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Optics for Birding

Practical Advice for Foreign Birding Trips

by John Wall

Well in advance of trip:

Study principal language(s) spoken in area of trip. The better you are able to communicate, the more you will enjoy your trip. Plan to spend an hour per day for at least six months (Western European languages) to one year (e.g., Polish) to more than a year (e.g., Mandarin Chinese) to attain minimal competence for birding. You shouldn't be discouraged because of unfavorable classroom experiences. While language classes can be quite helpful when reading advanced works, at the basic, conversational level, you will progress much faster on your own, studying what you need to learn for practical communication instead of what happens to be in the course materials. Moreover, the vocabulary needed to get along on a birding trip is only a fraction of that required in university classes. You don't have to be able to translate Cyrano de Bergerac to hire and communicate with porters in Congo. See the WorldTwitch Language Resources page.

Study tapes of bird vocalizations. It is best to dub study tapes of voices you don't know and need to learn and to listen to a short tape of a few cuts repeatedly until you are intimately familiar with them. Periodic repetition of your study tapes will help solidify what you have learned.

Exercise daily. Running is good for overall conditioning, but for bird trips it should be combined with uphill exercise, at a minimum, stair climbing machines set at high resistance. There's quite a substantial difference between the most strenuous workout on a stair machine and real mountain hiking, and no gym equipment can prepare you for steep downhill descents.

Some recommended field equipment

Shoes and Boots

While some birders go almost everywhere in sandals, I prefer a good-fitting pair of waterproof boots for all but the slipperiest trails. Of currently available boots, my favorite design is the Lowa Tectrek GTX (pdf), an 8-inch Gore-Tex boot with a sticky, Vibram sole, leather front and cordura top, and a unique, hinged, hard plastic back that provides outstanding ankle support. I usually wear size 13 (US), but I found the size 13 Tectrek, which weighs only 1076 g per boot, to be a bit tight in the toes. I exchanged size 13 for size 14 (UK size 13), which fits me comfortably and weighs 1136 g per boot. Be sure to order the Blue/Black version, as the Black/Orange style is more likely to spook birds. The Tectrek is no longer imported into the U.S., but Americans can order online from a European boot dealer such as (Use to find other sources.)

Raichle boots are made on a last with more toe room than most other brands, and they also feature very comfortable footbeds and memo foam in the tongue. While Raichle offer no backpacking boots comparable to the Lowa Tectrek, they have a superb, lightweight mountaineering boot, the All Degree Pro GTX, that would be ideal for winter birding on ice-covered jetties. Size 13 (US) weighs 1150 g. As with many mountaineering boots, the sole is too stiff for comfort on backpacking trips. Other leading boot manufacturers include Garmont, La Sportiva, Aku, Asolo, Salomon, Montrail, Tecnica, Trezeta, Zamberlan, Meindl, Vasque, Kefas & Hanwag.

If your Gore-tex boots leak and the dealer and manufacturer refuse to issue a refund, you should have recourse directly with W.L. Gore & Associates under their "Guaranteed to keep your dry warranty." [Gore's Return Guide].

Sticky sandals (e.g. Teva) are preferable to boots on extremely slippery or waterlogged trails and essential for river crossings, although the new generation of water sports shoes may serve the same purposes while protecting against the cuts, bruises and bites one inevitably gets when wearing sandals.

Sleeping Gear

The insect nets I usually carry are the Epco Sleepscreen, available from Campmor for $24.99, No. 41168-M, and the Travel Tent by Long Road Travel Supply, $79, No. 301. With the optional rain fly, the all-mesh Travel Tent makes an excellent one-person tropical tent. It may also be pitched inside buildings that are too hot for comfortable use of the Sleepscreen or where the Sleepscreen would be inadequate, e.g., in thatched houses (kissing bug habitat) or near midge hatches.

For many years I've traveled with an ultra-light PTFE, overfilled down sleeping bag made by Feathered Friends, and I also have one of their down vests. In my opinion, their superb gear is well worth the extra expense. Western Mountaineering bags are also said to be excellent. For reviews of hiking equipment, see

Binoculars & Scopes

See the WorldTwitch Optics for Birding page.

