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Moving from a lister to a finder (1 Viewer)

bonxie2003

Going for the One
Supporter
I have just retired to East Lothian (yippee) and I have a huge confession to make. Despite the fact that my BOU British list stands at 442, I have to admit my identification skills are not up to scratch. My total is mainly on the back of others sightings, although I have to be able to positively id the bird myself, of course. My finder list is a paltry 230. Given that I now have the opportunity to be first at good sites I want to raise my game. I know the first rule to becoming a better birder; know the common birds well. I use Collins Guide and app and also the helm guide to bird identification. But I still struggle to get my round primaries, coverts and lores.

So the question, what advice could you give me (and I’m sure many others like me) to become a better finder.
 

PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
Finding birds in general or finding rarities?

Either way it means many hours in the field, combined with studying weather movements and planning where to base yourself for a day or several. Also you need to look at birds, sounds strange but give them more than a quick glance. That Whitethroat could be something else.

Oh yes, and a lot of luck..... you may be at a hotspot and have no joy all day, soon as you leave, bingo! However, you will have some rewards and purple patches along the way. Dont be too intense, thinking you're going to find a mega every time, just relax and absorb what's around. Study and read all the info on good sites around you and look out for an area that seems promising and unexplored.

Easterlies and late summer. Migrants on the move, good luck.
 

delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
But I still struggle to get my round primaries, coverts and lores.

There's an excellent article in The Opus covering topographical details Bonxie.... have a look HERE.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
There's a couple of useful threads on here -

https://www.birdforum.net/search.php?searchid=23160097

There was another really good thread about bird-finding too, can't recall who or what at the moment - think it started off with the idea of checking out isolated bushes/clumps on the east coast in the autumn!

Good hearing of course ;) Time in the field, timing (time of day/weather patterns), location, luck, knowing what to look for, thinking rare etc ...
 

Pariah

Stealth Birder
Finding birds in general or finding rarities?

Either way it means many hours in the field, combined with studying weather movements and planning where to base yourself for a day or several. Also you need to look at birds, sounds strange but give them more than a quick glance. That Whitethroat could be something else.

Oh yes, and a lot of luck..... you may be at a hotspot and have no joy all day, soon as you leave, bingo! However, you will have some rewards and purple patches along the way. Dont be too intense, thinking you're going to find a mega every time, just relax and absorb what's around. Study and read all the info on good sites around you and look out for an area that seems promising and unexplored.

Easterlies and late summer. Migrants on the move, good luck.

There's no such thing as luck. Seriously. As a bird finder, I despise when someone calls it luck when you find (yet another) good bird. As if you're flipping a coin when you ID that rarity you just found.

It's not luck that puts you on a headland at 6.30/7 a.m for a seawatch, when everyone else is in bed. That's effort.

It's not luck when you watch the weather forecasts and decide this weekend is going to be good for Hoopoe, or warblers, or yank waders etc etc and you end up finding one. That's forethought.

It's certainly not luck, when you find an American Herring or Caspian gull...that takes a long time watching gulls, reading up and learning your stuff. That's study.

Finding birds is about constant effort. It's about finding the impetus to get out there and look, every chance you get. Even if you don't think the weather is inspiring, or the time of year is right, or everyone else is saying it's not worth leaving the pub for.

It's keeping going, checking that next spot down the road, even if everywhere you've checked so far has been dead.

It's about seeing an influx of Laughing gulls or Wryneck and saying to yourself "No. I'm not twitching that one 10km down the road, I'm headed to site X to find my own".

It's about seeing a weather front in September that you know is carrying American waders, and instead of heading to Tacumshin like everyone else, you head to Kerry or Mayo because you know there's going to be mile upon mile of beaches, lagoons and estuaries completely unwatched and up for grabs.

It's about taking nothing for granted, so where every other birder in Cork isn't bothered looking at egrets, you find that Cattle Egret sat on a wall in plain sight.

People may call you jammy (or worse) when you score that mega seabird one time, unaware of all the days you put in with a few manx, sooties and stormies. They may call you jammy when you find a Lesser Yellowlegs, not thinking for a moment how many Redshank you had to go through to get that one hit.
But these are the things it takes to find birds consistently.

