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Birdwatching Equipment That I Can Personally Recommend

Updated on September 21, 2014

My Birdwatching Equipment

As a lifelong bird watcher I have used a large number of binoculars, telescopes, cameras, identification guides and other bird watching equipment.

Although there is a lot of equipment on the market, not all of it is of the quality or convenience that can make the difference in seeing birds. Since January 2008 I have been lucky enough to be a professional bird watcher and this has led to me finding some equipment that works well and is value for money.

On this lens I present the bird watching equipment that I use all the time as well as some associated products and useful links. I hope that you can find some good recommendations for yourself or for a bird watching gift.

RSPB 10.5x42 waterproof binoculars
RSPB 10.5x42 waterproof binoculars

1. My Binoculars - The Binoculars That I Use Every Day

Over the years I have used a lot of binoculars. The best quality binoculars cost serious money, well over £1000. However, I have been using a pair of RSPB binoculars for over 5 years now that are excellent quality at a reasonable price. The pair I use (pictured) are the RSPB 10.5x42 waterproof binoculars which cost around 200 pounds sterling.

Whilst this is not a cheap pair of binoculars it is an excellent balance between price and quality - in fact they may be the best value for money binoculars available and I can frequently see details on birds using these that others cannot discern using far more expensive pairs.

These waterproof binoculars are lightweight, comfortable to handle and have high quality lenses and with the 10.5 magnification they allow birds to be viewed well at quite a distance; I can often see colour and detail that others are struggling to see with more expensive binoculars.

These are an excellent pair of binoculars at a reasonable price. They are available to buy on the RSPB's website: RSPB 10.5x42 waterproof binoculars.

Remember, when you buy RSPB binoculars any profit they make goes straight back into conservation.

Low Cost Quality Binoculars For The Beginner

Nikon 8245 ACULON A211 8x42 Binocular (Black)
Nikon 8245 ACULON A211 8x42 Binocular (Black)

This pair of Nikon 8x42 binoculars are a really good pair of binoculars for beginners and casual birders who do not want to spend lots of money.

Using higher magnification binoculars can be difficult for beginners, but the wide field of view afforded by this pair makes it easy. The lens quality of these binoculars is very good and overall these are an excellent value for money pair of binoculars for beginners and a useful spare pair for experienced birders; when I first started my binoculars were similar to these and they were ideal.

 

A selection of reviews of binoculars

Now For The Top Of The Range Binoculars

Swarovski Optik EL Swarovision Binocular, 10x42 mm
Swarovski Optik EL Swarovision Binocular, 10x42 mm

This pair of 10x42 Swarovski binoculars are generally considered to be the highest quality by bird watchers. A large number of professional birders, and bird watchers who are out in the field frequently, use these. The image quality is superb but you would expect nothing less for this price.

 

2. Bird Identification Field Guides - Identify The Birds You See

I have used many bird identification guides in a number of countries, but, in my experience, it is not always easy to get a good one. Some of the best guides that I have used are in the Helm Identification Guides series - they are usually high quality and very informative.

Here I have featured two of the best field guides that are available for North America and Europe - the two continents that are home to most of the world's active bird watchers.


The Sibley Guide to Birds
The Sibley Guide to Birds

The strength of this book is the excellent and consistent plates showing birds perched and in flight. A highly user-friendly layout makes this guide easily used in the field and its annotations make clear all the relevant field markings of each species.

 
Collins Bird Guide
Collins Bird Guide

This guide contains extremely high quality plates and accurate range maps. However, one of the best things about this book is the text which is extremely useful and does not waste words. I also like the sections that deal with identifying difficult groups of birds.

 
Great Egrets by Nick Upton
Great Egrets by Nick Upton

What Does A Professional Bird Watcher Actually Do?

I have mentioned that I am a professional bird watcher; something that I never thought I would be lucky enough to be.

