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.

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Page 28 of 43

27 December 2014 | Birder's Guide to Gear portant feature on small MP3 players or iPods is the size of the screen, which must be large enough to read titles of recordings. Portable speakers to complement the playback device are a bit more cumber- some; after experimenting with many over the years, I have found extremely small speakers that are loud enough to work and compact enough to ft anywhere. Most speakers have durability issues and many get worn out over months of birding. The connecting cord is the Achilles' heel of most speakers. I recommend fortifying the chord and audio plug with electrical tape before extended use. I prefer the X-Mini II XAM4-B or the newer model X-Mini UNO XAM14-GM portable capsule speaker. These models have rechargeable batteries and USB con- nections for easy recharging, even though I rarely have to charge them. The whole setup, MP3 player and speaker, fts into the palm of my hand or my pants pocket. Picture This! Whether essential or not can be debated, but DSLR cameras and zoom lenses, no matter how one wedges them, take up considerable space in a bag. On extreme trips, like backpacking into the Darién Gap, I have even left the camera at home. I now happily carry a compact camera, which has enough fexibility to capture landscapes, companions, and a few mem- ory shots of the birds. Features on compact cameras are con- stantly improving, with many boasting 20x optical zoom or more—enough to get at least decent pictures of some of the birds along the way (photo, right). If con- ditions are not ideal for pictures, the video functions of many of the smaller models are superb and often allow captures clear enough to work out tricky identifcations later. Canon PowerShot gives good results for the price and size, plus it works well with handheld digiscoping. Digital Devices for Field Guides and Notes My opinion on tablets changed dramati - cally during a recent three-month trip involving several countries. The three feld guides and two site guides I carried weighed as much as all the other gear combined. I now consider a tablet or smartphone essential, and both of these also work as a camera and MP3 player. Many birding locations around the world now have apps that not only serve as a ba- sic feld guide, but also have recordings of the birds. If no app is available or if only a few chapters from a site guide are needed, it is possible to scan a few pages and up- load these onto the device. In addition, a digital device allows trav- elers to download a wealth of trip reports provided by fellow birders, plus collate oth- er information into easy documents with- out carrying stacks of paper. Basic country travel guides are also available digitally. Nocturnal Birding Flashlights are necessary if you plan to camp or stay in remote lodges, and they allow you to seek nocturnal birds. Search- ing for owls or nightjars is always exciting, and catching a glimpse of a Santa Marta Screech-Owl was one of the highlights for me in Colombia. Several brands of powerful-but-small LED spotlights are now available. The cost varies and depends on output. For spot- lighting animals at night, I recommend at least 100 lumens, preferably more. Brands such as Black Diamond, Petzl, and Prince- ton Tec have headlamp models with plenty of lumens for spotlighting and are versatile for other activities. I prefer small handheld spotlights and like Surefre, which is de- pendable. LED Lenser is another popular brand that offers small fashlights, which use more conventional batteries that are easier to buy overseas. To keep it all pow- ered, I use a universal charger with a USB connection. How to Pack It All? The pack itself can add considerable weight to the overall gear. Fortunately, lightweight and durable materials make luggage much lighter. The Osprey brand makes excellent bags; for maximum versatility, I use lug- gage that converts from wheeled baggage to a backpack. The bag is big enough to ft all my gear plus clothes, but small enough to carry on the airplane. Take some weight off your back and enjoy a little more free- dom to bird. Safe travels! Many models of point-and-shoot cameras offer respectable results, allowing birders to take memory pho- tos of some of the birds seen during a trip, while saving space and weight. This Black-bellied Cuckoo was photographed with a Canon PowerShot SX260 HS along the Cristalino River, Brazil. Photo © Stephan Lorenz

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