020, 12:36   #13
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Thank you all for your very helpful tips! There are many articles on the web about how to use binoculars, but very few about how to look out for birds using binoculars.
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Old Monday 25th May 2020, 14:11   #14
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These would be my basics....

Go birding in the morning when birds are feeding and are active so you will see movement. Spring/early summer is still cool in the mornings so an 8am start isn't bad.

Your eyes have more FOV than your bins do, so look for movement with your naked eyes first. Pull up your bins when you see movement in the trees. What is the habitat and what is most likely to found here and where (high or low level birds) ...

Have your bins 'somewhat ready'. By that I mean, in hand...and somewhat focused to the distance you are most likely to find your birds. If you are looking for 'high canopy birds'...pre-focus your bins to be in that general area so you save yourself a bit of time when you do see movement. Of course a bird may appear at any level, so this is not a guarantee. Once I begin to 'walk away' from that particular area, I will give my focus a twist so it is more mid-point centered. Again, just a bit of time saved in case I find something and now I don't have to refocus from 'distant' to 'near'.

Stand still and let them come to you. Move a few steps to get a different view.

Know the direction of the sun. I say, 'don't bother much' when the bird is 'in the sun' as you barely can see it anyhow. Have your back to the sun, so position yourself .

Bird with a partner...agreed. The more eyes you have the better.

Agreed on 'sound'....my ears had too much 'rock n roll' in younger years so now suffer from some bird pitches. But I do listen.
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Old Wednesday 27th May 2020, 00:10   #15
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Hi we have a pear tree and noticed this Pigeon going and coming, Turned out she had a nest in there!, Spotted her through a gap!

John
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Old Saturday 30th May 2020, 06:27   #16
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Originally Posted by lmans66 View Post
These would be my basics....

Go birding in the morning when birds are feeding and are active so you will see movement. Spring/early summer is still cool in the mornings so an 8am start isn't bad.

Your eyes have more FOV than your bins do, so look for movement with your naked eyes first. Pull up your bins when you see movement in the trees. What is the habitat and what is most likely to found here and where (high or low level birds) ...

Have your bins 'somewhat ready'. By that I mean, in hand...and somewhat focused to the distance you are most likely to find your birds. If you are looking for 'high canopy birds'...pre-focus your bins to be in that general area so you save yourself a bit of time when you do see movement. Of course a bird may appear at any level, so this is not a guarantee. Once I begin to 'walk away' from that particular area, I will give my focus a twist so it is more mid-point centered. Again, just a bit of time saved in case I find something and now I don't have to refocus from 'distant' to 'near'.

Stand still and let them come to you. Move a few steps to get a different view.

Know the direction of the sun. I say, 'don't bother much' when the bird is 'in the sun' as you barely can see it anyhow. Have your back to the sun, so position yourself .

Bird with a partner...agreed. The more eyes you have the better.

Agreed on 'sound'....my ears had too much 'rock n roll' in younger years so now suffer from some bird pitches. But I do listen.
This is excellent advice. Especially 'stand still and let them come to you' and 'move a few steps to get a different view'. These two phrases sound contradictory but they are not.

Use your ears to listen for birds as you walk along, as well as looking out for them. If you find birds in a tree, take a few steps around it to see if there is one place from where you can see through more gaps in the leaves. Then stand still and be patient. With a bit of luck the birds will begin to ignore you and concentrate more on foraging and so become more visible. They may even be bold enough to emerge to take a look at you.

With dense brush the best way is similar to the above. Move gently and quietly to get the best view of as many aspects of the brush. Sometimes just a couple of steps to one side on rising ground will lift you a few inches so you can see not just one side of the brush but maybe the top and sometimes through a gap into the far side. Then stand still and be patient.

Lee
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Old Sunday 31st May 2020, 06:06   #17
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Also I think birds (and mammals) ignore you better if you sit down. But that makes it impossible to easily move a few steps to get a change of viewing angle, of course.
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Old Sunday 31st May 2020, 08:27   #18
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Also I think birds (and mammals) ignore you better if you sit down. But that makes it impossible to easily move a few steps to get a change of viewing angle, of course.
A bird that really gets on my nerves is the nightingale: you can definitely hear it but you can hardly see it, and sitting down does not seem to help....
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Old Sunday 31st May 2020, 09:21   #19
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Lee (troubadour) advice is spot on. Put yourself into the shadows and lean against a tree you then become part of that tree and remember nature gave us two eyes, two ears but only one mouth and that was not by chance. Time spent looking and listening is never wasted.
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Old Sunday 31st May 2020, 11:53   #20
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That's all great advice. Coming at it slightly different (and apologies for not addressing the initial post directly), I'd say don't be too quick to dive into the dense vegetation and spend time in openings and especially broad tracks through woodland. Woodland birds tend to move around and travel through the canopy of woodland a fair bit and that means quite of a lot of traffic passing overhead in the canopy and if there's a track that means from one side of a track to the other. With the better light in the opening of the track and the ability to spot the birds as they pass over you can then pick them out fairly easily as they pass overhead and then as they feed in the treetops close to the track/opening. You also get birds feeding on the flying insects that gather in the openings. All the advice about patience, time of day, with early morning being best, etc still applies.

I mention this because I know I'm guilty of finding an opening or track, seeing nothing and then carrying on into the dense woodland. I've learnt though that the reason you initially see nothing is that being an opening everything can see you as well. So just stay still, lean up against a tree etc and wait, then slowly the area comes to life and the birds coming out and there's the benefit that you can see the animals clearly with the greater light of the opening.
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