Product Review: Wunderbird Birding Apparel

I had the opportunity to try out two pieces of birding apparel from Wunderbird, a long-sleeved Tee (The Peregrine) and a hooded sweatshirt (The Gyrfalcon).

The three features that set Wunderbird apart from any other outdoor apparel are high-tech fabric, top-opening pockets for bearing the weight of optics and other gear, and padded shoulders to ease the strain of carrying a tripod. I was very pleased with all three.

The Peregrine Long-sleeved Tee

The Gyrfalcon Hooded Sweatshirt

The Fabric:

The first thing I did with the Peregrine was to go for a jog. I have never been thrilled with “quick-dry” synthetic fabrics, but I was amazed by how quickly perspiration evaporated from this shirt. It was a good first impression. Next I wore it birding.

I always wear long sleeves when birding, even in extreme heat, to protect my arms from sun and vegetation. The fabric of the Peregrine is substantial, but the breeze passed right through and kept me comfortably cool even in direct sun with temperatures over 80 degrees F.  The Gyrfalcon is made of thicker, more tightly woven material. I had a chance to try it one morning when the temperature had dropped into the upper 50s F., and found it to be very comfortable even when temperatures started to rise.

Wunderbird advertises that their garments repel mosquitoes. I am blessed to live in an area that doesn’t have many biting insects, so I wasn’t able to test this feature. But other reviewers have been very pleased with the fabric’s effectiveness in this regard.

The Pockets:

Each garment has two pockets in front that open at the top (I like to refer to them as kangaroo pouches) designed to take the weight of your optics off of your neck. I carry my binocular fairly high, so I used the upper pocket. The pocket is shallow, so your binocular only goes in about half way. This allows for quick and easy removal when you need your optics. The lower pocket is larger, so if you are not using it for a binocular, it could carry snacks, a small water bottle, or other gear. Both pockets on the Peregrine close with a zipper. The lower pocket on the Gyrfalcon is much larger, and has a small patch of Velcro to keep it from hanging open.

With my binocular in the top pocket of the Peregrine, I felt the weight distributed across my shoulder blades. This was very comfortable and actually felt like it was improving my posture. The Gyrfalcon fits more loosely, so I felt the weight of my binocular pulling down the front of the garment. But it still felt good to have the weight off my neck.

The Gyrfalcon also has pockets on the sides to warm your hands.

The Shoulder Pads:

All Wunderbird garments have padding on the shoulders to make carrying a tripod more comfortable. While the padding can’t do much to mitigate the weight of a scope, it does help to protect the skin from bruising, especially if you have bony shoulders like mine. I also carry a small camera bag over my shoulder while birding, and the padding made carrying that lighter weight noticeably more comfortable. If I had worn the Peregrine under the Gyrfalcon, I think that would have been even more effective.

The first time I wore the Peregrine, either the stitching or the edge of the padding felt scratchy on my shoulders. On subsequent trials, I wore a cotton T-shirt underneath and that seemed to fix the problem.

Fitting:

The hood on the Gyrfalcon has three elastic chords to adjust the fit. This keeps the hood from getting into your field of view.

The Wunderbird web site has a guide to help you order the right size. My measurements fell between small and medium, so I ordered medium. I found that size to be a little baggy, so if you are between sizes I would recommend ordering the smaller. I think a snug fit would help distribute the weight of your optics more effectively.

Takeaway:

Wunderbird birding garments actually do what they set out to do; they protect you from weather and other environmental hazards, they take the weight of your binocular off your neck, and they protect your shoulders from being bruised by your tripod. In other words, they make birding more comfortable so you can do it longer. What could be better than that?

Powering Down

binoc

Last week I mailed by trusty binocular to the repair center in Rhode Island to have the focusing mechanism upgraded. The original mechanism is very slow, causing me to miss a lot of birds. The new mechanism will be faster. So for the next few weeks I will be using my back-up binoc, which requires an adjustment on my part.

I have always used 10-power binoculars. I like the extra “reach” I get with 10X, especially when looking at distant shorebirds on mudflats, hawks in flight, and seabirds at the coast. The glass I am using now is 7-power, and the world looks smaller.

There are advantages to a 7X binoc. Since it doesn’t magnify as much, it provides a wider field of view, making it easier to find birds in heavy cover. The image also tends to be slightly brighter in a 7X glass and there is less magnification of any shaking in my hands, so the image is more stable. (If you ever want a demonstration of just how much your hands shake, take your binocular out at night and focus on a single star. You will be amazed at how much that little point of light jumps around. Luckily, our brains filter out much of this movement when we are watching birds.) I bought this 7X binoc for pelagic trips. The movement of the waves combined with a vibrating diesel engine make 10X binocs practically useless.

Despite these advantages, I still miss my 10X binocular. Yes, the 7X glass provides a clear, bright, stable image. And yes, a smaller image might force me to look harder at subtle details. But I like the full-frame views afforded by 10X. I like being able to count the four primary tips projecting on the wing of an American Golden Plover and seeing the leg feathering on a Rough-legged Hawk. Call me weak, but I like the extra power. Maybe it is just a guy thing.

Another piece of equipment you should carry in the field

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.

annas-hummingbird_john-rakestraw
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.