Regards

Owen
 

PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
Owen, Despise is such a strong action but it is your prerogative to use as you wish. Perhaps it doesn't matter what other people think when you finally score a goodie after many hours of effort.
For me, luck has played a part.... eg I ducked behind a hedge for a small natural break and midstream spotted and heard a splendid singing Spring male red backed Shrike. I could have easily walked past.
Another time on Foula, a mate stopped to roll a ciggy. Whilst leaning on a gate to near a smallholding, to smoke it, a r.f. blue tail flew past. Luck or fieldcraft? He still claims he found it!

Of course, huge effort and putting yourself out and about is critical to finding stuff.

Regards to you too.

I enjoy your blog and photos, loved Finland
 
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Pariah

Stealth Birder
Owen, Despise is such a strong action but it is your prerogative to use as you wish. Perhaps it doesn't matter what other people think when you finally score a goodie after many hours of effort.
For me, luck has played a part.... eg I ducked behind a hedge for a small natural break and midstream spotted and heard !a splendid singing Spring male red backed Shrike. I could have easily walked past.
Another time on Foula, a mate stopped to roll a ciggy. Whilst leaning on a gate to near a smallholding, to smoke a r.f. blue tail flew past. Luck or fieldcraft? He still claims he found it!

Of course, huge effort and putting yourself out and about is critical to finding stuff.

Regards to you too.

I enjoy your blog and photos, loved Finland

Yes, but think about what you're saying there. One time you went for a leak and found a bird...how many times have you gone for a leak and NOT found a bird.

If you told us that every time you went for a leak in the field you found something good, that would be the sort of statistical unlikelihood that could be described as luck (and probably lead to a dodgy nickname).

As for the one time on foula... you're on foula (I'm betting not for the first or last time, at the very least in regards to the northern isles) and we can assume from the species it's a good time of year for an RFB as opposed to July?
In which case the effort component has already been fulfilled. The species and manner of finding then become a matter of probability.

Regards

Owen
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
I spent hours, day after day on my patch in Russia, sometimes I saw loads of interesting stuff, other times, nothing. As others have already said, time in the field is your best investment, you won't find anything by sitting, watching tv.

ID skills will also come in time but unless you are some kind of birding savant, expect to be at it for many years and still be learning every day.
 
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PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
Okay Owen,

What one piece of advice would you then offer to bonxie 2003 in the quest to become a better bird finder?

Mine quite simply would be to spend more time out in the field at migration locations.
 

Pariah

Stealth Birder
Okay Owen,

What one piece of advice would you then offer to bonxie 2003 in the quest to become a better bird finder?

Mine quite simply would be to spend more time out in the field at migration locations.

Agree completely, more time in the field, ideally at good locations.
Add to that, put yourself in those locations first, and if you can...choose locations with fewer birders.

Owen
 

Lawts

Supa Silly Un
One thing I've noted over the years is that when birds are found, they've generally been showing well. I'm thinking skulking warblers here as an example.

The number of times I've been at a twitch and heard people say "how the hell did they find this?" After your two hour vigil when the bird finally pops up and reveals itself, well that's the view the finder got as they happened to be walking past, especially with less bodies around.

There will be occasions where someone says right there's no sign of anything in there, but I'm watching that set of bushes, and I'm not leaving until something good pops out, but generally I'd say birds are found when they're showing, or calling from cover of course, which is a different matter.

So I'd work an area and give it time, but keep moving if it's not looking productive. The rare is out in the open fifty yards away.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
Serendipity better word than luck??

"the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way."


It should be borne in mind that some people have more motivation, time, other resoucces, personal attributes (memory/eye-sight etc). I guess it's about maximising on those things you can influence, within reason (it's a balance eg family, work and sleep).
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
I agree with Owen, time in the field (particularly at the right time of the year with good weather conditions) is key.
I have done literally hundreds of visits to my local patch, and found some great birds there. I did some calculations for a friend recently, and there would be something "interesting" on average every 70th visit.
It took me 18 months (minimum 2 visits a day, minimum 5 days a week) until I found something I'd consider really good, but when that White winged tern was flying over the water, it was a great feeling after all those "blank" days counting Coot.