Basically I take people on bird watching trips and also do some survey work. This also gives me the time to write on the internet and develop my websites.

If you would like to know what my bird watching trips are like you can take a look at these pages;

Bird Photography Tour of Thailand - A two week tour that I led in March 2013 specifically to photograph birds.

Thailand Photography Tour Of The North & Central Regions - The same trip as above but here I talk about it in more general terms with photographs of scenery and other things that we encountered.

Dartford Waffler - My blog where I write about recent birding observations.

3. MP3 Player & Speakers - Enter The Realm Of Bird Calls!

This is one piece of birdwatching equipment I neglected for many years, but one which has probably made the most difference to the number and quality of birds that I now see.

Many secretive, skulking or uncommon birds can be extremely hard to find, particularly in tropical habitats, but if I hear a species, a quick burst of call playback often brings the bird into view.

One must be cautious not to overuse this tool to prevent unnecessary disturbance to nesting or rare birds, but used sparingly it can be very effective.

This equipment is also a very handy tool in assisting in the identification of birds which can only be separated by song or call; you can use this library of calls as reference.

The Sony MP3 player (2GB version) can store a huge number of bird calls and is very small and light - excellent for use in the field and equally this small speaker system is loud but fits easily in the pocket.

I whole-heartedly recommend this set-up to those who want to use bird calls in the field.

Sony NWZ-B173F Flash MP3 Player (4GB) - Black
Sony NWZ-B173F Flash MP3 Player (4GB) - Black

This MP3 player is small, light and easy to use with one hand. For bird watchers carrying lots of equipment this little tool fits easily into any pocket and is extremely light. This gadget has 2GB of memory which enables more than 1000 bird calls can be stored which should be more than enough for any birding trip.

 
X-Mini II XAM4-B Portable Capsule Speaker, Mono, Black
X-Mini II XAM4-B Portable Capsule Speaker, Mono, Black

This speaker may look like a strange contraption but it is a great size for slipping into any pocket and it is surprisingly loud when used for bird call playback.

Some birders use large speakers but I am a fan of this little gadget which keeps the weight of my equipment down.

 

Why I Prefer The Sony MP3 Player To An iPhone

1. It is cheaper.

2. It can easily be operated with one hand leaving the other free to hold my binoculars.

3. It is light and can be allowed to drop, leaving your hands free, and it will hang on its wire rather than crash to the ground.

4. It is small and fits easily into any pocket.

Buy the Sony Walkman MP3 Player

Bird Calls

Recordings of the calls of most of the world's bird species are available for free download from xenacanto.org. Thousands of calls are available here but if you do not have time to trawl through them some collections of bird calls can be found on Amazon.com.

4. My Telescope - Viewing The Birds In Greater Detail

For the last few years I have been using an Opticron ES 80 Fieldscope. I have been very pleased with this telescope and it is good value for money, once again its performance is only slightly less than telescopes twice as expensive. I use my telescope with a 20-60x zoom eyepeice which works well but loses a little quality at the highest magnification.

It is quite a heavy and large telescope but used with a light tripod and telescope carrier I have made it a fairly light and easy to carry setup.

Telescope Carrier

One of the best pieces of kit I have is this telescope carrier. It fits onto the legs of the tripod and goes onto your back like a backpack, spreading the weight over your whole back.

Using this, the telescope setup really doesn't feel too heavy at all and it allows me to have both hands free to use my binoculars. Quite often I have had the extra seconds to view a quick-moving bird through my binoculars because my hands were free, while those with me lost time putting their telescopes down first.

Not only is this a more convenient way of carrying a telescope but it is actually better for your health as carrying a heavy telescope over one shoulder means that the weight is unequally distributed and this can lead to back problems.

It is available on the RSPB website for £59.95.

