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Birds are afraid of human beings and keep space between themselves and people wherever possible. The more noise and disturbance a person creates, the further the birds retreat. To have a realistic expectation of getting sufficiently close to birds to observe, identify and photograph them it is therefore necessary to keep as quiet as possible, move in a slow and stealthy manner and adopt as far as possible the colour of the surroundings. In the latter case, wearing sombre green and brown tones is a good start. certainly avoid wearing a bright red sweater or anorak!

Egrets - Image by kind permission of mshobi, India

If you are with another person, keep conversation to a low volume or even restricted to a whisper. Try to move under the cover of trees, bushes, embankments etc as far as possible. Birds not only see people approaching but are also very sensitive to the behaviour and alarm calls produced by other birds in the area. Disturb a flock of pigeons, and every bird within a few hundred yards becomes aware of your presence. When walking through the countryside, try to avoid stepping on dry twigs that crack under the weight of a footstep.

Patience is a virtue. Be prepared to approach an area of interest slowly and over a period of time. If you rush in, even quietly, the birds will retreat. Sit down in a partly concealed location and remain as still and quiet as possible. Even the birds that are aware of your presence soon lose interest and return to feeding etc. Once an area of interest is reached, again take time to look around and observe what is going on. Where are the birds feeding? Where do they go to get water or collect nesting materials?

Many birds reuse the same routes and perches over and over again. On the way to their nest they typically perch in a nearby hedge or tree to see whether the coast is clear. They may then move to a much lower and closer perch a few yards from their intended destination. It is often possible to set up a camera focused upon these favoured locations and fire the shutter perhaps using a remote control.

When using a pre-positioned hide, it may help to approach the hide with a colleague who then leaves the area without you. This seems to go some way towards assuring the birds that the disturbance has gone. Similarly, when leaving a hide, do not just burst out and walk away. Have a colleague come quietly and slowly to the hide and then walk away together in a close group.

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