It is the holiday time of year and time for my annual gift suggestions for the bird enthusiasts on your holiday list.
With all the snowy owls and bald eagles being seen recently, this might be a good year to give the gift of better sight - that is, though binoculars or a spotting scope. Optics have continually improved over the years such that you don't have to spend a lot of money for clear and close-up views of a snowy owl in the marshes of Plum Island, or an eagle soaring over the river. The better the optics, the better the view, but good quality binoculars and scopes are within most people's budgets today. There are good beginner binoculars for both adults and children to stir interest.
For better quality, the new Zeiss Terra ED binoculars are amazing in the $300-400 range! Spotting scopes range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. If price is no object, the new Swarovski modular scopes still blow me away every time I look through one!
A general field guide is always a good gift to help identify the birds that are seen. Peterson, Sibley, and National Geographic are the best all-around guides. These all have North American guides, but, also, an Eastern U.S. guide which is best if the recipient is a beginner or don't travel much.
If photographs are preferred, then the Stoke's Guide is the way to go. They also have a small, pocket size, beginner guide that includes most of the common birds. New books this year include the Crossley ID Guide to Raptors which, uniquely, has a collage of digitized photos for each species, showing many views of the bird perched and flying, all on one page.
The new Warbler Guide by Stephenson and Whittle is an amazing, in-depth study of all our colorful warblers, with hundreds of color photos and sonograms. The most incredible (in my opinion) beginner's guide to birding to come out in a long time is Look-Up, Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by local author Annette LeBlanc Cate. Written in "cartoon" fashion and geared to 8 to 13 year-olds, it is a fun way to learn all about birds and bird watching for all ages, while being thoroughly entertained. Annette will be doing a book signing at Mass Audubon Joppa Flats next Sunday, the 15th, so I'll be telling you much more about this fine book next week.