A couple of days ago, I had a morning errand to run that was a short walk from our house. I put on my walking shoes and chose a path that would lead me through a section of nearby parkland that is one of my favourite local places to see a bit of nature. This time of year that can include bears and coyotes as well as various types of birds.
I had barely gone a few steps into the wooded area when I heard a strange call. It sounded like a Robin but with a twist that I had not heard before. I spent a couple of minutes listening and moving around to triangulate the sound before I finally found its source.
A juvenile Robin, still with fully spotted breast, was hidden in plain sight in the leaf litter a scant 8 or 10 feet away. The young bird seemed confident in its invisibility and was chirping away despite my presence. With my camera and recording equipment, I would have been able to take some good close-up pictures and one or two good clear bird-call recordings.
On my way home, I returned past the same location with the hope that the bird might still be around. I thought that I heard the same call further into the thick undergrowth however there was no chance of seeing the bird this time. To make matters worse, the previous quiet was now broken by the sounds of garbage truck, skill-saw, a small plane overhead and someone practicing the flute.
If you were looking for a moral to this story you might come up with: When nature offers up an opportunity for a good nature sighting, you had better be loaded for bear with all your technology by your side and ready to go. Mother Nature does not, after all, pass out many mulligans.
In my case, this would entail me packing my Canon binoculars, a Panasonic FZ200 camera and a digital voice recorder with a small shot-gun microphone. Unfortunately, my frustration at having left my gear at home led me to forget that I had my iPhone in my pocket which, in the current circumstances, would have taken an acceptable sound recording and, despite its lack of zoom, an acceptable picture of the young Robin. Abusing the previous metaphor: I may not have been loaded for bear, but I was certainly loaded for squirrel.
In many situations, however, the iPhone won’t cut it. The question then is what to have in the emergency birding kit? What do you throw in the glove-box or a knapsack or even a large pocket for those non-birding excursions, just in case?
Once upon a time the answer was easy: Binoculars. Cameras required film which cost real money and seeing the results could take several days unless you developed your own film. As digital technology improves and more people are collecting pictures and sound-recordings, there are other possibilities. My current kit consists of my FZ200 camera, one of the current generation of super-zoom or bridge cameras, and that’s pretty much it. They are lighter than my binoculars, about the same size and, with their 24x optical zoom, a reasonable substitute as well. The image stabilization is reasonably good so that a tripod is usually not required. Mind you, I frequently bring my sound recorder and microphone as well because of their small size.
I’ll get over the missed opportunity with the Robin. However, the next time I’m running out the door, I will consider more carefully whether or not to bring my emergency gear – just in case. If anyone asks why I’m carrying it, I’ll just tell them that I’m loaded for bird.