Here are a number of items you might want to bring with you on a birdwatching trip. They have nothing to do with finding or identifying birds but everything to do with making your day safer or just more pleasant.
An essential piece of equipment no matter how experienced you are or where you plan to go birding. Birdwatching trips always last longer than you planned, even the lunch-time forays at the local park.
There is no need to pack an exquisite, four course lunch in a proper picnic basket just to do some birdwatching, but a few munchies during the day can make a huge difference, especially if you’re bushwhacking or just covering a lot of territory on your feet.
The best time of year for birding is also the best time of year to get swarmed by clouds of biting insects; mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, the list of annoying bugs is pretty long. Insect repellent can mean the difference between having an enjoyable trip despite the annoying bugs or having to abandon the trip because of the annoying (and biting and stinging) bugs. And even if you haven’t had to use the bug repellent the last nine trips, it’s the one trip were you really need it that makes it worthwhile to carry all the time.
Getting caught out on a birding trip after the sun has gone down is not only a possibility, it is essentially a rite of passage. It happens to everybody at some point. Stumbling around in the dark is not so bad once you’re back at the car (and you can turn on the car’s interior light) but if you’re still out on the trail, or standing in the middle of the forest, this is when you discover how dark night-time can be outside of the city.
A small flashlight (with two AA batteries) is lightweight, portable, quite bright and can slip into a coat pocket or daypack. Sure, it may get in the way on the 28 or so trips where you never need it but it can be a real godsend on that one trip when you can’t see the branches in front of your face.
Sometimes the best birding spots are “off the map”, so to speak. But this generally means off the usual road map that everyone uses. For really getting away from towns, highways and other non-natural areas, a good map is indispensable. Topographic maps are very good for both driving and walking through an area but they do require some skill in being able to read them. County road maps are often very useful as they will show all of the roads (including the obscure back roads that are often great for finding good birding spots) but also the main landscape features, especially waterbodies.
These days, it is not only easy to obtain a wide variety of paper maps but also digital maps as well. So if you normally travel with a blackberry or laptop, digital maps may be the way to go.
These can be useful for maintaining balance while going up or down rough, steep terrain. They can also be used to help push branches and bushes out of your way when going through thick vegetation. They can even be used (if they are light enough) to cut a trail through the millions of cobwebs that appear overnight across the trail (if you’re like many people and hate the feeling of spider silk all over your face).
However, a nice benefit about which most people are unaware is that carrying a walking staff (or hiking pole) can actually help you walk farther. Field trials carried out in the United States have found that the act of moving your arms in a rhythmic forward-and-back motion while hiking actually helps you to move more efficiently such that hikers are able to travel 20% further during a day while expending the same amount of energy.
Now, these experiments were carried out on hikers who were doing just that – hiking. Birdwatching is more of a leisurely amble than a hike. But if you plan on doing any real walking to and from a birding spot, a hiking pole (or one for each hand) can be a real asset.
Birding on a bright, sunny day can be hard on the eyes, especially if you are watching hawks in the bright sky, or waterfowl on the bright water. Sunglasses can also lessen eye strain on longer birdwatching days.
Another one of those items that take up space and are a pain to carry. Just try to remember that the next time you are an hour’s walk away from the car and those dark clouds open up on you.