In all the talk of the birds we see and places we go it seems that one essential aspect of birding is often left out, to the detriment of those who might be trying to picture us birders out in the field. That aspect is what it is we carry on our walks and strolls, excursions and expeditions. Of course, what we carry varies from trip to trip, and season to season, but the core equipment remain the same.

What I wear does not vary too much, except seasonally. A sturdy pair of sneakers take care of my feet most of the year with a switchover to boots for bad weather or winter. Likewise, my socks get thicker and longer the colder the weather gets. If it is hot out and I am going to be on well-maintained trails without lots of bugs I wear a pair of cargo shorts with lots of pockets but if it is cold, or the grass is high, or the bugs are bad I switch over to many-pocketed cargo pants. If it is very cold I will have long underwear underneath, and maybe an extra pair of socks.

Typically to cover my torso I will have an undershirt and a Hawaiian-style shirt, but in earth tones. I prefer the ones with a pocket on each breast. Again, in colder weather I switch off to the long-sleeve, heavy-duty, L.L. Bean-made, lumberjack-looking shirts that are so comfortable I feel like I could sleep in them. On my head is one of my faded St. Louis Cardinals baseball caps or a winter hat, again, depending on how cold it is.

That covers the clothes but what am I carrying in all of those pockets? Well, since I learned my lesson the hard way I have pen and paper for taking notes, usually in the lower right front pocket on my shorts/pants. If I am on an extended birding outing a checklist joins the pen and paper so I don’t forget what I saw. In the pocket above that sits my wallet and keys. In the lower-left pocket a field guide sometimes sits, especially if it is autumn and I am looking at confusing fall warblers or if I am chasing after shorebirds. My other left-side pocket will contain gum and granola bars or some other snack. A water bottle is stuffed into one of my back pockets, which is a pain when I want to sit down, but hey, you gotta stay hydrated, right? The two pockets on my shirt contain a lighter and cigarettes (I know, I know) and my cell phone which is set to vibrate mode. The cigarettes that I smoke in the field are field-stripped and the butts placed in my empty back pocket to be properly disposed of, unless I forget, in which case they end up in the wash.

I wear my binoculars around my neck and my camera over my right shoulder. The binoculars are 10X40 Nikon Monarchs and the camera is a Canon EOS 20D with a 100mm Macro lens affixed. Sometimes my lens cap is in my pocket and sometimes it is on the lens.

Since I moved to New York I am much more likely to carry a backpack which contains all of the aforementioned birding gear plus a few items of clothing, more food, more water, and whatever else I think I might need. Now that I don’t have the advantage of a car to leave my gear in and go back to if I forget something in the field I have to plan more carefully to make sure that everything I might need for a full day’s excursion is in my bag. Trust me, you don’t want to be over an hour by public transport away from home and realize you have no way to clean off your camera lens other than the T-shirt you are wearing!

What do you carry when birding?

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.