The ‘Unmistakable Landmark’ Technique: Better Than “In that green tree over there.”

Birdwatching is usually best (and the most fun) when conducted as a collaborative effort.  Solo birding can be jolly good fun but birding with others is oh so much more efficient.  Two, three, four, five pairs of eyes are capable of seeing so much more than just a single pair of eyes.  But here’s the rub; what if birder #3 has very sharp eyes but is not very skilled in sharing the location of what he/she sees with his/her fellow birders?

We’ve all experienced this.

Birder #3: ‘I’ve got a Collared Forest-Falcon?’

Birder #1: ‘Where is it?’

Birder #3: ‘It’s right up in that green tree over there.’

Birders 1,2,4,5 all look up at an immense forest of ‘green trees’ and all the trees are ‘right over there’.  Next, there invariably follows a protracted and semi-comical routine of pointing, jockeying for position and further veiled descriptions of location such as:

‘It’s at 10 o’clock.’

‘It’s near those dark green leaves.’

‘See that shrub?  Go to the top of that shrub and you’ll see another shrub to the left but this one has some bare branches.  Well, from the top of the second or third highest of the bare branches you’ll see a green tree and…’

Often, by this time the Collared Forest-falcon has flown to a beach resort in Guanacaste.

And so, how can we improve in our ability to share a bird’s clandestine and often distant location to a group of fellow birders?

  1. Position your fellow birders behind you, if at all possible.
  2. Instruct them to use their eyes and not their binoculars, at first.
  3. Pick out an UNMISTAKABLE landmark as your starting point. Descriptors such as ‘over there’,  ‘green tree’, ‘dark leaves’ ‘straight trunk’ ‘thick foliage’ usually are not specific enough as a starting landmark.  This unmistakable landmark does not even need to be very close to where the bird actually is; but it must be unmistakable…unique!  In  photo #1 (below), you might select clouds as your unmistakable landmark. You might tell your colleagues, ‘See those two little lonely clouds poking their heads up between the bigger clouds?’

Photo #1

spotting 1

Once you’ve got them focused on the little clouds you can lead to the next most unmistakable landmark, and the next and the next, each one closer to the location.

Of course there are times when you’re trying to share the location of a bird at fairly close range.  The same principle applies; pick an unmistakable landmark!  In photo #2 (below) you might say; ‘See that bright red flower?  Start from that red flower and go about 3 meters to the right.’  Etc, etc.

Photo #2

spotting 2

Is this method foolproof?  Hell no.  But I do believe that using the unmistakable landmark technique as your starting point to share a bird location will give you and your fellow birders a much better chance of seeing more birds…quicker.

And don’t forget; If birding was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.