Preparing and Packing for a Birding Trip

I’ve been in Ontario for a few days already, visiting my aunt before heading to Long Point on the 14th, and before I left I made sure I had everything I needed for my trip. I had to keep in mind that I will probably be at The Tip banding station, and we won’t be able to do laundry or take showers/baths regularly — but at least Lake Erie is close by!

Here are some tips that I hope might be helpful on your next longer birding trip, since birding is a great hobby/sport that can take you anywhere in the world.

One of the most important things to do when it comes to packing your optics is to keep them with you in your carry-on luggage. Don’t take the chance of your cameras, binoculars, and scope getting damaged, stolen, or lost in your checked luggage. Last year when I went to Long Point for the workshop and again this year, I packed my scope, cameras, binoculars, and new iPad in my backpack. There’s just not enough room in my backpack for my tripod, and it’s pretty sturdy and not as desirable to thieves, so I packed it in my suitcase with my clothes.

Bring a regional field guide that can help you learn what species are present in the area, and bring some local checklists for birding walks. For the first part of my trip, in Toronto with my aunt, I found a web page for Tommy Thompson Park with some great checklists and reports.

Look up and join listservs or Facebook bird groups for the area, check eBird to see if someone has submitted a list with a species you haven’t seen yet, and if you have a target species that is difficult find, get some help from local experts. If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you can get a lot of your favorite field guides as apps which is a very lightweight and portable option.

My mother bought a new iPad 2 for me to use (it will be the family iPad when I return) and a water resistant case (Griffin Survivor); my mother found the best price for the case in Canada was at Some of the apps I put on the new iPad before I left are: Bird Codes, BirdLog North America, Peterson Birds, and Audubon Birds. And because the electricity supply isn’t steady at The Tip, my mother bought an Instapark 10 Watt Solar Panel Portable Solar Charger when we were in NYC last month.

I knew I wouldn’t have much of a chance to buy bug spray or sunscreen after arriving in Ontario, so I packed enough for the trip. Also extra plastic bags, both Ziploc bags and a couple of clear garbage bags. If you’re caught in the rain unprepared and are worried about your equipment, a plastic bag can help save your things; a clear garbage bag is good for a scope and for your backpack. And don’t forget to bring lots of batteries and extra memory cards.

A field notebook, some pens, pencils and a sharpener (or pocket knife), are essential if you want to take field notes and list the species you saw. If you enjoy sketching or drawing birds, bring a few choice colored pencils and extra erasers.

It’s hard not to pack to many too many clothes for a trip, but they have to be the right clothes. Besides a light rain jacket with a hood and pockets, I’m also bringing t-shirts and tank tops to layer, easy to wash and quick-drying underwear, socks, long pants (ticks are a problem in Ontario), shorts, some warm layers just in case (fleece top, gloves, winter hat), ball cap for the sun, and comfortable (preferably waterproof) shoes.

What essentials do you pack on a birding trip?

My iPad, Swarovski scope, binoculars, and cameras all fit in my backpack,


6 thoughts on “Preparing and Packing for a Birding Trip

  1. Great summary, Charlotte. The point about optics in hand-luggage, not checked, is so true. We did the same for our Ontario trip in July – and you may get some close inspection at security, but it’s worth it.

    I hope your month at Long Point is wonderful. Ontario brought BirdBoy a healthy list of new species – it’s fun to be in a new location where you can hope to see birds you’ve never really thought of before. So I’d add to your thoughts on trip preparation time to look at pictures and listen to songs and calls of some of those brand new birds you can expect or hope to see – particularly those where you might see or hear two or more very similar species. This research can be a great way to spend the travelling time, and really pays off in the field.

    You might want to consider some of the non-bird nature apps for your family iPad. I love to have one for mammals, and when possible for insects, plants, reptiles/amphibians. All share the ecosystems that our beloved birds live in, and it’s exciting to understand more about the interaction and interdependencies.

    Good luck with the Monarchs. In my youth, I was a lepidopterist, and one day I’ll pick that interest up again…

    • I hope you all had a great time in Ontario last month, Neil and Birdboy! Airport inspection was actually pretty minimal this time, esp with an iPad instead of a laptop (unlike last month on the way to NY). And we’ve had some pretty serious security on family trips — for example, when my youngest brother brought back a portable typewriter (they didn’t even know what it was, and then swabbed it for explosives), a bag of acorns (same brother) from Central Park that exploded all over the security area floor, and then his toy handcuffs from FAO Schwartz (those got confiscated). Hard to compete with that!

      What my mother and I are hoping to get at some point is an app for wildflower ID. The Audubon one looks quite good, with large color photos.

  2. Airport security does lack a sense of proportion at times; what threat do toy handcuffs offer?!

    I find the Audubon apps a bit hit-and-miss, and not always optimal for Canadian usage. Worth checking out, though, and I do use some. If you can, wait for a sale – you can register a ‘Want’ at and then receive an email when the price is discounted. They also have price history, so you can tell how often and how much they discount, then decide if it’s worth waiting ( Hope it’s OK to post the link here…I apologise if not.

  3. Pingback: Blog Birding #148 « ABA Blog

  4. (found in Charlotte’s draft folder and posted belatedly by her mother/assistant!)

    Neil, it’s definitely okay to post the link. Appshopper’s history is good because you can see at what times of year the app tends to go on sale. Yes, I’ve been keeping an eye out for sales, even before I had the iPad!

    I think the big problem with field guides in general, whether in app or book form, is finding something that’s geared for the western part of North America. So many tend to be focused on eastern or US species. The Audubon wildflower app seems to be pretty comprehensive. There are also some pretty nice regional apps (for Texas, Smoky Mountains, etc.). It would be great to have one for the prairie provinces, or western Canada including BC.

  5. Pingback: Packing for a Birding Workshop – Prairie Birder

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