Lauryn Azu

Six must-grab items for a successful birdwatching adventure

1. Binoculars

These are essential for spotting birds from far away. Pick up a pair of Nikon Prostaff 3S 10 x 42 Binoculars ($140; rei.com), to bring small creatures to eye. Add a harness ($28, rei.com) so you don’t have to carry them, BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin Co-Founder Jeff Galligan recommends.

2. Flashlight

Those bright lights are necessary for navigating dark trails but can damage the eyesight of nocturnal creators if flashed directly at them, according to Carolyn Byers, director of education at Madison Audubon. Still, take extra nighttime precautions with a 3-in-1 safety light, lantern and flashlight from L.L. Bean ($15, llbean.com).

3. Coat

Be sure to bundle up, as evening temperatures in Wisconsin can drop fast after sunset. “I usually try not to have synthetic fabrics on the outside of what I’m wearing, because they can be surprisingly noisy,” says Brian McCaffrey, a birder in Bayfield County, Wisconsin. He likes to wear a Carhartt coat or a wool sweater to muffle the sound of his steps and not spook off the birds he’s looking for ($110, carhartt.com).

4. Smartphone

Birders like to use a variety of apps to make their nighttime treks more rewarding. The two apps most favored by birders are eBird and Merlin. Madison birder Neil Gilbert calls Merlin, “like Shazam for birds,” where you can record a bird call and generate an instant identification. Birders who record their observations in eBird are citizen scientists, because they contribute to data used for scientific research and the conservation of birds. Wisconsinites have submitted more than one million checklists to eBird, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Also, for safety reasons, a phone is a must in case of an emergency. 

Illustration by Lauryn Azu

5. Notebook

Keep track of field observations the old-fashioned way, using paper and pen. For gold standard note taking, try out Moleskine’s Pocket-Sized Classic Soft Cover ($16, moleskine.com), and Muji’s 0.38 Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen, which will provide enough ink flow for on the go notes in cooler temperatures ($1.50, muji.us).

6. Caffeine

Stay awake and warm in the dark hours with a tumbler of hot coffee or tea. Madison-based JBC Coffee Roasters offers light to medium roasts in whole bean or a variety of grinds ($15-20, jbccoffeeroasters.com).