I just got confirmation a few weeks ago that I, along with nine others, will be attending the inaugural Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) in Tofield, Alberta in early August.
In contrast to my Long Point Bird Observatory workshop (2012) and internship near LPBO at The Tip (2013) in Ontario, I’ll be driving to Beaverhill (which is about 90 minutes away), so I’ll be packing a little differently; here’s my packing post from 2013. Since I’ll be a Team Leader at BBO as well as a participant, I thought a packing post might be helpful for some of the young birders and anyone else who might be attending a similar birding or naturalist workshop, especially those who might not have camping experience or who might be looking for new camping gadgets and gear.
My first piece of advice is to pack light, but pack smart. There’s nothing more frustrating than overpacking and then having to haul everything, especially the unnecessary items, around. Especially if the trip is short, keep your packing list to a minimum.
Don’t bring your best clothes. Bring things that can get dirty and possibly even ripped or torn (think thorns, branches, and maybe barbed wire fences) and think layers, no matter what the season. In Alberta, even in the summer the early mornings and evenings can be cool, and extra layers are also helpful against mosquitoes and ticks. Polyester and other fast-drying tops and bottoms (including underwear and socks) are great if you need to wash anything. I’m also going to bring my microfiber towel that absorbs a lot of water but dries quickly; my mother found it on Amazon.ca. AT BBO, there’s the possibility of going on the water and maybe swimming during the workshop, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.
Bring some warmer layers just in case — a fleece top, heavier socks, a winter hat, a neck gaiter, and a light pair of gloves. Inexpensive nitrile garden gloves are good; they’re waterproof and give you a good grip for binoculars and cameras. My mother swears by the selection, quality, and price at Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware stores.
For rain gear, I’ve had a women’s L.L. Bean Trail Model rain jacket for the past few years. It’s made from waterproof TEK2.5 ripstop nylon with a ceramic coating and is both waterproof and breathable, which is nice when you’re in it for hours at a time. It’s also light enough to wear in the summer. It has a hood, packs down to nothing, and there are versions for women, men, and kids. Everyone in my family has one and finds them very useful on the farm. The exchange rate with the U.S. is a little better now, and while the price of L.L. Bean items can be high for Canadians without a sale, they don’t charge additional shipping fees. (Full disclosure — L.L. Bean is a recent sponsor of my segment on Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds radio show, but all of the L.L. Bean items I own were bought by my mother long before the sponsorship began.)
I like wearing baseball caps for rain and sun and have a variety from the Long Point Bird Observatory and Cornell Lab of Ornithology; besides the protection they offer, their sale supports bird conservation organizations. However, especially if you have shorter hair, ball caps don’t provide a lot of shade protection for ears or the back of the neck, so you might want a hat with more coverage.
Bonus points if your shoes or boots are waterproof or water resistant, especially if you’ll be spending any time in the mud. In addition to a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots, especially if you’re travelling by vehicle, I’d recommend tossing a pair of rubber boots in the trunk, just in case. The boots I wear almost year-round, except in the coldest winter weather, are women’s Ropers, which are leather with a forged steel shank and double-stitched seams; you can buy them at UFA farm supply stores in Alberta, or at Lammle’s western wear. They’re not waterproof though, and they can be heavy, so I ‘ve been considering a new pair of Keen hiking boots. And I will put in a plug for Smartwool or Thorlo socks.
As for bottoms, I usually wear jeans instead of shorts because of ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, and the possibility of barbed wire. However, since my 4H NWT trip last summer, I’ve become a fan of MEC ripstop nylon convertible pants — they’re light, breathable, easy to wash and fast to dry, convert to shorts when needed, fit well, and very comfortable. And lighter than jeans. You can find them made by different companies, including (I believe) Columbia, which you can find at sporting goods stores, such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and Sport Chek.
Temperatures in Alberta are cool at night even in the summer, so bring a sleeping bag that is rated for a pretty low temperature. Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable, so an air mattress or a sleeping pad makes for more restful sleep. For the NWT trip last summer, I was going to take a pad but at the last minute borrowed an old air mattress from my aunt and uncle. The mattress inflated with a pump which wasn’t that much work, but the self-inflating mattresses others had were better — lighter and much less to carry. My mother just bought a lower priced MEC reactor sleeping pad for my brothers and me to use this summer, and it seems pretty comfortable. Don’t forget a pillow and maybe a small extra blanket (preferably fleece/microfibre in case it gets wet).
