Having a hobby that you can practice in every Minerva city is great. Having a hobby that gets better by doing it in every Minerva city is amazing.
I first got into birdwatching in Seoul through the Winter Wings civic project and have been doing it ever since. It’s a great way to spend time outside, make new friends, and learn a thing or two about wildlife and conservation issues in the global rotation countries. Want to get into birdwatching too? Here is some info to get you started.
Get a pair of binoculars
While you absolutely can look at birds without binoculars, it is a whole other experience with them. To get started simply go to a flea market, online retailer, or a local sports store and find a pair that is in your price range. I started out with a $15 USD pair I used as a child, then upgraded to a medium price range after two years (about $130).
When testing, pay attention to the brightness and magnification. 8×42 is a recommended setting. 8 is the magnification, which you don’t want too high so you don’t immediately lose the bird when it moves. 42 is the angle, which indicates brightness and just gets better the higher it goes.
A camera with a good zoom is a great alternative as well, with the added bonus of being able to share your pictures or come back to them to help with identification.
Use the Merlin app as a guide
While Merlin does not yet work in every rotation city because the makers need to train the system with the birds likely to be seen in each region (RIP me in Buenos Aires), it is an awesome tool for bird identification. You can either upload a picture or answer a few questions to get a list of suggestions.
Use eBird to find hotspots
eBird collects data for scientific projects (including my capstone) and is a great resource when trying to decide where to go birding. You can search for hotspots, which are user-suggested and ornithologist-approved places to go birding in specific areas, like a city or state you are visiting. For each hotspot, you can see what other people have observed there recently, or get more information on specific birds. It is a great way to keep track of your sightings and even get a map of places you birded before.
Join a group, talk to other birders
Even if you have accessed the knowledge and experience of birders in your area through eBird, nothing beats talking to local birders and ornithologists or joining a tour. There is a Birding Berlin Facebook group that goes on regular walks in different parks.
In Hyderabad, there is an even more active community, with the Hyderabad Birding Pals Facebook group having about 5.1k members and regular outings. If you just want to get a taste, the botanical garden is a great start or any other larger park of the city (check eBird to get an idea of what you may see).
In Buenos Aires, I went a step further and paid for a full-day trip to Entre Rios with another Minervan and local guides from Sandpiper Birding & Tours. It was absolutely breathtaking and we saw over 100 bird species I had never seen before.
Specific birds to look out for in Berlin
The beauty —and difficulty— of birding on rotation is that each city has completely different birds with the exception of rock doves (aka. feral pigeons) and (house) sparrows, which are literally everywhere. Below are three of my favorite local birds in Berlin, tips on seeing them, and why I love them so much.
Common Kingfisher (German: Eisvogel, Alcedo atthis)
The brilliant color and elegant fishing skills of this beautiful bird make them very difficult, yet extremely fun, to observe. The best places to see them in Berlin are on the outskirts of the city by clean lakes or creeks that have overhanging branches. You can tell male and female birds apart by their lower beak color (orange for females and black for males).
European Robin (German: Rotkehlchen, Erithacus rubecula)
This bird is not too difficult to observe, and I love their roundness and high-pitched singing, especially in winter. Go to Tiergarten or a smaller park if you want to see one.
Eurasian Nuthatch (German: Kleiber, Sitta europaea)
I absolutely love these birds and even wrote an assignment on them. They behave a bit like woodpeckers since they hunt insects from bark, but unlike woodpeckers, they can walk upside down on a tree stem. They are the only birds that can do this.
Specific birds to look out for in Buenos Aires
With a completely different climate and continent, it comes as no surprise that Buenos Aires has a very different set of just as interesting birds.
Rufous Hornero (Spanish: hornero común, Furnarius rufus)
It is a medium-sized and very common bird. You can see them in every park of Buenos Aires, but the reason I like them so much is their nest, a perfectly round clay construction they sometimes even stack on top of each other.
Southern Caracara (Spanish: Carancho, Caracara plancus)
A scavenger and opportunistic hunter you can see flying over the ecological reserve near the Buenos Aires residence. I just think they look absolutely badass.
Red-crested cardinal (Spanish: Cardenal común, Paroaria coronata)
The males of this species are truly party in the front and business in the back. I love how mismatched it looks. You can see these in the ecological reserve, but going a bit further out of the city gives you higher chances.