Binoculars, “bins,” are a birder’s most coveted piece of equipment. I used to hear people claim that birding was a pretty inexpensive hobby, after you buy the bins and the bird guide. You can enjoy birds everywhere, they said. As long as you have at least those two items, they will take you a long way.
Binoculars range in price from $50 to over $2,000. Most feed into that rule, “You get what you pay for.” But birders carry other stuff as well. In fact, the more you go birding, the more cool stuff you see other birders have, and the more you need it yourself.
One of the simplest and cheapest items to bring along on a birding expedition is a “Lens Pen.” This is a handy gadget that looks like a BIC on steroids. Push a slider tab on one end and a soft brush emerges so you can gently waft away accumulating dust and grit and chocolate chip cookie crumbs from the eyepieces. Flip the cap off the other end and you have a circle of felt-like material to polish the glass free of dribble stains. Very handy in the field. I am rarely without one in my pocket.
Another must-have is the bird guide. As my little birding jaunts take me ever further afield, a guide book for that area gets added: A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch; Mexican Birds by Roger Tory Peterson/Edward L. Chalif; Birds of Belize by H. Lee Jones; Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson; The Shorebird Guide by Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson; Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey by William J. Boyle, Jr.; all three volumes of A Guide to Bird Behavior by Stokes; Eastern Birds of Prey by Neal Clark; Warblers of the Great Lakes Region & Eastern North America by Chris G. Earley; A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors by Brian K.Wheeler & William S.Clark and…well, you get my point.
My two books seeing the most wear and tear are the latest fifth edition (2002) of Roger Tory Peterson’s Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Peterson was the ornithologist/artist who cracked open the world of birding to us commoners by emphasizing “field marks” to identify a bird, thereby eliminating the rather heavy-handed practice of killing them in order to learn what they were. I also have the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, which is highly regarded for its precise detail and amazing organization. But in the field, I keep sneaking back to Peterson, which is where I cut my birding teeth. I like to keep everybody happy, so I bring them both along for the ride.
The list goes on: A snack or sandwich, water bottle, tissues, notebook and pencil, a good pocket knife (I once cut down about a quarter mile of fishing line that some nasty bastard in a bad mood strung between trees and shrubs, right at the level that could have slit someone’s throat if they didn’t notice the almost invisible nylon filament).
Cell phone (turned off so it won’t spook the birds—you will not be the most popular person on the planet if your phone rings at the same time a coveted bird flies in).
A baseball cap or some protection from the sun. A visor also cuts down the sun glare which can be murderous when magnified. And depending upon the time of year; sunscreen, insect repellent (I swear by Avon Bug Guard Plus), or for winter birding, those little hand and foot warmers package thingees, great for keeping your precious digits from frostbite while standing next to a frozen lake in a 20 degree below zero wind chill gale to see a Trumpeter Swan.
When my birding guru friend, Suzanne, and I were in Cape May, one of the premier birding capitals of the world, we bumped into Sharon Stitetler of Birdchick on the trail to Higbee’s Beach. She was using a handheld PDA, and with a little wand, was scrolling through screens and birdsongs, maps, field marks, and confusing look-alikes. No heavy books to weigh her down.
I love gadgets. She showed it to us, let me play with it. I swore then and there I needed one immediately until I found out how much it cost (almost 500 smackers at the time) so suddenly, I didn’t need it anymore. Besides, I don’t want to upset Roger.
Are you a birder? What do you bring with you?