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Just wondering.....what are some things you do while birding?


IKLland

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I'm often thinking...I wish I was in two places at once! ?

A few things I can think of:

  • We pay attention to the weather. Things like wind speed and direction, for example, could tell us if there will be migrating hawks.
  • We do pish occasionally where there are dense bushes, etc.
  • When I find a mixed flock I'll often stand there for a while to see if anything else will show up.
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We do pish occasionally where there are dense bushes, etc.

This can sometimes be avoided if you don't drink very much before you go birding. But when it is necessary to do so, ALWAYS make sure nobody is looking!

Edited by Jefferson Shank
By the way, I do the difference between pish and ...
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42 minutes ago, Jefferson Shank said:

This can sometimes be avoided if you don't drink very much before you go birding. But when it is necessary to do so, ALWAYS make sure nobody is looking!

I have NEVER seen pishing attract birds. (I also haven't seen anyone attract birds by making that funny breathy noise between their teeth.)

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I tend to stand around looking up wishing birds would show up, until suddenly 10 of them show up all at least 20 meters from any of the others, and then I try to figure out which one to look at first!

On a serious note, sometimes quiet waiting can be an overlooked method. Constant movement doesn't always result in sightings, but staying in one likely-looking place for a while can.

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47 minutes ago, Jefferson Shank said:

This can sometimes be avoided if you don't drink very much before you go birding. But when it is necessary to do so, ALWAYS make sure nobody is looking!

Bill Thompson had a very funny talk with tips for birders; he recommended that you always be sure to pish before you head out to go birding. 

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I have seen pishing work in the field before. I typically see it work well when done by very experienced birders who have practiced for years, and have a variety of vocalizations in their repertoire. Pishing is too simple of a term. The best birders can make all kinds of alarm calls, squeaks, and even various owl vocalizations. It most definitely works, but I only know three or four birders who can do it really, really well. For the rest of us, it's just a lot of blowing hot air in a feeble attempt to get anything to show itself.   

As for what I think about when birding, that's a fairly difficult question to answer. On a basic level, having an understanding of bird behavior, status and distribution, weather patterns, and bird vocalizations all help greatly. But it really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. For many people, birding is nothing more than a simple way to get outside on a nice day and look at birds. For others, it's a competitive sport where listing rules everything. For some, it's all about the best picture of a bird they can get. What you are thinking of while birding greatly depends on what outcomes you are trying to achieve.

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My best tip would be to listen.  For example, today I had ~15 Wilson Warbler, 2 Pac-slope Flycatcher, and a Warbling Vireo. All were FOSs for me, and I wouldn't have located any of them if I hadn't listened. Hear a warbler chip that's unfamiliar, check it out. 

As to all the talk about pishing, I'm bad at it, I just make a lot of noise, but I find that birds will usually pop out for a few seconds to check it out, and some species (for example, Fox Sparrow) seems to always take interest in heavy pishing. There are certainly other methods that work better, but as we've already had arguments here about playback and other methods, I won't state my opinions.

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Phishing for me has only really worked in fall migration, when the birds aren’t on a mission. I try to make a variety of sounds if one doesn’t work, and I’ve picked up Screech Owl into my repertoire. I’ll try to imitate the chips I hear as well. 
 

My main sense that I use in birding is hearing. I’m always keeping a strained ear out for anything vaguely bird like. Then I always try to investigate the noise. If I didn’t, passing it off as something I thought I knew, I could miss something. That’s how I found the YRWA (Audubon) while scanning redpolls!

I also try my best to keep a sharp eye out for movement. It’s harder when you are walking, but with practice, you can get used to methodically scanning your surroundings in a way that any movement in your peripheral vision will alert you. Standing still is much easier. You kind of just zone out on a spot and wait for something to move, usually after you saw something or heard something in the vicinity. 
 

And yes, sitting and waiting is one of the best ways to grow a list! Just ask Bridget Butler!

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I forgot to add that I agree with all the posts about simply listening. I would say that IMO birding is ~75% auditory, and 25% visual. Getting familiar with bird vocalizations will help greatly. In some scenarios it’s fairly useless (hawk watching for example), but the majority of the time I identify birds by sounds much more than I do visually.

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Pishing  will work once, and then they catch on.  Sparrows, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Chickadee, and Junco it works best on.

