Natural World Photography

Specializing in Bird, Wildlife, and Nature


Birding (Bird Photography) and Golf, the Similarities

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 8:00 PM

Believe it or not, birding & bird photography have a lot in common with one of my other favorite past times, golf. Of course there are a lot of differences too, but how many other games have a “birdie” in them? Right!?


So, I thought I would write a little piece about how the two are similar, in least in my eyes. But, understand, I am not a pro at either, just hobbies. Thought birding is in my blood.


Know the Basics


Just as any other sport, hobby, or interest, there is a need to understand the basics before participating. Now, let’s be real here, it takes hands-on experience and practice for both birding (and bird photography) and golf. But, before you start it, read about it.


Buy or checkout a “beginners” book on birding, photography, or golf before you try to get too deep into it. Birding, in of itself, is inexpensive, but photography and golf can be costly.


Do you know what “par” is? How about a “bogey”? Where do Northern Cardinals live? What does a Downy Woodpecker look like? How many practice shots do you get in a sand trap? What call does a Song Sparrow make?


There are numerous books and field guides that help you learn the ropes. And in this day and age of technology, just Google it and you will find all kinds of information.



Know the Rules


Before you start taking pictures of the birds or playing a round of golf, get to know the rules of the game. Several examples are below…


Birding (Bird Photography)

• “Do not bait, call in, or setup a bird shot.”  Quoted from Ron Dudley

• Do not disturb other birders in the middle of their shot.

• Stay on the road or path.

• “Be quiet. Be very, very quiet” (Elmer Fudd)




• No fluffing the ball, no moving it. And count all your shots and penalty strokes.

• Do not get between the photographer and their subject. • Don’t yell, scream, or otherwise disturb the golfer. Even a camera click can freak them out. Okay, only the professionals have that hard of a time.

• When on the green, don’t walk between someone’s ball and the hole.

• Keep your cart on the cart path, especially after rain.

• Yeah, be quiet here too, when the person is preparing to hit the ball.



“Practice makes perfect” is something we all have heard. And, it is true. RATS!!!


It takes a lot of patience, trial and error, and doing the same thing over and over, to really get good at it. But, practice is also much of the fun. And in the days of digital cameras, play with it.


I am learning how to use the manual settings on my camera now. And, I am messing up a lot too, but will keep working at it. Between ISO, shutter speed, and F-Stop, it can rattle the brain. But, so can a 320 yard, par 4 hole over water.


As a side note, my longest golf drive ever was about 400 yards. Awesome, right? Well, the problem is that it went 250 yards straight and 150 yards to the left. Don’t think I ever found that ball.


Well, we just have to keep plugging away at it.





Ever gone golfing and it turned cold, but you didn’t bring a jacket? Ever experience unexpected rain storms, but forgot to bring anything to wipe off the lens?


Weather, or the changes in it, can significantly change our game. It is important to know the weather before you go out and then prepare for it. Nothing is more miserable than trying to play a round of golf in 50 degree temps when it’s drizzling and you do not have a jacket. Even if you can handle it, your game will not be the same.


Birding is no different. A change in the weather can make a wonderful day of birding into a day you wish you didn’t get out of bed.


But, having the right clothes, shoes, and other “element-fighters” will help it to be successful no matter the weather.


Tip: If it’s a lightning storm, get off the course or out of the woods as soon as possible. Live to fight another day. Lightning is not worth the risk.



What’s in the Bag?


Golfers have a set of clubs they take with them when they golf. Normally, it includes a few drivers, different irons for various distances, a wedge, and a putter. But, you are only allowed 14 clubs total in the bag. So, over time, most golfers get a feel for what clubs they work well with and keep them handy.


Birding and bird photography is very similar. While there are not “rules” about how many things you have with you, you can only carry so much efficiently, especially if walking/hiking.


Some of the most important items are a bird field guide, binoculars, camera, lenses, mono/tripod, extra batteries, and extra card for storage. And two other things you should always take with you: water and a snack. In today’s world, my phone is also with me so I make sure it is fully charged before I go too. But remember, that depending on where you go, you may or may not get service.


As mentioned above, weather determines what you need from an elements perspective. Now, put this all into your backpack or car and see if it works for you. You should be able to get to things easily and quickly.


Too much stuff will make it tougher than it needs to be so plan accordingly. Take what you need, but not the entire store.



Cleaning the Equipment


Years ago, I lived in eastern Ohio and was into golfing heavily. Before I would go out and play a round, I would check to ensure my clubs were clean. This included the heads and the handles. I’d also clean any used golf balls and even put a little mark on them so I’d know they were mine.


Birding equipment, whether a pair of binoculars or a camera, need to be checked too. Clean the lenses while still at home, but take a clean cloth with you too. You see golfers cleaning their clubs on the fairways all the time.



Short Game


This to me is an important one. When you go to a driving range, what do most people seem to be practicing? The long drive, right? Maybe some irons too. But you know what is practiced the least? Putting.


Putting is literally half the game of golf. On a par 4 hole, you get two shots to get it to the green and then two putts to finish it out. Par 3, one shot to the green and two putts. Par 5, three shots to the green and two putts.


The more you focus on and practice putting (the short game), the better your scores will be. Similarly, the more we focus and practice on the shorter shots, the better the photograph. Pictures will be more in-focus and more detail of the bird will be noticed.


Don’t get me wrong, I have a nice 200-400mm lens and want to get a 600mm. But using a shorter lens, and being pretty close to the subject may give you a better result. Bigger lenses are more expensive and harder to handle.







Know the Course


Knowing a golf course, and knowing it well, helps a golfer improve their score by staying away from hazards. There are times to take the long shot and times when laying up is by far the better decision.


Birding is like that too. First of all, you want to be safe physically. So, do not drive or walk into hazardous areas. We’ve all seen the stories of those who walk off the paths in Yellowstone. Not smart.


But, it’s good to know where the birds will normally be too. I mean, that is why we are there. However, I also like to find places less crowded and hope the birds will come to me. Depending on the location, that can happen. Birds fly up and down streams on a river, but not as much on a lake. In winter, they seek safety from the elements and waterfowl need open water.


So, plan where you are going to go before you go. But, be flexible too. Just remember, stay out of harm’s way.



The Adventure and Coming Back for More


This past week, I took two trips to Farmington Bay, a wonderful local birding spot. The weather was cold and very foggy. I cleaned my cameras the night before, ensured it was all packed, laid out my clothes (didn’t want to wake of the Misses), and had some water to drink and nuts to eat.


I’d been to Farmington Bay a lot. Even been a volunteer at the sanctuary. I’d practiced before, and got more practice on two days. I’ve got the basics down and I followed the rules. I waved at the other birders, but did not beep my horn.


But, with all that I prepared, there is one other thing I did. The night before each trip, I got excited for the adventure. You just never know what you will see. Perhaps a rare bird, perhaps the perfect, once in a lifetime shot, or maybe just an enjoyable day. Just like when I golfed a lot, I laid in bed and day-dreamed about the upcoming adventure.


And, guess what, I got a few very cool shots after all. It was well worth the trip I will keep on birding.


Until next time, enjoy this fabulous birding world of ours.


Categories: Birding

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