NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 7, 2013

Some gift tips for your favorite birdwatchers

WORDS ON BIRDS Steve Grinley
Newburyport Daily News

---- — 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.

A bird feeder makes a great gift and can provide hours of entertainment for young and old alike. There are many types of feeders in all shapes and sizes. A simple tube feeder that holds sunflower or mixed seed is the most versatile. A tray can be added for cardinals or larger birds and the newest tube feeders have removable bases for easy cleaning. New hopper-type feeders and trays now come in recycled materials that are eco-friendly and outlast wood. For more specific feeding, a thistle feeder or suet feeder can add a diversity of birds to most yards.

If squirrels are a problem, the Squirrel Buster line of feeders is still the best because they really work to keep squirrels at bay! Though the Squirrel Buster Plus is still the most popular because of its capacity and its effectiveness, the new Squirrel Buster Standard is a smaller, but still adjustable, version of a great feeder. Though we are months away from spring, a bird house is a welcome gift any time of year. They require little maintenance, and they come large or small, fancy (hand-painted, some with copper roofs!) or plain. They can be put up in winter as the birds will use houses to roost at night to get out of the elements. There are also specific winter roost houses that have the entrance hold near the bottom to retain heat and multiple perches inside for the birds to huddle together!

For those who already have enough feeders and houses (if that is possible), perhaps a heated bird bath or a heater/de-icer for an existing bird bath might make a welcome gift. It would be welcomed by the birds as well when fresh water supplies are all frozen. For the nature lover that doesn't have a yard for a feeder, house or bird bath, there are bird motifs on all kinds of gift items.

From jewelry, wallets and purses, to notepads, pot holders, hand towels, and holiday ornaments, there is sure to be one with a bird image someone will enjoy. One of my favorites is the mugs that reveal the bird's colorful plumage when hot liquids are added. A gift membership to the Essex County Greenbelt or to Mass Audubon also makes a special gift.

Our own Joppa Flats Audubon Center has numerous excellent programs that you could give as a gift to anyone who likes nature. Especially popular are the Wednesday morning and Saturday morning bird walks, ticket s for which you can purchase in advance - they make great stocking stuffers!

Any gift that helps someone enjoy birds and nature is one that will surely be appreciated this holiday season and, likely, for years to come.

Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.