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Starting Out in Birding

The best way to get started in birding is to go on a birding adventure tour.

If you choose the right birding tour, you’ll be rewarded with great bird sightings and a wealth of birding information. Thailand Birding offers birding tours to several locations in southern Thailand.

female Great HornbillKhao Sok National Park is the best place to see hornbills along with a wide variety of exotic tropical birds. Phang Nga Bay is great for seeing various shore birds, kingfishers, and birds that inhabit the limestone islands.

Phang Nga Province offers many birding opportunities. The terrain varies from mangrove forests, to marshland, to secondary jungle to old-growth jungle. Many birds are very active during April and May too as it is their breeding season. Mangrove and Blue-winged Pittas, for example, are very active during this time. They call regularly and it is the easiest time to find these normally elusive tropical birds.

BinocularsBlue-bearded Bee-eater

When purchasing birding binoculars, look for a pair that when you divide the first number into the second number you come up with the number five. 7X35 binoculars, for example, equal five when divided. 10X50 binoculars result in five also. This is a very rudimentary way of picking out binoculars, but if you're not a serious birder and you just want to pick up a pair for occasional birding, this will help.

The first number is the magnification. The second number is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. The larger the diameter of the objective lens, the more light the binoculars will allow in. This is important as this produces the brightness and clarity of the image. Many binoculars are available that offer good magnification, but without sufficient light and clarity, you’ll have difficulty finding and/or identifying birds.

If you're spotting birds from a kayak, higher magnification will help. In Khao Sok, we often sit in coves and search high up in the tree tops for birds. However, there are also plenty of birds in the trees and bushes along the shoreline. In this case, it often helps to have binoculars that can 'close focus'. This means that you can focus the binoculars at a very close distance.

When walking through the thick jungle of Southern Thailand, lower magnification binoculars, such as 7x or 8x works well. Another important aspect is the binocular's ability to focus quickly. A lot of cheaper models require you to turn the 'knob' a few time to go from far-off focusing to near-by focusing.

Try a variety of binoculars out before buying. There are plenty of great websites dedicated to instructing you on how to purchase binoculars, Eagle Optics is one such site.

spotting scopeBird spotting

Spotting birds can be difficult at times. Try locating birds by listening. Hornbills, for example, often call right before taking flight. The Helmeted Hornbill gives you a lot of notice. It starts out with a series of 'hoots', then gradually accelerates into a series of 'ha, ha, ha' notes.

Movement often reveals a bird's location. There are over 400 species of fig tree here in Thailand. Find one of these trees in fruit and you're likely to see at least something feeding. They support a wide variety of birds and animals. Wind, unfortunately, can obscure this wonderful opportunity.

Don't forget to look at the big picture. Birders can get wrapped up in looking at the various 'parts' of a bird. Notice the various colors on various parts of the bird's body so you can make a positive ID, but don't get so wrapped up in this that you fail to see the overall beauty of the bird. If the bird you're watching only sticks around for a few seconds, it's not easy to pick out the fine details. Perhaps looking at the big picture first is the best approach.

Field guides

There are several field guides for the birds of Thailand. One of the best is "A Guide to the Birds of Thailand" by Boonsong Lekagul and Dr. Philip Round. There’s a quick reference is on the inside cover. A map is provided for each bird showing its range and whether it’s a resident, winter visitor, or a passage migrant. The various bird species are given in high quality drawings.

There are other guides with nice photos. One is Birds of South-East Asia, a "Photographic Guide to the Birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia" by Morten Strange.

Another photographic guide is called "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Thailand" by Michael Webster and Chew Yen Fook.

Arguably the best field guide for the birds of Thailand is Robson's "A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand", published by Asia Books. The format is the same as Round's book, though many of the drawings are more accurate. Actually, the two books compliment each other. Using one to cross-reference the other assures accurate identification.

Learn which birds are in the area that you plan on visiting before going there. This makes positive identification much easier.

Bird Calls on CD ROM

One way that seasoned birders identify birds is by their calls and songs. The best source for a CD Rom for bird calls of tropical Asia is Jelle Scharringa's very impressive CD Rom called "Birds of Tropical Asia". This will certainly get you up on your little brown birdies before coming over. I mean, there are a lot of babblers that make a lot of noise. It's nice to know what you're hearing even if you don't see them. This CD covers pheasants, cuckoos, barbets, bulbuls, warblers, waterfowl, owls, and other raptors and a lot more. All of my birding buddies own this CD, you should too.

Internet Birding

There are many great sites on the internet that offer you the chance to learn about birds, to chat with others about birds, and to find places to see certain birds. One of the best is About.com's birding site