Camera updates and such

It’s incredible how far this birding lifestyle has progressed. Especially with the gear. I started with an old pair of Bushnell binoculars and a small point and shoot camera.

I knew birding was hard and it didn’t take long before I realized how much harder it is to take photos of birds. You’d think it was easy enough. Have a camera, see a bird, take a photo. Not so much. I’d originally hoped photographing birds would help me to ID them. But it wasn’t until Tomas upgraded my point and shoot camera that it became a more realistic possibility.

I was well on my way. It was fascinating to see the difference in photos. Here’s an example, Northern Flicker with the old camera:

Is there even a bird in that photo? Northern Flicker with the SX50:

Woah. No question that is a bird. ID made easy. That camera combined with my new Vortex Diamondback binoculars (recommended by a few folks at Audubon) got me through the next two years. I got good at juggling tasks and mastered car-birding.

Pro at work

This past year I’ve upped my game. I’ve experimented with DSLR cameras and lens of all shapes and sizes. Luckily, there’s a great local photo shop with rental gear allowing me to try on this expensive equipment. I started with a Nikon D7200 in combination with various lens sizes including the 200-500.

I was in love with the image quality but hated the weight. At about 7lbs it was more than I was willing to carry without ditching the binoculars. And I refuse to give those up because it’s not just about the photos to me. I had to ask myself what I really hoped to get out of this investment and find that balance between satisfying photo quality and heavy gear that doesn’t suck the joy out of life.

This has all led me to the Canon EOS 80D in combination with the 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS USM Mark II lens. The combo is 2lbs lighter than the Nikon setup and much more tolerable.

The progression is real

It’s still quite the commitment and costs more than I’ve once paid for a used car, but so far it’s been worth it. Another fun progression:



80D 100-400

80D 100-400

Turns that Song Sparrow right into an a hummingbird. It’s that amazing.

I’ve also added a new pair of binoculars to the family. The Nikon Monarch 5.

It’s a binocular!

I get to try out the new bins tomorrow on the Audubon Shorebird field trip. Maybe they will help me ID all those brown and white look-alikes.

Even with all this gear, I still have room in the family for one more. A scope. I’m eyeing the Vortex Viper 65mm. It’s still on the wishlist at this point, but I’ll have good news to share soon I’m sure.

In the meantime, I’m having fun pushing buttons on top of mountains (photo by Jen Sanford).

Living the good birding life and loving it.

Tweets and chirps,




This is my current bird-book library.

1. The World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide is a fun, eye-pleasing book from the National Wildlife Federation. It contains beautiful and engaging illustrations, trivia, facts, and all sorts of information for over a hundred bird species.

2. My boyfriend, Tomas, won Latin for Bird Lovers for me in a Twitter contest presented by Timber Press. This delicately illustrated book explains and explores more than 3000 bird names. Digging deeper into the origins of names reveals connections of why birds were named the way they were. For instance, the scientific name (genus) Pelagodrama is of Greek origin for pelagos, sea, and dromos, runner, as in Pelagodroma marina, the White-faced Storm Petrel, for its habit of pattering its feet on the sea surface. Fascinating!

3. I picked up the Birds of Oregon book from a trip to the coast. I like the way this field guide is laid out, including a quick guide on the back cover and  large illustrations. The book details the 328 bird species expected to Oregon annually.

4. The Big Year. What can I say. Besides having a hilarious front cover (who doesn’t want to be that guy??) this book inspired the 2011 movie with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. I picked it up at a used book shop in Seattle and am about halfway through, taking notes as I read. The book follows the 1998 North American Big Year, “the greatest – or perhaps the worst – birding competition of all time.” I enjoy the narrative pace of this adventure story, and it incorporates meaningful details about the birds seen and places traveled, as well as the eccentric birders. It’s given me insight into other birder personalities.


5. The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America is a new addition I picked up for Tomas last week. He hinted he would like a field guide of his own to take on his adventures. I’ve heard from others, including Laura Whittemore, birding instructor with Audubon, that the NGFG is an excellent field guide with detailed illustrations noting important field marks to look for.

