The Tahoe Big Year
Recommended Gear

Your Tahoe Big Year experience will be more enjoyable if you are prepared with the right equipment.

Seasonal Bird Checklist - The Birds of the Lake Tahoe Basin Seasonal Checklist lists most species documented to have occurred at Lake Tahoe, along with breeding status and abundance codes broken out by season up to May 2016. Printed copies are available for $5 shipped or printed for free using this link.

Clothing - One word. LAYERS. We can recommend the sort of gear you typically might want for basic day-hiking: layers of clothing to protect you from the elements, be they sun, wind, rain, or cold temperatures. Our sponsor Patagonia makes fantastic garments for comfort in any conditions. You will also want sturdy footwear, a backpack to put everything in, and don't forget your TINS logo hat!

Optics - There are many binocular-buying guides online (e.g. this Cornell Lab of Ornithology guide, which covers the many considerations (e.g. magnification, field of view, weight, lens coatings, etc.). Don't underestimate the importance of fit and feel in the equation, as the "best" binoculars in the world will disappoint if they do not work well with your dimensions and preferences. For younger birders, you may wish to consider a pair specially designed for smaller faces and hands, such as the Opticron Savanna WP (Grand Prize of the Youth TBY Competition!). If you can, try before you buy. And lastly, think of binoculars as an investment, one that will pay serious dividends over a long term.

For studying distant gulls, scanning the open water for lost pelagic species, or trying to pick out unusual shorebirds, there is no substitute for a good scope and a sturdy tripod. Scopes can be a nuisance to carry around for birding along the trail, however, if you already have a great pair of binoculars, and are looking to step up your birding for the Tahoe Big Year, a scope can change the way you see everything. As with binoculars, you can easily find scope-buying guides elsewhere online.

Books/Apps - We suggest Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America or the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition while in the field. For younger birders, or adults just getting started, Bill Thompson's Young Birder's Guide to the Birds of North America is terrific. This last book only covers 300 of the most common species, but it's a great start.

The above books are great for identification, but to learn more about the natural history, status, and distribution (seasonal, geographic, habitats, etc.), we recommend the Birds of the Sierra Nevada by Ted Beedy, Ed Pandolfino, and Keith Hansen. Studying this book will greatly assist in knowing when and where to look for the many species in our region. Additionally, TINS has a seasonal checklist (see above), which will help you know if that species you think you're seeing is common, unexpected at the time, or totally unprecedented for the region.

For smartphone apps, we really like the Sibley eGuide to Birds and the iBirdPro. Both of these are terrific resources, but most importantly, they include songs and calls for nearly every species, thousands of vocalizations in each. The website is a phenomenal resource for bird vocalizations, though it is a bit tricky to navigate in the field. The Merlin app is also a great resource in the field, but the Sound ID feature should not be relied upon for identification alone. Remember all IDs must be visual, you may use the Sound ID to help narrow down what species you may be seeing.

Remember with all of these references, it is best to study the bird while it is in view, and then reach for your references afterwards!

Other Gear - Don't forget a notebook and at least two writing implements. A notebook is indispensable for jotting down species lists, making notes about a song you heard, sketching the field marks of that odd-looking duck, drawing a map of the location where you discovered the crippling mega-rarity, or even just reminding yourself that you need to pick up milk on the way home. We are big fans of the Moleskine books with the hard cover, but any notebook is better than none at all.

Another great tool for documenting your sightings is a camera. With the advent of the digital age, entry into bird photography has become easier than ever. A decent DSLR with a zoom lens can make your birding experience very enjoyable indeed, and it is a great way to document your rare birds and satisfy the skeptics. Keep in mind that birding and bird photography can be two very different pursuits, though both quite rewarding.