Better Birding is Made in the Shade
by Don Freiday
[I got right under this newly arrived Hooded Warbler in Belleplain State Forest, NJ by staying in the shade.]
It seems so simple and obvious, yet hardly anybody does it. Let’s say we’re walking along a woods edge, and want to stop to look for birds. Where are we going to stop? Obviously, we want to stop where we can see birds well, so perhaps we’ll choose to stop near a little gap or cove in the forest where we can see in. Of course we’ll stop if we actually see birds. We’ll try to stop where if we move our feet to get a slightly better angle, our footsteps will be on quiet grass or dirt, not gravel or crunchy leaves. But there is one other important factor to consider: whenever possible, stop in the shade.
Sticking to the shadows implies staying out of sight, and that’s exactly what we want to do when we’re birding. Ideally, we keep the birds in the sun, the sun at our backs, and our bodies motionless and in the shade, because in that situation wildlife of all sorts has a hard time knowing we’re around. Even if only part of the human form is shaded, and part is still in full sun, the effect is to break up the human outline, making it harder for birds to detect us, their potential predator. Always try to keep your face shaded - human faces are shiny, and they move a lot. Binocular objective lenses flash when aimed at the sun, a potential warning sign to birds.
Shade does more than hide us. It helps us see much better. Everyone knows you can’t see well squinting into the sun. In contrast, our pupils actually dilate in the shade, letting more light in. When birding into the sun, simply standing in the shade of a single tree trunk, telephone pole, or street sign makes a huge difference in what we can see, and what sees us. If you’re in a group, and there is only one tree or pole around, line everybody up to the shadow, so you are all in the shade. The only downside to being in the shade is that it can be chilly, but hotter birding will make up for that. Give shade birding a try next time you are afield.