My Birding Equipment

When I first started birding, I didn’t have any equipment at all, other than some not-very-good binoculars my father had. But slowly I started getting some items as presents, and lately have been saving money from selling eggs and my 4H steers for what I know I would like and could use.

You can either go all out with top-of-the-line equipment, and lots of it, or just have basic binoculars, a camera, and a field guide. I’m probably somewhere in the middle, with a basic older pair of binoculars and a couple of pretty basic cameras, but a Swarovski scope.

My binoculars are Nikon 8×42 Monarchs given to me by my grandfather in 2009 when I started birding. One of the eye-cups has broken since, but I’m used to it so it doesn’t affect my viewing. My most used field guide is the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. I’ve used it so much that it’s held together with clear packing tape. The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds, which I won a copy of last summer, is also very good and helpful when I’m trying to figure out the age of raptors. I can’t wait until the Western Birds edition is out.

I have two cameras, both Canon Powershots. One, which was my grandfather’s (I think he bought it in 2008), is a Canon Powershot SX10IS 10MP Digital Camera. It takes quite good pictures on auto, though I’m trying to learn more about manual; I find the auto setting easier and am having trouble with the white balance. The other is a Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS, which is very good, takes excellent close-ups, and is good for my digiscoping. I started wring this post before I interviewed birder and photographer, Mia McPherson. In her interview, she gave some great suggestions for beginning photographers and I need to put her advice to use and get to know my equipment better.

A Carolina Wren at the Long Point Bird Observatory, taken with the ELPH100 HS,


The most recent addition to my equipment is my spotting scope, which we bought in May and which I finally repaid my parents for at Christmas. My scope is a Swarovski ATM 80 with a 20-60 zoom eyepiece and the tripod is a Manfrotto 190 with 128RC head. I bought it from Pelee Wings which had a great price and wonderful service. If you have the money to spare, I definitely recommend buying a Swarovski. The clarity is excellent, and it’s a very well made scope. My scope isn’t getting much use this winter because in northern Alberta there are no open ponds, lakes, or sloughs in winter, but I used it a great deal from late May until November, and even took it to Long Point with me. I can’t wait to use my scope this coming spring and will take it with me every time I go out.

Now that I have a scope, I’m learning about digiscoping. Right now, I’m hand-holding or using a homemade adapter with my ELPH100 HS, but getting the camera so it’s centered is a little tricky, so I need to practice more. An adapter would make taking photos much easier. The set-up I would like is the Swarovski digital camera adapter and the Vortex PS-100 point-and-shoot attachment. The adapter is a little pricy, so I’ll just have to wait until I’ve saved up some more. Until then, hand-holding and using the home-made adapter works well.


If you are especially happy with something you use for birding, whether it’s a field guide or some equipment, please mention it in the comments below. Thank you!

Birding News #6

:: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating weeks earlier in the decades past.

:: Ziplines are not good for migrating and nesting birds in the Creve Coeur Park in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

:: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created a website just for the Birds of Paradise project.

:: Columbia University neuroscientist Sarah Woolley is studying the parallels between the brains of humans and songbirds and how they use language or song, in the hope that this research will one day help with information about developmental diseases.

:: Ravens and crows do not appreciate unfairness.

Great posts in birding blogs this week:

From Dan Arndt, beat writer, at Bird Canada: The Great Horned Owls of Sikome Lake

From the ABA blog: An Interview with 2013 ABA bird of the year artist, Andrew Guttenberg

From The Birdist: An Interview with Photographer Todd Forsgren

An Interview with Photographer/Birder Mia McPherson

I learned about Mia McPherson when she became one of the regular bloggers for the multi-author blog Birding Is Fun last summer. I’ve been following her blog ever since and marveling at her photos. Mia is a fabulous photographer and is currently photographing wildlife in northern Utah. She writes and displays her photos on her blog, On the Wing Photography.

I really enjoy her photography and wanted to interview her for my blog. Here is that interview along with some of Mia’s wonderful pictures.

PB:  First, tell me a little about yourself. For example, where are you from, and tell us a bit about your work. 

me-flaming-gorge-9123Mia: I have traveled all of my life and because I have I don’t claim to be from any one place, I love to immerse myself in nature wherever I am and that can be found anywhere on the planet. I have worn many hats as far as work goes but my favorite profession is being a bird, wildlife, and nature photographer, it suits me perfectly.

PB: How and when did you first become interested in photography/birding?

Mia: I’ve been interested in birds as long as I can remember and while living in Florida I became addicted to photographing them.

Monarch Butterfly feeding from a Showy Milkweed, Antelope Island, Garr Ranch, Utah

Monarch Butterfly feeding from a Showy Milkweed, Antelope Island, Garr Ranch, Utah. Photograph by Mia McPherson/On The Wing Photography

PB: What photography equipment do you use?

