The Joy of Bird Watching in the UK

Bird Watching Month – May is Bird Watching Month in the UK

During mid-summer birding can be quiet as birds nest and raise young. However, there’s a lot to see in woodland parks and at wetland areas.

September is the best month to see a variety of songbird migrants, including warblers and flycatchers. Shorebird migration also peaks this month.

Spring Migration

One of nature’s most fascinating occurrences is spring migration, when songbirds travel to their breeding grounds. This mass movement occurs every year and has predictable timing, varying with latitude and elevation.

The peak of land bird migration is often in the first and second week of March, and is largely over by late April. Shorebirds hit their peak numbers at this time, as well as migratory waterfowl like Tundra Swan and Common Loon. Warbler diversity is at its best, including Palms and Cerulean warblers, and thrush migration is underway.

Watching birds in their natural habitat is a rewarding activity, and there are plenty of places to do just that. Find a local hotspot on this map and visit it during migration to learn more about the amazing journey neotropical migrants make each spring.

After Dark

Birds tend to stick to a schedule, and many species will focus on only a few things whilst awake – feeding, drinking, and roosting. This is why most birds are most active at dawn and dusk – when you’re more likely to see them.

Songbirds will be singing their hearts out in the early light, while woodpeckers and the tit family will be up and about searching for food. This is also a great time to observe raptor migration, which runs from September through mid-November.

If you’re near a coastal area, watch for sandpipers and plovers on tidal flats. This is a great way to enjoy the sunset in the company of these beautiful birds. You’ll need to check the tides before heading out, however!

Bird Photography

Birders spend lots of time wandering fields, along shorelines and through woods, peering frequently through some sort of optical device. However, bird photographers go one step further and capture these moments with a camera lens instead of binoculars.

As with all photography, a strong image structure (composition) is key to creating a compelling photograph of a bird. Keep the ‘rule of thirds’ in mind but be sure to experiment with other compositional tools like the golden ratio and fibonacci spiral as well.

If you see a bird photographer lying on their stomach, close to the birds they’re photographing, please respect their efforts and do not walk up behind them or around them. This can flush the birds and ruin their photo opportunities in a matter of seconds.

Learn a New Species

Observing birds is a great way to learn about the ecosystems that they live in. Pick up a bird guide and spend a few minutes each day leisurely flipping through the pictures and reading about what you are seeing.

As you progress, start to focus on learning the songs of different species. Birds use their songs for many purposes, and advanced birders rely on their ears just as much as their eyes.

Take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, an online citizen-science project where participants observe and report on their sightings. Or, encourage your students to plant a garden with sunflowers, daisies, and other seeds that provide tasty snacks for birds during their migration journeys. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a fun Bird Song Hero game to help your students learn new calls and songs in a more structured way.

Find a Local Hotspot

Birds are drawn to locations that provide food, shelter and water. They tend to avoid areas that other birds are already flocking to (that’s why you won’t see a lot of ducks at ponds with decoys).

If you find yourself at a spot where a rare bird is being seen, use the hotspot feature on eBird to get more information about the location. It’s a good idea to also take a look at bar charts, high counts and recent checklists to gain additional insight.

Check out these Brooklyn birding hotspots that have a great mix of habitat types: Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park; Canarsie Park, a rich property of woodland and wetlands along Jamaica Bay; and Floyd Bennett Field and Shirley Chisholm Park in Flatbush.

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