Monday, December 14, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things

Arizona Sister. Photo by Steve Cary

‘Tis the Season! Black Friday notwithstanding, seasonal holiday gifts will soon be on the minds of most of us. If you are one of the many with a birder or bird lover in the family, gift buying for such a specialized interest might present a substantial challenge: trying to find something meaningful and affordable that the recipient doesn’t already own. Being of the bird-watching type myself, I’ve found a few “can’t live without” essentials that are now part of mountain of gear the HAS to live with me, just in case I might need it.

The most exciting new-to-me birding toy is iBird Explorer Pro. This nifty app for the iPhone/iPod touch is a field guide that references 891 species of birds found in North America. In addition to photographs, illustrations, range maps and habitats, it also includes songs and some calls for each species. Having access to the vocalizations is unbelievably helpful even for experienced birders when puzzling over a heard-only bird. The database is searchable in a variety of ways that help to narrow down choices for identification. At only $30.00, it is highly affordable and amazingly portable. I take it with me on all my surveys; however, being a responsible birder, I do not use it to try to call birds in for closer observation which often can disturb nesting birds that are responding to what they view as an intruder in their territory.

All that is affordable about iBird Explorer Pro is offset; however, by the need to also own an iPhone or and iPod. I opted for an iPod touch, with full video capacity, setting me back about $225. Still, I think the investment is well worth the cost.

Most birders have a fascination with all things in nature, particularly things with wings, namely bats, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. Steve Cary, lead naturalist for New Mexico State Parks, has spent 18 years gathering photographs and life history information for his new book, “Butterfly Landscapes of New Mexico”. This positively gorgeous book is a readable, illustrated guide, not only to the butterflies, but also to the specific landscapes that support them throughout the state. Did you know that New Mexico has one of the highest number of butterfly species among the states because of its diverse habitats? Naturalists have identified 103 species of butterflies and skippers in the Los Alamos area, and over 150 in the Jemez Mountains. At only $18.45 (, no home should be without this book.

Digiscoping, a relatively new word in the vocabulary of this birder, has become the latest rage among photography buffs. Simply stated, it means placing your digital camera up to a spotting scope to magnify your image 40-60 times in order to photograph birds or other animals that are too distant to otherwise capture in image. At prices ranging from $49.99 and up (, I found the Vortex Universal 28-45mm Small Digital Camera Adapter to be the entry level adaptor for securely attaching a camera to your spotting scope.
This camera adapter will attach most 3-4x optical zoom digital cameras to a wide variety of spotting scopes and fits on spotting scope eyepieces with an outside diameter of 28mm to 45mm

Another treat in the wildlife watching department are the motion detection cameras that can be set up near a feeder or water source that are triggered by the animals that visit, a great way to observe natural behaviors of wild animals. I know of one such camera that captured a whole flock of Pinyon Jays taking a bath, a badger that stopped for a drink, and a pair of foxes in addition to countless songbirds. I found the 5.0 Megapixel Digital Motion-detection Camera for $99.95 ( Triggered by heat and movement, these simplified all-weather cameras take multiple images to capture backyard wildlife action. This particular camera will run for 21 days of continuous operation on one set of batteries. There also are many other brands of motion detection cameras; however this is the least expensive that I found.

For the young birder in the family, one of the best books to come along is “Raptor! A kid’s guide to birds of prey”, by Christyna M. and Rene Laubauch and Charles W.G. Smith. This beautiful book is among the best raptor guides for young and old alike. The richly illustrated digest covers topics ranging from anatomy, behavior and habitat -- to binoculars, migration, bird watching and simple ecology. The text is so concise and balanced that the book will be as fascinating to adults as it is to younger audiences. It is a must for the family library, and a treasure trove for visual learners. ($10.17 at

With the wide array of birding equipment, books and other specialty items, the most difficult part of writing this annual installment of my column is deciding just which items to include. In my next column, we’ll look at a few of the favorite things of wild birds. I am positively itching to begin conducting some experiments to see what the birds at my place prefer!