Tips for birding (birdwatching) in a new country

So I’m going to an African country, and I’m hoping to go birding there. The species there will be so different from the country I’m already in. What tips could you guys give me?
I would be happy for some helpful tips!

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it would be helpful to know what country you are visiting and whereabouts in that country you plan to visit

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I’d suggest to get a field guide for the region you are going to, and spend some time before the trip getting an idea of some of the families of birds that you will encounter. Some, such as bulbuls and sunbirds, for example, you might not be familiar with in your home country.

You can check out the country pages at the African Bird Club site for information. Other good sources of information are trip reports, but be aware that these are usually by hardcore birders who spend their entire trip birdwatching and trying to see the more elusive species, so it won’t necessarily help you too much if you’re just going to be doing some casual birding. However, they can often help give you a sense of the places you might visit.

Depending on your budget, it might be worth hiring a bird guide for a day or more. Most countries have very experienced guides who can bring you to good places and help you to identify the many unfamiliar species. If there is a particular species you would really like to see, and you don’t have much time, hiring a guide is likely the best way to see it.

Two apps worth downloading are the Birds of Africa app, and the Merlin Bird ID app. For the latter, you can often download packages with the species for the region you will be going to (Northern and Southern Africa are best served so far).

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The regional bird guides are extremely helpful. I also travel and purchase a field guide to the area I will be visiting before I travel to peruse and familiarize myself with the more common species found where I will be traveling. Once I return, I have an idea what to look for in the identify pages at iNat where I can use the explore function with a specific country defined.

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Come to the Middle East during winter or spring

Say what you want about us but we have the best avian wildlife out of any region

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Prepping for what you might see (Bird Lists)

Once you know where you are going to you go to ebird and use the explore option
Explore an Area - enter the place name and it will show up a map with pins of various places the redder it is the more “species or activity there”

Explore a Hotspot - this is usually by name of specific hotspot , or one can get here by using the map described above. This will allow you to search by relevant administrative boundaries , important protected areas, and also hotspots. Once you find a location one can print the checklist

Usually when you get it result it will show you this data in summary and list of the latest observations from there

  • Species observed
  • Complete checklists
  • eBirders
  • Hotspots

On the left side will be a menu , the bottom most menu item is printable checklist.

You can also select by season, range of months, range of years etc.


Prepping for Birds (how I prepare)

  1. Systematically go over the list and see pictures, read descriptions and also hear their calls. The ideal combination depends on what kind of birds and what habitat.

  2. Merlin Bird App as already recommended above. Install and download the relevant country / region data pack. Not all places have good data packs

  3. Search for local literature, pamphlets and guide reports and read up.

Connecting with people

  1. My experience with mass tourism based bird guides has not been good - they are mostly unethical and I usually avoid them. I would try and find quieter guides and quieter places. However there are usually some good ethical guides who , again as pointed out above, are often able to help with some of the difficult to id birds or know trails and locations that are good.

**
Enjoy your trip

I was just in Oman in March. Fabulous sightings, both avian and insecta - and then there was the spectacular geology of the Ophiolite and the marine critters seen from boat and shore!

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Have you ever been to that part of Africa, or Africa at all? For me, that’s the main difference - if I go to an area where I have never been, I just get a field guide for it, then not prepare anything and just wait what the nature throws at me, as that’s usually more than enough - almost everything is gonna be new!

If I am traveling to a place where I can expect a lot of birds to be already seen, then I would prepare the species I am missing beforehand. Typically I would take the field guy and mark what I have seen in it to see what I am missing and then look on eBird (sorry iNat, there is just far more bird observations on eBird) where to see those. Also for many destinations, there are “where to find birds in X” books that can be very useful in this regard - they give you sites for specific species.

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ok, yh ofc its good to prepared.

thats amazing, happy to see that there is a website for the birds of Africa!

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Thanks for the invaluable advice!

Thanks @opisska
I have never gone to any part of Africa yet this will be my first. I live in the middle east and I hope I will be familiar with some birds there, for example the family species of the Bulbuls.

I find that reading the books/field guides is helpful but looking on eBird at what was seen during the same dates in previous years helps. Getting a handle on common, expected birds (including behavior: calls/nests/flocking…) gives us a chance to see the uncommon (or fast/hidden) more easily. There may also be videos online that help show birds in that area.

I have one more little helpful hint. I visited Namibia and purchased a pocket guide of Birds of South Africa. As I photographed, I made notes in my travel journal as to where I took the photos, then each evening in the quiet hours I located the birds in the pocket guide from that day’s memory, while fresh in my mind, and jotted down the name in the travel journal.

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