Birder's Guide

DEC 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 39 of 51

Warming Up to Winter Birding a possibility, but synthetics will have to be washed again after an additional use or two, unless you don't mind stinking up the birding vehicle. A comfortable and effective alternative to synthetics as a base layer is Merino wool. Although more expensive, Merino wool can improve the quality and enjoyment of your winter birding experience. I have found Merino wool to be a miracle material for cold-weather birding. Unlike synthetics, Merino wool breathes incredibly well and naturally resists odors. No fancy coating or chemicals are applied to the wool; the wool itself keeps odors at bay. While camping for several weeks in northern Minnesota, I have worn long underwear and socks made of pure Merino wool and returned to my bird nerd house with odorless socks and long underwear. Because of Merino wool's breathable properties, you stay dry and comfortable, even when the air is clammy. My favorite brand of Merino wool clothing is Icebreaker, a company based in New Zealand. Icebreaker's apparel lasts a long time and is incredibly comfortable and useful for trekking outdoors, especially on the coldest days. Merino wool comes from the Merino sheep, found in the Alps of New Zealand. Icebreaker makes a variety of layers, both thick and thin, for varying temperatures. Insulating Layers: Cotton and Fleece layer should be made of materials that trap a lot of air. Heavy cotton hoodies are great at breaking any breeze that might shoot through the jacket, and hoodies trap a lot of air to keep you warm. The problem with cotton is that if it gets wet, it often stays wet and chills you to the bone. Next time you dry your clothes in the dryer, notice how slow a cotton hoodie dries compared to a feece shirt. During my frst year of count interpreting at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, I was unfamiliar with effective layering techniques for staying warm. "Epic" can hardly begin to describe a dozen Northern Goshawks ripping through the sky overhead, but I often felt very cold. Layering up with cotton shirt after cotton shirt (two sweatshirts under a cotton hoodie) kept me warm at frst, but by midday my upper torso got chilled. After I learned about layering with different clothing materials, my future experiences of cold weather birding changed. Staying dry helps keep you warm. Fleece is an excellent layer to put over long underwear. It traps air, breathes well (does not get clammy), and is very compressible, should you be traveling with limited space. I have been impressed by feece made by Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI), and wear it regularly. REI offers a wide variety of outdoor gear for year-round outdoor activities and sells many higher-end brands of clothing to keep you warm and dry. REI has its own line of clothing, comparable to the higher-end brands but sold at a fraction of the price. I only own one feece The insulating layers are placed on top of the base layer. The base layer keeps you comfortable and dry and adds a little bit of insulation, but the bulk of the insulation comes with the upcoming layers. A chickadee surviving brisk mid-winter days does not stay warm by relaxing the feathers. It's all about fuffng the feathers and trapping air, which in turn traps the heat created by the little bird's intense metabolism. The layers that go on top of the base Photo by © Bill Schmoker 38 Birder's Guide to Gear | December 2013 (an REI feece), which was given to me in 2003. I have worn this feece on most of my fall/winter/spring birding adventures since then, and it is still going strong. REI's feeces have a very comfortable cut and move without feeling baggy or giving a sense of resistance. Keeping Fingers Warm Once the late October winds and furries come through northern Minnesota, and continue to build as the winter months progress, there is a layering trick for keeping the fngers warm. Thin feece or windbreaking gloves can provide a bit of insulation, and having them under a nice set of choppers can make all the difference. Many choppers (leather mittens) have a lining of wool throughout their inner profle to keep your fngers warm. Choppers can be found at many locally-owned outdoor gear stores, and come in a wide variety of brands (often locally-sourced, from what I have seen throughout the upper Midwest). Mittens overall are great for keeping the fngers warm, because the fngers are kept close together. When the temperatures really plunge, the separate inner linings can make an impressive difference compared to mittens alone. Another great advantage of wearing slightly oversized mittens with gloves underneath is that you're only a split second away from peeling off your mittens and having your fnger ready to hit the trigger to photograph the elusive Great Gray Owl as it fies past, or to focus the scope on that distant Iceland Gull approaching over the icy waters. REI makes gloves of various thicknesses and functionalities. Just like the higherend brands, REI offers good-quality gloves at a fraction of the higherend brand price. Note that these gloves alone aren't suitable for the coldest conditions. Keeping Feet Warm Winter birding tests the warmest boots and socks. There are few things more frustrating than watching a Northern Hawk Owl sailing

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Birder's Guide - DEC 2013