I'm not a great believer in luck either, but I feel that there can be an element of serendipity to finding rare birds occasionally - e.g. a team of four of us hammering an under watched bit of Norfolk in October and seeing no birds for 8 hours. Two walked off ahead at one point and me and a friend happened to have a Radde's warbler call from a bush next to us - if we'd all been clustered together it would've been missed (by us anyways).
Another occasion was sitting in a hide with a few others when a wader happened to drop in for literally 2 minutes, the other people in the hide were happy it was a Wood sand, but I'd seen enough to be certain it was a Lesser yellowlegs - grabbed a few photos and it was off. Had I not been in the hide, the bird would have most likely been recorded as a Wood sand.
Similarly, I found an AGP when there were literally no birders at all present at Steart for an entire day. I didn't have my phone so drove an hour home to put the news out, only for it to vanish. Luckily it reappeared the following day, but it was down to hours in the field looking specifically for Nearctic waders after a fast low pressure when few others bothered which was key.

Enjoy your move, it certainly looks like an area with bags of potential!
 
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KenM

Well-known member
For me being an obsessive, with glass full at All times has helped the proceedings somewhat. :t:
 

peter.jones

Registered User
Supporter
I have a strange pattern, which I can't explain. The number of decent birds I've found when visiting somewhere for the first time. And then subsequently returned to the site many times and never repeated the feat.

I can only assume my first visit, I'm paying more attention to everywhere. Subsequently, I'm biased by my first experience, and lightning rarely strikes twice (at least when you casually visit somewhere a couple of times a year?!)

So my advice would be to keep on moving!
 

Xenospiza

Distracted
It should be borne in mind that some people have more motivation, time, other resoucces, personal attributes (memory/eye-sight etc). I guess it's about maximising on those things you can influence, within reason (it's a balance eg family, work and sleep).
Yes, my advice would be to turn 20 again...
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
I can’t fault what Owen and Daniel have said but there are no short cuts here to finding rarities for yourself if you are serious about ‘becoming a ‘better birder’. I think it’s going to be hard for you going ‘backwards’ as it were but I admire the direction you’ve decided to take - it’s definitely the harder option than having others find birds for you and it never ceases to amaze me that so many younger listers today could identify a rarity they have twitched but can fall down on identifying a more common species thereby undermining their chances of recognising a rarity if it were to land into their lap . As long as you remember that those ‘others’ put in years of groundwork and got to know common species inside out in order to pick up on many of the confusion species rarities. So, I would say, enjoy your birding, when there’s ‘nothing interesting about’, use the time to closely observe the usual stuff, take field notes of any features/behaviour that seem at odds with what you know, listen to calls because not every rarity is so easily picked out from more common candidates to the unwary!
 

bonxie2003

Going for the One
Supporter
Thanks all of you for your ideas and suggestions. Practice makes you slightly closer to perfect I assume. Now I’m going to upset you all by saying this. However, when THE bird finally pops into my binocular’s field of vision, what is going to stop me saying, oh just a chiffchaff or a dunlin? And moving on
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
Thanks all of you for your ideas and suggestions. Practice makes you slightly closer to perfect I assume. Now I’m going to upset you all by saying this. However, when THE bird finally pops into my binocular’s field of vision, what is going to stop me saying, oh just a chiffchaff or a dunlin? And moving on

A mindset that insists on both practice and thoroughness. It's fine to say Chiffchaff or Dunlin once you've ascertained that for certain: it's not fine (in the model you want to move to) to scan 300 Dunlin quickly.

John
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
I fully agree with most of what's been written above, but there is a small element of luck involved - you can't find a rare bird where there isn't one. You can be the best prepared birder, and spend all of your time in the field, and tick all of the other boxes but that won't magic a rarity out of thin air. I can't think of a single rarity I've found that I still would have found if it hadn't been there... ;-)

For me, the keys are (with acknowledgement that I'm covering a lot of what's written up-thread again)

Time in field. My rare bird finding has dropped off considerably since becoming a Dad...
Be optimistic. Helps you keep on going, helps you focus, helps get you out of bed in the morning
Know the birds - seems obvious...
Bird the weather - what conditions are best for falls, seawatching etc, and bird accordingly
Stop, scan and always listen
Go to unfashionable places. If Lothian is anything like Aberdeenshre there will be afew spots that get a lot of attention, and plenty of others that don't. Bird the ones that don't.
That said... don't assume that just because someone else has been somewhere before you that they've found everything
 

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