male mallards at Blackford Pond
Maureen of Josephina Ballerina recently asked if I would blog a bit about how I learned about birds.
I had a copy of the Observers Book of Birds when I was young, later I added the RSPB book of Birds and browsed them constantly. This meant that often when I see a new bird I can often recognise it straight away from having learned it from these books (this doesn't apply for brown waders or other more confusing groups of birds or for very rare birds that are only occasionally seen in the UK!)
When I was growing up, my parents' garden was full of starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, blue tits, chaffinches and the occasional visit from other birds including bullfinches. (These days their garden has far fewer starlings, house sparrows or song thrushes, but new visitors include goldfinches, magpies, jackdaws, woodpigeons and the occasional visits from siskins, redpolls and jays.
So I started watching the birds in the garden at a very early age. We also went on trips to other places where we saw birds. I particularly remember a lovely holiday cottage on the island of Anglesey, which had a beautiful hedgerow at the bottom of the garden, that always seemed to overflow with birds of all sorts. Sadly my Mum recently told me that the hedge is no longer there, and a new road was built there several years ago.
I learned the most obvious bird songs when I was young (robin, blackbird, song thrush) but more recently have been trying to learn as many bird songs and calls as possible This is quite challenging as most birds only sing for a few months of the year so once you think you've learned a song, you won't hear it again for several months and then you need to refresh your mind. The robin, which is one of the few birds to sing (rather than call) all year, has a different song for the autumn and winter than for the spring and summer, so that doesn't help (though it's a relatively easy song to learn). (The RSPB website is very useful for learning bird somg, as it includes sound files for every species of bird in the UK; while xeno canto includes bird songs and calls from around the world).
The best way to learn about birds is to get out there and see them in their natural habitats and I do that very regularly - leading birdwatching walks for Edinburgh Council, taking notes of the birds I see when volunteering with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and regularly going for walks in green places with Crafty Green Boyfriend. I also regularly visit Musselburgh Lagoons and have learned a lot from the other birdwatchers there, we regularly swap tips on what we've seen where and the birdwatchers with telescopes are happy to lend me their scopes to see far off rarer species (I've only got binoculars!).
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can learn more.