Investing time in a photography course can help you take better shots. Make sure you are familiar with your camera equipment before going away. Photography gear is bulky and heavy so don’t pack too much, particularly if you have long day hikes.
There maybe no real endurance required for some birdwatching, however a level of fitness is recommended to help pass long hours on planes, trucks or canoes or waiting for birds to fly past. If your tour involves a lot of activity, make sure you have the fitness to complete these activities for the duration required and over consecutive days.
Your ability to identify birds is a useful skill particularly if you’re planning a do-it-yourself journey. Bird and wildlife books can get you off to a good start and teach you the things to look for in different species. You can also get tapes to help you recognize bird vocalizations. Studying the local language will also help you ask appropriate questions about wildlife.
There can be long periods on birdwatching tours when there are few, if any birds. Be prepared to sit these periods out and aim to help the guides as much as possible locate the good birds.
Some areas might require a special visa or permit to visit, for example certain national parks with quotas. Call the relevant authorities well in advance and check with someone who has done it before for specific advice about how to frame your request.
Gear Requirements/Packing lists
Your tour itinerary will usually provide specific suggestions about what to bring. Pack light, bring casual attire and go for neutral colors. If you’re venturing into Africa, the tropical areas of South America or the Australian outback, loose fitting and breathable clothing is best. If you’re in polar regions or on a cruise bring layers for the cold, gloves and headgear that won’t blow off when you look up at birds.
If you’re at sea, rain jackets and rain pants will protect against rain, spray and wind. Wear waterproof footwear, preferably knee-high rubber boots or shoes with sticky soles for good traction on wet decks. Always bring extra clothing and raingear just in case, as the weather can change quickly at sea.
Always take UV protection sunglasses, sun block, mosquito repellent and bottled water or a filter. Good walking shoes and socks are essential for any activities.
If you are dependent on any medication bring a supply. If you’re in a malaria area wear long sleeved shirts and pants, particularly in the evenings. To prevent seasickness get a good night’s sleep, avoid alcohol and eat well. While on board stay above deck in the fresh air and away from diesel fuels. The more alert you are looking for birds will stop you thinking about seasickness.
Pack a camera, charger, film and spare batteries to photograph birdlife. Ideally you should have a telephoto lens, but if you don’t still bring your camera for recording all the other trip memories. If you are at sea, note that salt water is highly corrosive so keep your equipment dry.
Recording equipment for noting bird calls, a compass for navigation and even a GPS can be useful. You might also like a notepad for noting down species you have seen or sketchbooks for drawing the birds. Binoculars and scopes are absolutely essential for birdwatching. Boat motion can distort the magnification so you may prefer less powered binoculars. Telescopes, tripods, chairs and stools may be prohibited by some tour operators so check before you pack them. Remember your favorite field guide or ask the tour operator to recommend one.
Taking your own snacks is a good idea on long treks, boat journeys or any kind of travel. Snacking can help minimize seasickness, just keep the food bland and non-acidic or gassy.