How to become a birdwatcher in the 21st century!

by Gunnar Engblom on March 29, 2009

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You have to embrace technology, to make someone into a birder!

Birders, how do you promote your hobby among non-birders? Do you tell them: “It is very easy. All you need are three things. Binoculars, notebook and field-guide”?

WRONG!  That is sooo 1900s!

You have not understood the power of technology! As of this day and age – the 21st century – all a non-birder needs to become a birdwatcher are two things.

  1. A 10-20x optical zoom “point and shoot” camera. Forget about binoculars, at least for the time being. Of course anyone sees the birds better with binoculars, but bring nothing home at the end of the day if only binocs are used. A camera is what makes the difference
  2. Internet connection. To share with friends on Facebook, post the pictures on blogs and direct more experienced birders to these pictures for a positive ID.

A superzoom point and shoot cost between 100-400 dollars. With the free google picassa program the “new birders” can edit the pictures. And with a good photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop, he/she can even reduce noice and grain, improve the colors and delete features that disturbs the picture.

The best feature with a camera vs binoculars is that the camera can be used also for other things than birds. They usually have decent macro and wideangle that makes them great to document loads of things on the naturewalk. Additionally, they have a film function making quite poor quality film in small format, but which is perfect to upload straight away to You-tube.
Ask your kid or just anyone what he/she prefers. Binoculars or a 15x P&S camera? I think you already know the answer!

Here are some examples to illustrate my points.

  • A series of photographs taken by Donna Basset with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28S. To show what one can do for starters.
  • Steve Ingraham’s blog on the topic is helpful. Steve uses a Sony DSC H9. Also check Steve’s other blogposts, becuase there is much to learn about point and shoot photography. Steve, quite obviously has a lot of knowledge about photography and uses the camera’s many functions with perfection. When it comes to shooting at extreme magnification you need to know what you are doing for best results. Having said this, these cameras are quite inexpensive, so anyone can learn a lot just from trial and error. And in case you missed this: You don’t have to pay for film anymore!!
  • A large number of incipient birders in Peru post pictures on the pics and files ID-section of my web-page project Birding Peru. Many of them don’t even own binoculars. Scroll through the lists and and you will find many Peruvian ringing names.
  • I have the privilage knowing Guto Carvalho, who organizes AVISTAR birding festival in Brazil to almost entirely to a Brazilian public. Birdwatching was practically unknown to most Brazilians just a half a decade ago. During the 3rd year of organizing AVISTAR 2008 in Sao Paolo, there were over thirty thousand visitors to the fair. Last year was the second edition of the bird photo competition and over 7000 photos were submitted by close to 5000 photographers of 650 species.
  • Birders and naturalists must start embracing technology rather than shun it. It is the only way, to get nature’s voice heard and to recruit the new generation of nature lovers in this day and age. Below are some examples of cameras available from Amazon. The cheapest one is only 103 dollars! How much binoculars do you get for that, I wonder? The kid would be stuck with something, with absolutely no use – except for birding!

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    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    Mel March 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Gunnar!
    I’m certainly no kid, but I am a beginner birder as you know. All I had when I started was a Sony Cybershot 7.1. Almost two years later I was lucky enough to get binoculars.
    I think that it is good to begin with a camera, because you will rapidly know if you really enjoy nature enough to make bigger investments. In the case of kids, I found it to be more interesting and exciting for them to record their experiences in images.
    Still, the thing is, to me, that you don’t need to have a particular item to enjoy nature or start with a certain activity; but to enjoy nature with your own eyes and the rest of your senses. The items such as cameras and binoculars, recorders and other gadgets are only there to enhance the experience :)

    Allen April 3, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Hi Gunnar,! I saw your discussion on carolinabirds about cameras and wanted to chime in with my own experience. I was in college and my wife and I took a trip to Costa Rica and were fascinated by the birds. We started taking pictures (mostly bad, but at least we had some) using our digital camera. When we got home we enjoyed looking at them and started birding in our local area around Raleigh, NC. For the next 4 to 5 months we birded locally and even “discovered” the outer banks in winter with thousands of overwintering birds. We continued taking pictures and spending lots of hours at home trying to identify the birds. Over time we got better at identification and eventually decided we should try out binoculars. I can’t imagine not having binoculars now!

    That was about 2 1/2 years ago and today we are relocated in Phoenix, AZ and continue birding. We have recently started to learn bird songs after purchasing a program that plays them and bird at least 3 to 4 days a month. This has truly become a great hobby. We take fewer pictures (but do still take them) but we now know literally hundreds of birds by sight and sound including field marks (I have to admit my sparrows aren’t great yet). Our life list is over 450 species and counting! Without the initial captivation and enjoyment from taking pictures I doubt we would ever have discovered this fabulous hobby. We are now looking to go back to the tropics (hopefully PERU) and discover that world of birds.

    Gunnar Engblom April 3, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Allen and Mel,
    You both confirm the idea here. It would be interesting to make a poll of people that have started birding with the last three years, how many were not actually introduced to birding because of the new generation digital cameras.
    Now, the interesting thing is that birders still insist on the old method of bins, notebook and field guide – when it comes to teaching other birders. I did to, until too recently.

    Jerry Thompson April 24, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    I think you just show them Birdpost or one of these new birding sites. There are a lot of new ones that make the sport exciting and visual and are just a lot of fun. I like Birdpost because of the maps and it’s a good way to keep my lifelist. Ebird’s new Birding Skills site is also great and really informative, much much information than Birdpost.

    Stacey " Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig May 9, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Hola Gunnar!

    I have a good birding blog post I could send to you. How do I download it?

    Cheers, Stacey

    YC October 14, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Totally agree. However, hard to convince birdwatchers brought up in the traditional way… They need to open up their minds and accept the inevitable.

    DonGato January 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    100% agreed on the matter… Thailand is the perfect example!



    DonGato January 12, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    100% agreed on the matter… Thailand is the perfect example!



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