Essentials for Birding in the Field

Jill Staake

I’m in full-on packing mode today, because tomorrow I leave for a long weekend of birding on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast! In addition to all the usual vacation items (sunscreen, hat, books for airplane reading), a birding trip requires a few extras to ensure I get the most out of every opportunity. Below are the five items I never go birding without:

Click the image to get tips on choosing binoculars.

1. Binoculars - Every birder has a favorite pair of binoculars, and if it’s at all possible, I feel you should bring your own on a birding trip. Some tours will offer to provide binoculars for your use, but they not be as good as the ones you own, and if you’re not familiar with them, you might waste time trying to figure out how to focus and wind up missing a great bird sighting. Some people like small, travel-sized binoculars, but I honestly haven’t found a smaller pair that I like yet. My favorite pair is the full-size Bushnell Powerview 12X50, which provides great magnification and field of vision. For “field trips”, I always give in and attach the neck strap – it may not be incredibly fashionable, but it’s worth it for the convenience of having the binoculars right where I need them. (Tip – Bring a soft cloth for cleaning the lenses in case of rain.)

2. Camera - The digital camera changed the way many birders see the world, and I’m certainly among them. A camera with a good zoom allows you to grab a shot of a bird that’s far-off, take it home, and identify it later when you can blow up the image and get a better look. I’ve identified plenty of birds this way, when a quick glance through my binoculars just won’t cut it. My camera is a high-end point and shoot, easy for anyone to use but with a powerful zoom and a multi-shot function – both essential for good bird shots in the field. I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35, which is a 12.1 MP with 18X optical zoom, and I’ve been very pleased with the quality of the images; they’re about as good as you can get without stepping up to a more expensive SLR camera.

Sibley Birds of North America

3. Bird Guide – In the past, my go-to guide has been my copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds, and I’ve always taken it along on birding trips. At 544 pages, though, it’s a bit impractical to carry around and often was left behind in the car, defeating the purpose of having a bird guide with me in the field. This time around, I’m giving a birding app a try instead. I purchased the Sibley Birds of North America app and downloaded it to my Kindle Fire. It promises more than 6000 images and maps, and has the added benefit of sound files for bird songs and calls. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out for me, and I’ll be sure to update you in a future post.

4. Polarized Sunglasses - Polarized sunglasses are amazing for cutting down on glare, especially when you’re birding on or around water. They allow you to see beneath the water’s surface as well, which is great for watching diving or swimming birds. My polarized sunglasses are inexpensive – I buy them at Target for about $15. (Tip: If you wear prescription eyeglasses, you can have prescription sunglasses made with polarized lenses too.)

5. Bug Spray – I don’t know about you, but it’s always been my experience that the best birding spots are also full of mosquitoes. If you’re spending your time swatting away bugs, you’re missing out on the birds, so always keep bug spray handy in your birding kit – you never know when you might need it. I prefer natural products when possible, so I usually choose a DEET-free product like Bite Blocker. (Tip: If you’re in a tick-prone area, it might be best to choose a product that includes DEET.)

So those are my birding trip essentials. Am I forgetting something? (I always do when I pack!) Drop me a note in the comments, and help me and other birders be prepared for birding away from home!

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