Birder's Guide

NOV 2017

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 31 of 51

n Proper footwear is important for the author on his frequent hikes across the alpine terrain of Colorado. Photo © Raymond VanBuskirk n A standard choice for many birding opportunities, synthetic hiking boots can generally be spotted on any local field trip or rarity stakeout. Photo © Marcel Such Footwear 30 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2017 than standard hiking boots, keeping snow out and some measure of heat in. In choosing shoes of this type, care- fully evaluate their comfort and warmth. Combining a nice, thick pair of boots with a thick pair of wool socks can be a life saver if you are sitting still in a cold blind or hunkered down on the side of a snow-blown road striving for that per- fect Snowy Owl photograph. On occasion, we are driven to traipse through standing water and marshland in search of rails and other marsh birds or even just to get from one point to an- other. Muck boots and hip waders are the key tools for making such an en- deavour more enjoyable. The key is to find a comfortable boot that is totally waterproof and exceeds the height of the water that you will be wading through. Muck boots even come in handy in tall wet grass, which can totally soak any other water-resistant shoe. Another option for dealing with wet grass is to wear a pair of gaiters. These Gore-Tex ® (or similar material) leggings supplement any pair of shoes with ad- ditional waterproofing and protection against plants. With this addition, bird - ers can not only improve their comfort in the field but also experience an ex- tra measure of post-birding relief when they do not have to pick hundreds of seed heads and burrs out of their socks. The Final Thread Any discussion about footwear is incom- plete without some discussion about the thin bit of fabric that goes between your foot and your shoe. Regardless of the quality or comfort of your chosen foot - wear, a poor choice in socks can easily leave you blistered, cold, and miserable. As a rule, cotton is not a great op- tion. Never wear cotton… ever. While cotton socks may be standard for many people due to their relative affordability and availability, investing in a few pairs of higher-quality socks is well worth the extra expense. Material is the key factor to consider, with synthetic materials and wool being the key players. I prefer a synthetic sock (generally a blend of polyester and spandex) for most short birding outings, due to their relative cheapness and convenience. But nothing beats wool on a cold or wet morning of birding. Wool is hands down the best material to keep your feet at a happy ther- mal medium, regardless of heat, cold, or dampness. Even the rough scratchiness that we generally associate with wool is not necessary anymore. Brands such as Smartwool ® and Darn Tough Vermont ® sell incredibly comfortable and durable Merino wool-blend socks that will keep you comfortable and blister-free through nearly all conditions. Caretaking Ensuring that your shoes hold together and take care of you for as long as pos - sible may require a bit of extra effort. If you get your shoes wet, it is important to dry them as quickly as possible to pre - vent the formation of mildew, unpleasant odors, and actual damage to the shoe's integrity. However, using a clothes dryer or hair dryer is generally inadvisable, as the extra heat can damage or shrink your shoes. Instead, remove the insert and then stuff the inside of your shoe with dry newspaper and leave it to dry over- night. By morning, your shoes should be ready to go birding all over again! Also, for the sake of foot health, it is important not to wear your shoes be- yond their functional lifespan. For the typical distances most birders put in Continued on page 32

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