6. Just the other day I came across Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park at a used book store in Portland and couldn’t resist taking it home. The book jacket reveals this is a story about a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that nest on the ledge of a tall building in NYC on Fifth Avenue. People become devoted to watching the hawks as they attempt to survive in the city. The author, Marie Winn, is a guest speaker in the movie Birders: A Central Park Effect.

7. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America is my go-to field guide! This book has been my buddy since my Ornithology professor in college recommended it years ago. I’m pleased with the illustrations, the quick guide in the back, the size of the book, and so far I’ve yet to come across a bird not included. Everyone has their own preferences for field guides, and this is the one that works for me.

From an informative field guide review site:

Peterson’s field guides have the better illustrations, they are somewhat larger and more color saturated than the Sibley series. The Peterson’s series also include sections highlighted in bold for “Similar species” and “Habitat”, Sibley’s does not include these sections.

The Sibley’s series has more varied illustrations of individual species, including many more in-flight illustrations than the Peterson guides provide. Sibley’s also has the better field mark notations that include pointers and textual information surrounding the subject. Peterson’s just includes pointers to the field marks.”

8. When I attended the waterfowl outing hosted by Audubon, the group leader and longtime birder, Ron Escano, recommended finding an older Peterson guide since it includes black and white bird illustrations. This is helpful for identifying birds in poor light or bad weather conditions. Pretty useful for winter in Portland. I lucked out finding a 1941 version of A Field Guide To Western Birds Peterson guide at a used book store in town. I plan on enlarging/laminating key pages to make it more useful in the field.

9. Birds of Oregon is a handy little guide that has bird photographs rather than illustrations. It might seem counter-intuitive, but illustrated guides are favored over photographs because illustrations emphasize important field marks that photographs might miss due to lighting, camera angle, or subtle variations. It’s generally recommended to have (at least) two field guides, one with illustrations and one with photos to use as a cross-reference. I have another edition, Birds of the Willamette Valley Region, on my wish list.

10. Bird Brain-Teasers: Puzzles, Games, & Avian Trivia is AWESOME. This book combines birds and puzzles, two of my favorite loves. I only wish it would last forever.

11. A teeny tiny Golden Guide to Birds contains illustrations and notes on 129 common birds of North America, where/when to find them, how to attract them, and what to look for. I picked it up from Audubon gift center for supplemental reading.

12. Last but not least is a Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds. It’s small, includes photographs, and looks pretty thorough. We have hummingbird feeders up in the yard, but I’ve yet to need the guide since the only resident winter hummingbirds we have are Anna’s. I’m hoping to see a few more species this summer!

Happy reading!

Tweets and chirps,



Old Field Guides

I’ve grown fond of old field guides.

The 1941 Peterson Guide I bought from a used book store has notes inscribed inside by the Bruno Hukari Family: “Swallows arrived March 26, 1967, March 1978, March 1979.”

I think it’s neat to think about how birding has changed (and not changed) through the years. Recently, a friend of mine picked up a few older guide books on the cheap from an estate sale for me. I’m curious if old field guides and journals might hold clues about changing bird populations over the years.


So cool!

Flipping through old field guides at a book store yielded this 1977 Cedar Waxwing trading card from Kellogg’s. Apparently, there’s an entire series of these vintage bird trading cards.



The earliest field guide in the US is Birds Through an Opera Glass (1889) by Florence Bailey. A reprint of this book is available as a free eBook on Google Books! (or for purchase on Amazon).

I’m entranced by the colorful descriptions of the birds. Here’s an example:

THE BLUEBIRD. As you stroll through the meadows on a May morning, drinking in the spring air and sunshine, and delighting in the color of the dandelions and the big bunches of blue violets that dot the grass, a bird call comes quavering overhead that seems the voice of all country loveliness. Simple, sweet, and fresh as the spirit of the meadows, with a tinge of forest richness in the plaintive tru-al-ly that marks the rhythm of our bluebird’s undulating flight, wherever the song is heard, from city street or bird-box, it must bring pictures of flowering fields, blue skies, and the freedom of the wandering summer winds.”

Vintage tweets and chirps,