Recommended Gear

Your Tahoe Big Year experience will be more enjoyable if you are prepared with the right equipment. Much of the gear mentioned below can be found on Amazon Smile. Amazon Smile will donate a portion of their sales to TINS, at no additional cost to you! Click here for more information.


Seasonal Bird Checklist - The Birds of the Lake Tahoe Basin Seasonal Checklist lists every species documented to have occurred at Lake Tahoe, along with breeding status and abundance codes broken out by season up to May 2016. We have made this list as useful and accurate as possible for the next several years. Printed copies are available for $2 at the TINS office, USFS Taylor Creek Visitors Center, and other bookstores and retailers in the Tahoe region, or $4 shipped (click BUY NOW button).


Clothing - Along these lines, 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 any conditions, or visit REI for more options. You will also want sturdy footwear, a backpack to put everything in, and don't forget your TINS logo hat!


Optics - Trying to make do with an antique pair of field glasses can be a frustrating experience, whereas looking through a pair of high-end binoculars for the first time can be quite a revelation. Top end binoculars push well north of $2000 these days, but relishing a cooperative bird through a pair of, say, Swarovski EL 10 x 42s binoculars can make the price tag seem reasonable. Optics have come a long way in the recent decades, and this has led to very reasonable lower-priced models that are surprisingly good. For example, we have been impressed in the past by the Pentax DCF line as a terrific value.

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 series 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, so you may not want to add that element to your kit. However, if you already have a great pair of binoculars, but are looking to step up your birding for the Tahoe Big Year, a scope can change the way you see everything. Namely, scopes bring the birds closer, a lot closer. As with binoculars, you can easily find scope-buying guides elsewhere online.

Books/Apps - The number and diversity of birding field guides available is staggering. We have two that we prefer and recommend. More often than not, we reach for the Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition. This is a big reference, so you may prefer to use the smaller Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America or the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition (our other favorite comprehensive guide) while in the field. For younger birders, or even just adults getting started from the very beginning, 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 will be putting out a Tahoe basin seasonal checklist in the spring of 2018, 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 xeno-canto.org is a phenomenal resource for bird vocalizations, though it is a bit tricky to navigate in the field.

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


Other Gear - Don't forget a notebook and at least two writing implements. A notebook is indispensible 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.