5. My Digital Camera - Canon Powershot SX 160 IS

A lightweight digital camera is an excellent addition to all birdwatchers' kit. Whilst a more expensive camera and lens are required for high quality bird photographs, a small digital camera allows birders to get record shots of unusual, rare or difficult to identify species. A compact digital camera can also be used by birdwatchers to take photos of interesting bird habitats as well as food and prey items for later identification and, of course, casual snapshots.

In fact with a little care and some time spent learning how to use your compact camera, some surprisingly good shots of birds can be obtained.

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS 16.0 MP Digital Camera (Old Model) with 16x Wide-Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom with 3.0-Inch LCD
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS 16.0 MP Digital Camera (Old Model) with 16x Wide-Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom with 3.0-Inch LCD

This is a more up-to-date version of the compact Nikon Coolpix that I use. This version has 14 megapixels, a 3.6 times zoom and a larger display screen at the back of the camera. This is a great value-for-money compact camrera which should be even better than the older version that I use.

 

Some Bird Photos Taken With The Canon Powershot SX 160 IS

When I bought this camera I intended to use it for general photography and for record shots of birds, I never thought that I would be able to get any decent quality photographs of birds with it. Well, I was wrong. Digital cameras have come a long way since I bought my last one and I have been able to use this one to get some nice bird pictures to use on my web pages.

Below are some pictures of birds that I have taken using this camera.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Himalayan BluetailLittle Ringed PloverWhite-fronted Scops OwlGrey-cheeked FulvettaJavan Pond HeronBlack-breasted Thrush (Female)Silver-eared MesiaAsian Barred OwletBarn SwallowsGarganey
Himalayan Bluetail
Himalayan Bluetail
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
White-fronted Scops Owl
White-fronted Scops Owl
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Javan Pond Heron
Javan Pond Heron
Black-breasted Thrush (Female)
Black-breasted Thrush (Female)
Silver-eared Mesia
Silver-eared Mesia
Asian Barred Owlet
Asian Barred Owlet
Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows
Garganey
Garganey

What Was The Last Item Of Birdwatching Equipment That You Bought?

What was the last item of birdwatching equipment you bought?

See results

101 Ways To Help Birds - A Great Book That Helps Birdwatchers Help Birds

101 Ways To Help Birds
101 Ways To Help Birds

All birders and birdwatchers can learn how to help birds with this excellent book. This book is packed full of ideas, both simple and complex, on how bird-lovers can change their behaviour to reduce their impact upon birds and to help them in more immediate ways. A very useful book for bird lovers and conservationists in general.

 
Bar-backed Partridge
Bar-backed Partridge

Some Useful Birdwatching Websites That I Visit

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - Saving threatened birds and other wildlife in the UK and overseas.

National Audubon Society - Bird conservation and ornithological studies across North America.

Fat Birder - Bird Watching resources for around the world.

Surfbirds - The world bird watching website.

Birdlife International - Conserving birds around the world; working together for birds and people.

Thaibirding.com - Birdwatching in Thailand (It's my website, I am bound to link to it).

Consider Joining A Bird Conservation Society

Being a member of a bird conservation society is a great way to contribute to bird conservation and the bulletins and magazines that go with membership are a great source of information.

I am a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Oriental Bird Club and The Bird Conservation Society of Thailand.

The RSPB is one of the most proactive and well-respected conservation bodies in the world. I have been a member for many years and receive four really interesting magazines a year and get free entry into all the RSPB's reserves. Anyone interested in birds in Britain really should be a member and support this organisation's excellent conservation work.

In the United Stated the National Audubon Society is one of the world's leading bird conservation organisations. All US birders should have membership to this very forward-thinking society.

Readers from other countries can get similar benefits from their local Birdlife International Partner; a full list can be found here: Birdlife International Partners.

Great Gifts for Bird Lovers
Great Gifts for Bird Lovers

Great Gifts For Bird Lovers - A Selection Of Bird Themed Gifts

It can be tough finding good gifts to buy for family and friends for Christmas, birthdays or to say thanks; people often have more stuff than they really need with the internet making it so easy to get cheap goods with just a few clicks of a computer keyboard. However, buying gifts for bird lovers can really be quite simple as there are loads of bird-themed products available to buy. Bird feeders, bird books, posters featuring birds, DVDs, bird-themed games and so much more is available for you bird-loving friend or family member.

