A pair of good binoculars could come in handy if, say, the Steller’s sea eagle makes a return to Maine this winter. Oskar Mattes, left, of Deer Isle and Nellie Haldane of Blue Hill were on hand when the bird was spotted in Georgetown on New Year’s Eve in 2021. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Over the years of writing this column, more than a few times I’ve received the question, “What is a good gift for a naturalist?” It’s that time of the year again, and we’ve got some great new items for nature lovers. So, if you still have some shopping to do after Small Business Saturday, here are a few recommendations:


As much as naturalists love learning the names of new plants and animals, they also seem to love collecting the books that teach them. We are very lucky in Maine to have a few new books that every naturalist should have on their bookshelves.

First is “Butterflies of Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces” by Phillip G. deMaynadier, John Klymko, Ronald G. Butler, W. Herbert Wilson Jr., and John V. Calhoun. This is a beautiful representation of many years of effort, combining the results of the Maritimes Butterfly Atlas (2010-15) and the Maine Butterfly Survey (2006-15) into a field guide that covers 121 species of butterflies that have been documented in the Acadian region of North America. One of the authors, Herb Wilson, is a birding columnist for the Portland Press Herald.

Next is a reference guide to the best birding location in Maine: Monhegan Island. Thanks to Brett Ewald, we now have a complete telling of all the birds ever recorded there. “The Birds of Monhegan” gives details on the status and abundance of the 336 species of birds that have found their way to this island 10 miles off the Maine coast. Along with the species accounts, the book also includes chapters on when and how to find birds on the island, going into more detail than any other reference I’ve seen. This makes it a valuable resource for both those planning their first trip to the island and the seasoned visitors.

Some other titles I’ve been enjoying, which will sit closer to biographies than field guides on your shelf, are “Better Living Through Birding” by Christian Cooper, and “Birding Under the Influence” by Dorian Anderson. Cooper became a household name in 2020 when a video he took went viral, showing a dog walker in Central Park making racially charged, false accusations of Cooper while he was out birding. The book goes well beyond that incident, diving into the wonder of birds and the ways nature can expand our lives. I’m about half way through Anderson’s tale of a cross country birding-by-bicycle “big year” that he undertook in 2014. There are many big year novels, as birders tell how they tried to see as many species of birds in a year as they can, but Anderson’s self-powered attempt covers novel challenges and encounters. Among the physical and mental challenges of birding and biking across the country, Anderson also recounts his experience finding sobriety – another tale of nature’s many cures.



For most people, a good pair of binoculars will last a lifetime. Unlike most of the cameras, phones, or other pieces of technology that we buy nowadays, which seem to have some planned obsolescence, binoculars don’t need batteries, software updates, or other things that will wear them out quickly. That said, the technology that goes into building binoculars has been improving, and the market has some remarkably good offerings at almost all price points.

Last year, Nikon announced the Prostaff P3, which looked intriguing. When I finally got to use them this year, I was blown away by the quality for the dollar. If we could plot out all the binoculars available on a graph with quality and cost, we’d see a logarithmic line where quality steeply increases over lower costs, but then to get any appreciable gain in quality, your cost goes up significantly. The Prostaff now make that line even steeper, bringing a quality usually reserved for the $300 to $500 range down to $130. I’ll always recommend going for a larger and brighter field of view, so the 8x42s are a great choice for anyone looking to upgrade from compacts or selecting their first pair of binoculars.

I should also mention that Swarovski has forced us to redraw our dollar/quality log line thanks to their new NL Pure line of binoculars. By some magic of apparently breaking the laws of physics, they have significantly increased the field of view of their binoculars. In comparison to their prior top-tier line, the ELs, their new 10x (10-times magnification) NLs have the same field of view as the 8x ELs. The long-standing trade off, of higher magnification resulting in a tighter field of view, is gone with these binoculars. Of course, while we’ve extended the reach of the quality end of our graph, the cost line has gone up, too, with the 8×42 NLs coming in at $3,300. Having gotten to test a pair while my older binoculars were getting repaired, if you use binoculars as regularly as I do, these are worth it. That said, I’m happy to get my old (paid off) pair back.


Birding apparel has come a long way from the stereotypes that were foisted upon us since the TV character Miss Jane Hathaway, clad in khaki, was identified as a bird watcher in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Look no further than the corduroy hats or embroidered sweatshirts that Bird Collective has available. Their full range of soft goods have some of the coolest (best adjective this mid-30s birder can use without misusing one that someone younger would say) designs that you can find, many of which are part of a featured collection supporting different bird conservations and advocacy groups. Speaking of cool designs, Maine has many talented bird artists with lots to offer, from the likes of Jada Fitch, Michael Boardman and Rebekah Lowell. You’re likely to run into these great people while out birding in Maine, and if not the artist in person, a birder wearing a design created by them.

Do you have a nature question for Doug? Email questions to ask@maineaudubon.org and visit www.maineaudubon.org to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, starting at 7 a.m. (moving to 8 a.m. in December) at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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