Birdwatching Tips

By Bob Zeman

Going Birding? Think about taking the following items.

No matter what climate you're visiting, you'll need the following items:

Keeping A Bird Watching Journal
Many bird watchers like to keep a "life list" of the birds they have seen on bird watching holidays. But if you are serious about bird watching, a checkmark on a list is almost useless for scientific purposes.

Instead, keep a field notebook or bird watching journal. When you go birding, write down which birds you see, where and when you see them, and what the birds are doing. Many years from now, your vacation memories could become scientific treasure.

Tape Recorder
Some birds, especially marsh birds, can be heard but won't come out until called by either a good caller or using a tape. You can buy birdcall tapes through the American Birding Association.

Field Guide
A field guide for the area is essential; because of the slight variations between species, distinguishing marks must be noted. For the continental U.S., Canada, and Alaska, the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, (third edition) is the best. For other areas, there are numerous guides that will suffice.

Birding Checklists
Most birders are listers and a checklist is the best way to keep track of the day's and trip's sightings. There are hundreds of checklists, each relating to a specific area. National parks and wildlife refuges sell the lists, as do local chapters of the Audubon society.

For night walks and night river or lake trips. Bring spare batteries. For owling, a high-beam light is needed to view the field marks. You can purchase them at hardware stores.

Do not buy a scope without trying it out. Look for brightness, sharpness and clarity of image. Questar scopes are excellent but they reverse the image of the bird. Kowa scopes also rank high. Kowa recently came out with a 82mm lens which top birders are buying and are better than the 77mm lens that used to be popular.

As with scopes, you want to look for sharpness, color accuracy, brightness, and durability. Top birders use 7x or 8x magnification. There are about 25 manufacturers in the United States. Top binoculars are Zeiss, Leica Ultra 8x42, Leitz 8x40, Swarovski 7x42, and Bausch & Lomb 8x42. Low-budget binoculars are Bushnell NatureView, Opticron Countryman, Swift Plover, and Nikon Action.

Basic equipment includes a 400mm, 500mm, or 600mm lens; a 1.4x teleconverter; and some extension tubes. Don't forget high-speed film.

Layered Clothing
Since most birding trips start in the early morning with a chill, layering is essential for comfort.


Tropical Clothing
Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers (not shorts) to guard against mosquitoes. Clothing should be thick with a tight weave. Use a hat for protection against the sun.

Insect Repellent
DEET is the best ingredient for mosquito repellent but it can have nasty side effects. Apply it to clothing and equipment first. Try to use a low-percentage formula with frequent applications. Wash it off as soon as the threat of bites abates. Take care that your repellant does not come into contact with eyes and mouth, cameras, binoculars and eye-glasses.

Drinking Water
Since the intensity of each birder varies and his or her effort to chase the bird does with it, water is essential.

Rubber Boots
These are especially helpful in marsh lands and crossing small streams; you can look up for birds without worrying about getting your feet wet. Virtually any low-priced boot will do.

It may seem ludicrous, but an umbrella can be helpful when you're trying to use cameras and binoculars in the rain.

Rain Gear
A high-quality waterproof/breathable shell is your best bet. Patagonia or North Face make great products that are both lightweight and packable.


Warm, Layered Clothing
Think about how bad the weather is going to be. You want to be comfortable. Waterproof pants are as important as a jacket.

Fingerless gloves are useful for adjusting the focus on binoculars and cameras.

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