Check out these Great Gifts For Bird Lovers.

Great Bird-related Books - I Can Personally Recommend These Too

None of these books are field guides to birds, they are all books that deal with bird ecology and bird watching. I have read all of these books and enjoyed them a lot - I recommend all of them.

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior
The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior

This is one of the most interesting and readable books on bird ecology available. Based on American species this uses a very readable style to convey all aspects of bird behaviour.

 
The Life of Birds
The Life of Birds

The Life of Birds is the book based on the superb BBC series of the same name. With themed chapters dealing with various aspects of bird evolution and ecology it is illustrated with photographs from the series.

 
The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

The Big Year is a well-known book that recounts the adventures of three obsessive bird watchers all engaged in a big year - seeing as many birds in one year as possible. It is fun.

 
Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide
Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide

Bird is a wonderful coffee-table type book that is full of fantastic photos and interesting information; it is easy to pick up this book and get lost in it.

 
Birding on Borrowed Time
Birding on Borrowed Time

Birding on Borrowed Time is the famous story of Phoebe Snetsinger, diagnosed with terminal cancer, who decides to try and see all the birds in the world. Her adventures are interesting and quite amazing.

 

I Hope You Found My Birdwatching Equipment Recommendations Useful

Marsh Sandpiper by Nick Upton
Marsh Sandpiper by Nick Upton

Let me know which birdwatching equipment you can personally recommend. Comments about this lens are also welcome.

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    • Socialpro54 LM profile image

      Socialpro54 LM 4 years ago

      nice lens...

    • nickupton lm profile image
      Author

      nickupton lm 4 years ago

      @lionmom100: Yes, there are so many good bird books out there I find myself buying lots of them too. Finding the time to take them all in is the problem!

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      I find myself buying bird manuals or foldouts whenever I go on vacation to try to identify birds in that area. Not to mention the myriad of books I have for my home area.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 4 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've been watching birds since I was a small child, too. This is a great list of equipment - I don't really have anything to add, except maybe things to attract them to your own garden.

    • Jasonsuffolk profile image

      Jasonsuffolk 4 years ago from Ipswich, England

      As a fellow birdwatcher. I really enjoyed this lens. I totally agree that you do not have to spend a fortune to get a highly effective pair of binoculars. The most important thing is to just get hold of a pair. Almost any pair of binoculars will make birdwatching much more enjoyable.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you for your useful sharing. I love birds and I have been birding and started birding guide 2011. I have very much similar what you explain except the players. I know that it will help to spot some species but same time I don't feel comfortable to use it as they should be nature and shouldn't disturb them. Anyway my birding specialized in mountain birds of Nepal. those interested can join with me.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      I think I would like to try birdwatching!

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      I mainly just use my plain sight. Having a pair of binoculars really helps because you get decent zoom and it's easy to carry around. With a telescope I'd hate setting it up.

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      larry61 6 years ago

      I have a broken ankle right now so being out in the bush is impossible. What has been great is my feeders and heated bird bath at home which have brought the birds to me.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 7 years ago from Vermont

      I love watching the birds and I enjoy taking bird photographs all year long. I hope to invest in a BirdCam for home and a better set of binoculars for my birdwatching vacation this year.

    • nickupton lm profile image
      Author

      nickupton lm 7 years ago

      You would. I don't record my own calls, just use prerecorded ones so I can't say how good this equipment is for making the recordings.[in reply to Scott]

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      Do you need a microphone for recording the bird calls with this MP3 model?

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Nice lens with useful information.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thanks for the ideas, I am looking for a present for my bird watching husband and the mp3/speaker idea is great.