Taking part in the Bird Challenge this Festive period and generally while I'm out and about, people (it has to be said mainly ladies or families out for a walk) often ask; What are you doing? when I tell them, they say; how can I learn about the birds I see? often in the garden.
I love it when someone in a hide asks me what that bird is, after all we all started out with zero knowledge, so helping someone to enjoy wildlife is a pleasure. Sadly though there are a small minority of birders out there who remain stony faced and look aghast when someone dares to get a bird guide out and look at it... use a book, shocking!!! There is no shame in using one, honestly!!
This ignorant behaviour of the minority just doesn't help the image of an aloof exclusive hobby, practiced only by men. I remember talking to a lovely elderly couple a few years back who'd taken up birdwatching after retiring. They told a sad tale. Struggling to identify a female Mallard, a birder in the hide, dripping with kit and cameras shouted at them to bleep bleep shut up. Not helpful in the least, and surely his shouting was worse than their talking? All he had to say was what the bird was and they'd have gone home happy (maybe he didn't know himself?) Needless to say this couple nearly gave up birdwatching, and were very nervous of being in a hide with other "professional looking" people.
Joining societies such as the RSPB or a local bird club are excellent for starting out, but mainly wildlife watching is a solitary activity. So how would you start? There are thousands of bird books on the market, a bewildering array of titles. Many of you will read this posting and disagree, or have others to suggest, but the 3 books I would recommend to start out in the UK and then improve are.........
I just think this is a brilliant book to start with. Just covering British birds, ignores rarities and all the difficult stuff and just concentrates on the premise, "what will I see if I'm out there and looking at a bird". The paintings aren't the best in the business but cover key features and the text by our National Treasure Bill Oddie is simple to read, states the obvious (which many guides fail to do so) such as "you'll not see these birds in the winter"
So you've read Bills book, but it's a bit heavy to use out in the field. This pocketbook lives in my car, and is always there for a reference check. I used to have the original version of this but it fell into a river and for years couldn't find a replacement. What I like about this book is again it's simple and the excellent illustrations are complemented by helpful pointers such as "white rump when flying"
So you want to know more? This is the book I'd recommend. One could begin with this book, however once you have some knowledge, this can expand that as it lists all European birds, not just in the UK. Covers sub species, races, vagrants, and life phases. Text is very informative, well laid out and given that 2 World class birders I know who write bird guides themselves carry this book with them when birding, need I say more.
Go on, New Years resolution..... put your wellies on, pop on a bobble hat and see what's out there.