Birder's Guide

DEC 2014

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: http://bg.aba.org/i/425921

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26 Birder's Guide to Gear | December 2014 Travel Light extra changes of clothes. Over the years, I have whittled down the amount of bird- ing equipment and minimized the size and weight of the basics I carry. Alan Knue provided a great primer in his excellent article, "Packing 411 for Birders" (Birder's Guide to Travel, August 2013), offering general tips on what to leave at home and what to store in car- ry-on luggage and checked baggage. He added a useful packing list. In this arti- cle, I will share what I have learned during the past 10 years of traveling on a tight budget and sometimes in tight quarters. My goal is to help readers shave a few extra pounds off their bird- ing equipment. I realize that jumping on and off Central American "chicken" buses, riding tuk-tuks in Southeast Asia, or taking unreliable local ferries in the Galápagos is not everybody's cup of tea. But I think my tips on equipment, in - cluding a few specifc examples of brands and models I use, can apply to any trip. This is not an exhaustive product review or comparison, but it's a good start. I en- courage you to research products to fnd the best ft in terms of price and personal preference. Essential birding gear is surprisingly spartan, including only a quality bin- ocular, a feld guide, playback equip - ment, and a fashlight. Spotting scope and camera are optional. The rest of my backpack is flled with clothes, depending on destination, and a few extras. If something does not pack, I can wear it or worry about it on arrival. The Essential Binocular A good binocular is the most basic tool for every birder. Although I travel light, I don't scrimp on weight and size here. See Ben Lizdas's "Binocular 101" article (Birder's Guide to Gear, December 2013) for a solid summary of binocular features. I prefer 10x42 models, as these offer maximum usable magnifcation, light, and—most important—versatility. The extra bit of magnifcation compared to 8x may be just enough to spy that critical feld mark. You may be caught out on a mudfat or doing some unexpected seabirding, and a scope may not be available. Good-quality 10x42 binoculars al - low enough light and close focus even for close-quarter birding in South American and Asian rainforests. Nearly every binoc- ular brand offers a versatile 10x42 model; it just comes down to price and preference. At the high end, birders cannot go wrong with Swarovski, Zeiss, or Leica. More- affordable quality brands include Eagle Optics, Vortex, Minox, and Celestron; the latter offers excellent lightweight models. The Scope. Yes or No? To scope or not to scope: That is the ques- tion. Some may be shocked, but I have left the scope at home on more than one trip. Lack of a scope negates several pos- sibilities, like digiscoping and getting that feather-by-feather view of a long-awaited lifer, but it has often been worth saving space and weight. If I expect to use the scope rarely, I have found an odd middle ground and just packed the scope without a tripod. Yes, with some practice it is pos- sible to hand-hold a scope (easier with a fxed wide-angle lens) or to prop it against something stable. That often works just enough to verify identifcation of distant birds. If a scope is absolutely nec- essary, I recommend a compact to mid-size model with a carbon- fber travel tripod. This combi- nation can be surprisingly light- weight and packs down small. Calls and Songs? Another essential tool, especially if birders are seeking secretive spe- cies, is basic playback equipment. Opinions on the use of playback vary widely, and I am neither condoning nor condemning it, but certain species of birds are next to impossible to see without judicious use of playback. Tap- aculos, those feathered sprites of bamboo-choked cloudforest, are a great example. Broadcasting a few snippets of song while I stood at the road verge high in the Santa Marta Mountains, an endemic Brown-rumped Tapaculo emerged just long enough for a good view before it slipped back into dense bamboo. Playback equipment has become very small, with thumb-sized MP3 players hav- ing more memory than needed. I prefer SanDisk, which has proven reliable, but many birders prefer iPods and any of the smaller models will work. The most im- Binocular, MP3 player, mini speaker, spotlight, and tablet for feld guides and trip reports. Ready to go birding—nothing else needed! Photo © Stephan Lorenz

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