I’m not going to mention much here because everyone has particular preferences. I have fair skin and burn if I’m not careful, so sunscreen is imperative. And bug spray! Of course, soap and shampoo (and possibly conditioner), but if water access is limited, dry shampoo works very well; brands I’ve found that work well and can be found easily are Batiste, Not Your Mother’s, and Aveeno dry shampoos. Baby wipes can also come in handy for a variety of uses when water is in short supply; and a washcloth or two for when water is available (microfiber rather than cotton, so it dries quickly — if you can’t find them in the bath department, look in the household cleaning section.) Less is definitely more when it comes to toiletries. Also, try to avoid any highly scented products to help keep the mosquitoes away. Water bottles are a necessity and if you aren’t flying, bring a few extras and fill them at home before you leave.
Since we’ll be camping for a week, bring a small amount of any medicine/first aid items you’d like to have on hand: bandaids, Advil or Tylenol, Vitamin C for a sore throat, Tums, antibacterial ointment like Polysporin, tweezers for tick removal, antihistamine tablets (like Benadryl) in case of allergic reactions to plants or insects, and so on.
At Long Point we woke before sunrise to set up the mist nests and in retrospect, a headlight instead of just a flashlight would have been very helpful. My youngest brother swears by headlamps for chores in the winter; he has a Fenix HP 300 as well as a Boruit (5000 lumens). The Boruit is fairly inexpensive and available from Amazon.ca. Decide how much light you need or want, and how much you’re willing to spend.
I would also recommend at least a pocket knife, or a Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or similar multi-tool.
A small backpack for day trips is useful, especially if you’ve packed everything else in a larger pack.
Binoculars are a must, but if you don’t have a pair, ask around and you may be able to borrow some from a friend or acquaintance. If you’re searching for any items, consider posting to your local birding listserv as many members are willing to help young birders.
If you have a spotting scope, it can be a great piece of equipment to bring. While it can be bulky, the views of far-off birds are all worth the weight. If you don’t have a scope, though, don’t worry. Most bird observatories have one and will lend it out to the young birders attending the workshop or camp.
Notebooks are an easy way to keep track of your notes, observations, and sketches — I learned at Long Point that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count! Bring pens, pencils (small Ikea pencils are great!), coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener (or penknife), erasers, and notebooks. BBO will supply notebooks (Long Point did as well), but if you like Rite-In-The-Rain notebooks, you can find them at Peavey Marts in Alberta.
Decide before you start to pack if you really want to carry your camera around everywhere, and whether you’re going to take lots of photographs or just the occasional snap. This will affect what you pack. If you are bringing anything that needs batteries, bring extra batteries and/or make sure that your batteries are fully charged before leaving home. Also bring enough, or extra, empty SD (memory) cards. You might also want to bring a new clean plastic bag for your camera and/or scope in case you’re out all day in the rain.
This might sound counter-intuitive for a stay at a bird observatory, but I suggest not bringing a field guide, since they’re usually heavy and most observatories have a shelf of field guides available to use. You might also want to consider some field guide/birding apps, which you can download to your mobile device before you get to the workshop. I recommend the eBird Mobile app (free iTunes and Google Play), Birdseye North American (free), Merlin Bird ID (free), Bird Codes (free), and the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America ($19.99). For more about birding apps and birding with your phone, here’s a post I wrote earlier this month.
I’d also suggest a variety of plastic bags, from smaller Ziploc bags for toiletries to larger garbage bags (the clear kind are good for scopes) for your backpack, scope, sleeping bag, and delicate electronics that should be kept dry.
Some stores my family and I like where we’ve had good luck finding sturdy and waterproof clothing and equipment, for birding, camping, farm chores, and country living:
Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware (Canada)
L.L. Bean (US)
If I’ve missed anything, or you’ve found something to be very useful for birding/nature camps or workshops, please leave a comment below.