I do a lot of birding from Jeep.  I stink at knowing bird songs, so I have a Playlist on my phone that is Spring Migrants and I try to guess what I am hearing.  Going to be another tough warbler season for me...?

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10 hours ago, Aveschapines said:

I tend to stand around looking up wishing birds would show up, until suddenly 10 of them show up all at least 20 meters from any of the others, and then I try to figure out which one to look at first!

??? So true!

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Interesting comments about pishing. I've always understood it to mean that sound that you make by forcing air through your teeth (jaws closed) while opening and closing your lips. It's similar to a sound used here to call chickens and attract people's attention, except in that case you block the sound with your tongue instead of lips and it's a longer sound rather than a rapid repeat. For calling people it's very informal and rude when used in the wrong circumstances; think of yelling "hey, you!" at someone. 

Anyway, birders here pish freely, and I've never seen it attract any birds. It doesn't seem to discourage anyone. I recently heard a comment that pishing only works in the ABA area, because it imitates the sound of a certain species - titmouse or chickadee maybe? I don't remember - so it won't work in places where that species isn't found. I've also seen people try to imitate different bird sounds and haven't been overly impressed by the results. And yes, playbacks are a touchy subject but I haven't seen them to be all that successful either.

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13 hours ago, Jefferson Shank said:

This can sometimes be avoided if you don't drink very much before you go birding. But when it is necessary to do so, ALWAYS make sure nobody is looking!

Heck, let 'em look.

10 hours ago, Connor Cochrane said:

All were FOSs for me

What's 'FOS"?

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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I can't say I'm a big fan of pishing, I can probably count the times I've used it one both hands and a foot. It has only really worked on Sparrows for me, so almost the only time I have used it is for when a Sparrow dives into brush before I can identify it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Something I've been finding helpful is to spend time watching individual birds and their behaviour. It both gives something to focus on when it's a quiet day, but also has helped me find birds better, especially when trying to catch them with a zoom lens. E.g. watching Ruby-crowned Kinglets' movements and learning that they flutter down then work their way up bushes and trees has both helped me take the occasional decent picture, but also count them more accurately and have a better sense of what one is when it shows up in my peripheral vision when looking at something else. I'm not a competitive birder so I'm mostly aiming to see what's around and I try to enjoy it for what it is.

The best piece of advice I was ever given was talked about a lot above: stand quietly in a spot for five minutes, and the birds will learn you're not a threat and start to be bolder about showing themselves. That plus quiet listening - not just to vocalizations but also branches moving, scratching in leaves, etc. It also helps put me in the right mindset to just enjoy being outside, seeing what's around. (When it's not raining, anyway.)

I don't want to open a debate, but I've always felt a bit odd about pishing. I see how there's a difference of kind between that and recording playback, but it still feels to me like intentionally flushing a bird, which seems like disturbing their behaviour for our own benefit. I used to flush the occasional bird from inside a bush to see what it is but that's started to feel sketchy to me so I've stopped. I know there are a lot of views on this, which are largely personal, so I'm just sharing my thoughts here and not judging anyone else's decisions.

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On 3/22/2021 at 1:20 PM, Kevin said:

I have tried playback twice, both were epic failures.

Only twice too, a while ago - both worked very well but I won't be doing it again.

First was to confirm that a Winter Wren was still around (it had actually stayed for the winter which is unusual in my location). That bird came out looking for a fight - flew all around me mad as hell - these are feisty birds.

Second time was for a Screech Owl (I know, I know but this family nests every year in the middle of a park and are very used to people). They all appeared fairly quickly and I got some photos from a distance - just did it the once.

I suspect some birders use playback but don't admit to it. Ethically not really different from pishing?, but presumably more effective.

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  • 1 year later...
On 3/22/2021 at 5:01 AM, DLecy said:

I forgot to add that I agree with all the posts about simply listening. I would say that IMO birding is ~75% auditory, and 25% visual. Getting familiar with bird vocalizations will help greatly. In some scenarios it’s fairly useless (hawk watching for example), but the majority of the time I identify birds by sounds much more than I do visually.

I came back to this thread to refresh my mind on the awesome tips here, and this post brings up a question that i've had for a while. 

If you have species while birding that you only heard, I know that Ebird still wants you to report them, and I always do. But, is it worth it to state in the comments of that species "HO" or "Heard only"? Or should you not waste time writing that for every species that you only heard? I usually do write it out when I only heard something, but it can take up time. Is it worth it, or only do it with something rare? 

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