Birding can be a very simple pleasure. You really don’t need much to be a birder; a binocular to help you see the birds, and a notebook or field guide to help you identify what you see. There are lots of other pieces of equipment you could carry: more books, a scope, an MP3 player with bird songs, an external speaker for the MP3 player, and a fancy vest with lots of pockets to carry all this.
I generally don’t carry any of these extras, but there is one item which I now consider basic equipment: a digital camera. I don’t mean the full-sized camera bodies and gargantuan lenses used by actual photographers. I mean a small point-and-shoot camera. A small video camera would work, as well. Digital photography has advanced so much in recent years that anyone can take decent photos with very small equipment.
Why should birders carry a camera? Because if you are out in the field enough, you are eventually going to run into something really extraordinary, some wonderful vagrant species or unusual behavior that needs to be documented. That’s not to say that a written description is not valid documentation, but nothing adds validity to your report like a photograph.
From a photographic point of view, this is an awful picture. The photo was taken through my kitchen window, so it is a little dark and you can see the reflection of my microwave oven cutting across the lower portion of the image. The bird’s eye is obscured by the blossom and the slow shutter speed makes the wings invisible.
But despite this being a terrible shot, you can clearly see the bubble-gum-pink gorget and splash of color on the crown that identifies this bird as a male Anna’s Hummingbird. If this shot had been taken in an area where Anna’s Hummingbirds do not normally occur, it would be hailed as compelling physical evidence of a vagrant bird.
Most photos that I take in the field are not of vagrants, and most shots are deleted the same day I take them, but I still try to have my camera handy at all times, just in case.