In 1907 the founder of The Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, penned the famous motto of the group, ‘Be Prepared’. These two words should also be the motto of any serious birder.
Birds have wings (no prize for giving you that valuable piece of scientific trivia) and they can turn up anywhere. There have been some special birds showing up in very unusual places over the years – need I mention a Pels Fishing Owl showing up on holiday in Cape (I am assured by Cape Town birders that it was not an escapee, that only happens in KwaZulu Natal).
With this being said, those that are old enough to have cars (we can work on a separate list for younger birders) should have a basic ‘Birders Readiness Kit’ in their car at all times – both to see out of range birds, as well as to sneak in some birding when time allows. There is nothing worse than hearing a report of a special bird and having to make a detour past your house to grab what could have been in your car already.
I remember an African-scops Owl showing up in my area and in my rush to see the bird, I not only forgot my camera, but also my binoculars!
So, here are seven things that every birder should always have in their car – I will do a list of other items on our blog site in the week’s to come with some other items that you may want to add to your list. Let me know if there is anything you think that I have forgotten:
The most essential item that any real birder should never leave home without! Now I know we live in a country where people shop from other people’s vehicles without paying them, so a good idea is to invest in a cheaper pair of ‘car bins’. These will allow you to see and identify birds that show up, without the fear of your high-end bins ending up on some shady Facebook Marketplace deal.
2. Bird Field Guide
Most birders nowadays use Bird Identification Apps on their phones, and while this is acceptable, are you a real birder if you don’t have a well-worn field guide? I have fond memories sitting with one of my birding heroes, Jenny Norman, paging through her well used Newman’s Field Guide with notes that she had from an Ian Sinclair course many years ago.
Field guides are not just books – they are birding diaries. They tell a tale of adventures with birds. Coffee stains, dusty edged pages, notes, they all tell a story of a bird that we got to spend time with. The only reason that car manufacturers put those pouches behind the seats is to keep field guides in – if you don’t have a good field guide, it’s time to invest in one!
3. Gum Boots
A few years ago, one of my friends reported that a Barn Owl had been seen in the place where they worked. The problem was it had been raining and when I got out the car there was mud all over. No problem – I took off my work shoes and slipped on my gum boots! Gum boots I believe are an important part of any birders gear – they allow you accessibility to places that you may not have been able to access otherwise.
4. Portable Phone Charger
Have you really seen a lifer until you have logged it on Birdlasser? There are few things more frustrating for me on the field than when I want to log a bird, I have seen on Birdlasser and the phone battery is dead. This also allows you to make calls to brag to friends about the bird that you have just seen. (And if you write your life list, just make sure you have a pencil and a sharpener I guess)
Who knows when you are driving around when you may stumble across a cool nocturnal bird? Having a spotlight in the car means that you are always ready to get a great sighting of the bird. (Maybe it’s also a good idea to have a Neighborhood Watch Magnet for the car, then when people are why you are shining you spotlight in the trees you have a good excuse)
6. ‘El-cheapo’ Camera
It may not be the best idea to keep your fancy new mirrorless set-up in the car, but, if possible, invest in a cheap point-and-shoot camera. This won’t give you a ‘National Geographic shot’, but it will provide you with a good record shot of the bird you have seen (unless you are Richard Flack, he is able to take amazing photos with whatever camera he has in his hands).
7. A jacket
This allows you to be prepared for whatever changes that you may experience with the weather – it’s not fun birding when you are shivering and just want to get back into the car and go home. If possible, it’s a good idea to have a good waterproof jacket.
So here’s my seven things that I think you should have in your car at all times as a birder. I promise you two things – either people will get in your car and think ‘wow this is a serious birder’, or they will get in the car and start trying to plan their escape route because you look like you are about to commit a crime!
Anyways, until next time, happy birding!
This article was first published in The Birding Life's Weekly Newsletter. The Newsletter not only has a weekly write-up, it also has 5 cool things that we find every week that we think that birders need to see. To subscribe, please click on the following link - https://www.thebirdinglife.com/newsletter-sign-up