Hobbies… Similarities – A Guide for the Outsider

The Rail Enthusiast and the Birder are very similar at the basic level – though I’m sure that statement will have aficionados of either hobby throwing up their hands in protest. So let me highlight the similarities.

Both hobbies are essentially observational in nature. Apart from having the power of sight the budding Train Spotter or Bird Watcher will need a Pencil/Pen, a Notebook and a book that helps them identify what they have seen.

Train Spotters will buy a ‘Combine’ (officially ‘UK Combined Volume 2014’ for example) – a book that lists all the locomotives, multiple units, carriages and track maintenance vehicles in the UK. Why Combined? – Each section could be purchased separately in the past. There are a few Combines available but they all display the same information. Only the format and photographs illustrating the classes change between different publishers. Combines are published annually to maintain some semblance of the data being up to date – which it rarely is! 😉

Bird Watchers buy a Field Guide – there are a plethora of these though buying one covering ‘The Birds of Southern Africa’ when you live in England would be somewhat perverse. I mention that one because I have a copy 😉 No, the UK Birder has to choose between guides that cover the UK only, Britain and Europe or Britain, Europe and North Africa. You can choose to buy a guide to garden birds but that would be somewhat limiting!

You won't find these in your field Guide - Unless it's one for Australasia!
You won’t find these in your field Guide – Unless it’s one for Australasia!
Field guides vary with publisher. Some use drawings to illustrate the individual birds whilst others use photographs. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages and it is up to the individual person to choose which best suits them. It would be nice to say that a field guide is for life, after all birds don’t evolve much over a human lifetime do they? That’s true – but scientists continue to revise their opinion of which birds are related to each other and this results in scientific name changes at regular intervals. A good example is one of Britain’s commonest birds – The Black-headed Gull. Additionally, new species may establish themselves after the field guide has been published – a UK example of this is the Ring-necked Parakeet.

So, what else does the beginner need? Somewhere to watch their chosen quarry! A piece of railway line would do for both as pointed out in my previous hobbies post but in reality the newbie Train Spotter normally heads for their local station as a starting point whilst the Bird Watcher could start at the kitchen window watching the birds in the garden. The other thing common to both hobbies is the need for good wind and waterproof clothing. Devotees of these hobbies will spend a lot of time out in bad weather. Actually, the same is true of watching non-league football but let’s not go there 😉

The first real difference at the basic level is binoculars… These are almost essential for the Bird Watcher but are only a ‘useful addition’ for the Train Spotter. Which binoculars to choose is also a difference between the two hobbies. For general birding a pair of good quality 8×40 is widely recommended – magnification being traded off against field of view, closeness of focus and quality of optics. The Rail enthusiast will generally opt for 10×50’s or 12×50’s – magnification v being able to hold them steady being the main criteria. Why the difference? Birds are small and flit around woodland quite close to the observer – Trains hide in the middle of large railway yards a long way from the observer but at least they don’t flit around 😉

So there you go, a beginners guide for two hobbies that are both pleasant and relaxing excuses to get out and about 🙂

A tricky one for the Newbie Bird Watcher - A Juvenile Blackbird.
A tricky one for the Newbie Bird Watcher – A Juvenile Blackbird.


  1. What a delightful post! And on such an unlikely subject —
    But there it is. You know them both so intimately, you make them hug and kiss instead of glaring at each other.

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