Mia: I use Nikon gear, my primary bird and wildlife set up is a D300 with a Nikkor 200-400mm VR f4 lens with a 1.4x TC attached most of the time. I have two Nikon D200s that I use for backup bodies and they generally have a wide angle zoom lens attached so I can easily take close ups and landscape images.

Bald Eagle landing on the  Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Utah

Bald Eagle landing on the Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Utah. Photograph by Mia McPherson/On The Wing Photography

PB: Is there a bird on your wish list or a “nemesis bird” you would really love to see or photograph?

Mia: I would love to see and photograph a Snowy Owl because they are so beautiful and I have a deep fondness for owls.

PB: Any tips for new nature photographers or bird photographers?

Mia: My tips for those who are just starting out in or nature photography are:

* Get to know your gear intimately, know its strengths and weaknesses and learn which setting you need in every different situation.

* Practice, practice, and practice some more.

* Get to know your subjects, their behaviors and you’ll be able to anticipate their actions which can lead to great poses.

* And always practice strong wildlife ethics in the field so wildlife isn’t disturbed unnecessarily, this is especially true for nesting birds, chicks or other wildlife with young.

PB: What is you most memorable birding experience?

Mia: I have had so many memorable experiences while photographing birds that it is quite a challenge to pick just one! I think one of the most amazing for me though took place on Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach in Florida one morning while I was photographing a Great Blue Heron perched on a snag. In the distance I caught sight of a bird hovering over the mangroves to the east, I took some rather cruddy images of that bird which turned out to be a White-tailed Kite, a species which had not been seen in that county in 98 years!

A Great Blue Heron at Fort De Soto County Park, Pinellas County, Florida

A Great Blue Heron at Fort De Soto County Park, Pinellas County, Florida. Photograph by Mia McPherson/On The Wing Photography

PB: What new species are you hoping to photograph/see this year?

Mia: I would love to photograph Saw-whet Owls this year, they are tiny and gorgeous owls.

PB: What is your favorite to photograph, mammals or birds?

Mia: My passion has its roots in bird photography because they are a challenge to photograph and I enjoy observing them and learning more about each species habits, behaviors and the habitats that they live in.

Coyote in the Snow at  Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Coyote in the Snow at Antelope Island State Park, Utah. Photograph by Mia McPherson/On The Wing Photography

PB: Where is your favorite place to photograph wildlife?

Mia: That would have to be Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Montana. The Centennial Valley has marshes, lakes, grasslands and even sand dunes. On south side of the valley there are the Centennial Mountains with forests and alpine meadows. There is a wide variety of birds and mammals that inhabit the refuge and each day that I spend there is truly a delight.

PB:  I really enjoy your blog and the photos you post on it. What made you start On the Wing Photography? 

Mia: I started On The Wing Photography because I wanted more than just photo galleries, I wanted to be able to share my experiences and observations in nature, the stories behind my images and I also wanted help others who are interested in photography by explaining ethics, techniques and the challenges of being a bird, nature and wildlife photographer.

Juvenile Burrowing Owl stretching at Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Juvenile Burrowing Owl stretching at Antelope Island State Park, Utah. Photograph by Mia McPherson/On The Wing Photography


Thank you for the interview, Mia, as well for letting me post some of your exquisite photographs. Again, I highly recommend visiting Mia’s blog, On the Wing Photography for the excellent content and the superb photographs!

Baillie Birdathon 2013

Yesterday I signed up for my second Baillie Birdathon. The Baillie Birdathon, hosted by Bird Studies Canada, is the oldest sponsored bird count in North America.

I hope to see at least 80 species, last year I was very close with 79! Again, I’ll be a team of one and hope to make the best of the 24 hours. Here are my results from last year. You can choose any day in May to do the Birdathon, last year I counted on the 30th and 31st. I will probably count on the same days, because in northern Alberta in May, spring migration is still underway for some species.

Since I am a team of just one, my goal is to raise $500, and I’ve earmarked half of the money I raise to go to my local naturalist society, the Vermilion River Naturalist Society in Alberta, to help pay for programs and lectures.

Half of the money raised goes to BSC and the other half to whichever group is designated. If you would like to sponsor me, you can visit my team page. I would be very happy to reach my goal for my second Baillie Birdathon. Last year my goal was $250 and I was so happy and delighted to raise $830 for the Long Point Bird Observatory. A huge thank you again to everyone who supported me and made donations.

An American Wigeon from my Birdathon last year,


Posting over at the Eyrie

My first post for the American Birding Association’s young birder blog, the Eyrie, was posted today, on making plans for summer camps and workshops. I had meant to mention this here earlier today, but I’ve been away from home and the computer all day. It’s Family Day here in Alberta so my brothers, dad, uncle and, I went ice fishing!