15 December 2009


I've been an avid birder (not "bird watcher") for 40 years, though I haven't been very active in the past 5 years. during that time my life list of confirmed species sightings reached a modest but yeomanly 350 species in 46 states and northern mexico.

The birding community is remarkably diverse and welcoming. Whether exploring solo, or as part of an organized field trip, fellow birders are friendly and willing to share local sightings and personal experience. To test the waters, all one need do is enroll in an adult evening class.

A tip on optics -- you get what you pay for. Buy the best quality binoculars and spotting scopes that you can afford. Apparent deals on lesser quality brands, or items on sale, will usually yield a very disappointing visual experience. Modern optics and lens coatings provide sensational viewing, so don't stint on quality.

Here is an important guideline when comparing binoculars in particular. The viewing capability is expressed in two numbers joined by the letter "x", e.g., 7x35, 8x40, 10x50. In each pair, the first number is the degree of magnification, and the second number is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. So for a pair of 7x35 binoculars (the most useful size for a beginner), an object will appear to be 7 times larger than when viewed by the naked eye, and the objective lense is 35mm.

Note that in each example, the first number divided into the second number yields 5. This ratio is something to look for, as it produces the best balance of field of view (the width of the scene through the lens) and light-gathering capability. A pair of 8x20 binoculars will have slightly better magnification, but poorer light-gathering ability. Hence 8x40s are preferable.

Note also that the greater the magnification, the larger and heavier the binoculars. Over long periods of viewing, it becomes harder to hold them steady. Also, greater magnification means a narrower field of view for spotting birds on the move. The best approach is to try several different sizes, at a retail outlet or through friends, and decide which is right for you. I used 7x35s for many years, currently have 10x50s, but believe that for me, 8x40s are probably the best combination.

As for spotting scopes (mounted on tripods), the standard seems to be 20 power (20x). I've never owned a spotting scope, but know from group trips that they can be most useful in locating a bird, then allowing multiple birders to see it.

Following are a few online resources on bird sightings and other discussions ....

The latter two in particular are personal favorites, which does not detract from the utility of other sites. We all have our biases.

There is also a plethora of sites which deal in bird houses, feeders and such. Google the product you're seeking, and have fun !!

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