Monday, 12 May 2008

Beginners Birdwatching Course 2008

As a non-birder until the beginner’s course, I would constantly notice the variety of birds outside my window and it would gladden my heart to see the beautiful birds chirping happily and the young in the nest being fed. When it rained, I would wish the babies would not fall off the nest and soon the many birds grew on me as time went by. That was how my interest in birds began.

Thus my journey into the world of birding began one weekend at Fraser’s Hill. It is useful to learn about the basics and good etiquette of birding from the start. What better way to learn these than from experienced and knowledgeable birders, the dedicated committee members of the MNS Selangor Bird Group. The trainers presented well-researched and informative topics on birding equipment, attire, bird topography, ethics, field craft, the environment and conservation efforts. The benefits gained from learning about these subjects directly from the trainers, who had imparted their knowledge with the human touch are immeasurable. It had deepened my appreciation of the birds in a way that no amount of reading on my own could have achieved. Every trainer, who presented a talk on their respective topic, spoke with such passion that the world of birding gradually began to unfold before me. To the trainers’ credit, the statement that had made the most lasting imprint on my mind was “birds come first”. It was not merely that the statement was worn on their T-shirts that had produced this impact on me, but it was the deep sense of commitment to the welfare of the birds that I had observed that had awakened me to the realization that, central to the activity of birding, is to place the welfare of the birds as top priority. Now that we have our priority right, the birders-to-be were ready to embark on the practical aspects of birding.

Out in the field, my lifers’ list expanded very quickly. On my first outing, I spotted a Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush Garrulax mitratus, Long-tailed Sibia Heterophasia picaoides and Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus percussus(female). It was exciting for every few minutes, a lifer would appear…the Little Cuckoo Dove Macropygia ruficeps (male), Little Pied Flycatcher Ficedula westermanni (male and female) and Streaked Spiderhunter. I was thrilled to spot these lifers and with the help of the trainers pointing us to the correct families and prompting us to note certain features, we were able to make positive identification. During the course of the next two days, I had spotted many more lifers, including a rather stunning but elusive Large Niltava Niltava grandis (male), Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina, Black-and-Crimson Oriole Oriolus cruentus(male) and the Common Green Magpie Cissa chinensis. By the end of the course, I had managed to add Black-browed Barbet Megalaima oorti, Fire-tufted Barbet Psilopogon pyrrolophus, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus and Red-headed Trogon Harpactes erythrocephalus (male) to my list of lifers.

It was rather creative of the trainers to design a game of bird identification in a classroom environment. Slides of birds were shown at short intervals simulating actual birding conditions where we had to learn to make a quick sketch and note distinctive features. The game was stressful yet fun. However, my skills in identifying the families were not adequate to score decent points but somehow I had felt slightly more advanced in the field after the game. Perhaps it was the “experience” of noting so many birds in a short time.

I came away from the Beginner’s Course with invaluable lessons that would equip me for birding properly and responsibly. A dilemma I now face is to reconcile birding with my other hobby, photography. I understand the importance of taking notes and practising “birds come first” and will continue doing so. However I am not yet prepared to trade my existing SLR for a digiscoping system.

It had been a truly rewarding and enriching course. I am very grateful to the trainers for their genuine dedication and effort to show us the way into the world of birding.

text by Pauline Lee (MNS member)

photos by David Lai

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