Recording Equipment

For bird recording, I highly recommend the Sony TC-D5 Pro II analogue cassette deck and Sennheiser MKH-70 RF-condenser microphone with Sennheiser blimp windscreen, pistol grip/ shockmount and power supply. This mic and deck have 3-wire balanced XLR connectors, obviating the hum problems with 2-wire setups and the need for a mic amplifier. Following the sound advice of Davis Finch, I also carry a Sony TCM-5000EV deck on top of the Pro II for playback only. While the TCM-5000EV is incapable of making high quality recordings, it's a superb playback deck. Using it for playback also saves wear and tear on the Pro II. I use a "pigtail" connector between the power supply and the Pro II and set one channel at a lower record level, thus providing some protection in case of overload of the top channel. Saul Mineroff Electronics, Marice Stith Recording Services, and B&H Photo are sources for Sennheiser pro equipment. Unfortunately, Sony have discontinued their analogue cassette recorders, although used Pro II decks can often be found on eBay.

Most portable digital recorders are unsuitable for foreign trips either due to inability to tolerate extreme humidity or short battery life. An exception is the Nagra Ares-BB+, which weighs 900 g and records on PCMCIA cards. While it undoubtedly makes high quality recordings, it lacks the superb usability of the best analogue cassette recorders in field birding. It's also very expensive.


I've been wearing Casio digital watches at all times for more than 25 years and have found them to be nearly indestructible. My current everyday watch is the Casio GW-400j, with vibrating alarm, solar recharge, wave ceptor automatic time calibration in North America, thermometer, and tide tables. (pdf manual). See my Casio Watch Thermometer Comparison test and recommendations.


An altimeter is essential for documenting the altitude of observations and tape locations. I've been pleased with the performance of the Thommen Classic TX-22 (6,000m) analogue altimeter (pdf spec sheet), which I believe to be more accurate than any electronic model, with the additional advantage of not being dependent on batteries.


While it's inevitable that anyone who pursues birds in closed-canopy forest will get lost from time to time, particularly at night, you can save time finding your way back to a trail by wearing a wrist compass and checking it frequently. I like the simple and reliable Silva 424 wrist sighting compass.

Other Equipment

In a letter to Bull ABC 7(2), Mike Flieg reports on the successful use of a laser pointer on a trip to Madagascar, particularly in the hands of native guides who used it to point out forest skulkers. Bird responses to the beam included ignoring it, trying to peck at the spot, and in one case running away. Mike recommends taking a pen-sized pointer that runs on AAA cells. A good choice might be the Infiniter Super NBK, which uses a 650nm red laser and is rated at 500m visible range and 40 hours battery life. Most of us have birded with people who find birds in dense foliage but are unable to describe the spot so that their mates can get on the bird. A laser pointer would seem to be a solution. If you use a laser pointer, be careful not to shine it in a bird's eye (or your friends' eyes). See the information about the dangers of laser pointers on Health Canada and Laser Pointers 411.

The existing GPS system will become obsolete by 2010 as the European Galileo super-GPS comes online. Besides offering superior accuracy to within one meter and the ability to work inside buildings, Galileo has the advantage of not being subject to deactivation or degradation upon the request of the U.S. military. (For more information on Galileo, see the SSTL website.) If you buy a GPS device now, you probably will have to replace it to take advantage of Galileo. The current products of greatest interest to birders are the Garmin eTrex series: Basic, Camo, Legend (with built-in maps of North & South America & WAAS), Summit (with built-in altimeter and electronic compass), and Vista (with features of Legend & Summit plus 24 MB for storing downloadable maps). Reviews: eTrex Summit | eTrex Vista & Legend - 16 July 2002 | Garmin website.

Some birders in the U.S. have been using Family Radio Service two-way radios to communicate. I'm not sure whether FRS radios are sufficiently powerful to be useful in hilly terrain and closed-canopy forest. More powerful GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios require an FCC license, which costs $85 for five years, for use in the U.S. Most countries that have similar services do not use the same frequencies as the U.S. [See detailed list - not up to date.] An exception is Brazil, which has a service identical to FRS.

I always carry a small shortwave radio and occasionally tune in to the BBC World Service, if possible. See the Worldtwitch Portable Shortwave Radios page for my recommendations.

LED flashlights have significant advantages over traditional designs, namely light weight and long battery and lamp life. While I haven't tested multiple LED lights for owl spotting, for general personal use, the Pelican L1 with blue/green LED is an excellent choice.

When traveling from, to or within the U.S., you should use only TSA-approved luggage locks, or they may cut your locks. These typically are small combination locks that also accept a key issued to TSA personnel, such as this Master Lock model. Professional baggage thieves, who are in many cases employees of the airports, airlines, or TSA, undoubtedly have copies of the keys, however. Once out of the U.S., you can switch to locks without the TSA key option for better security.

Medical Preparations

Get your Havrix® Hepatitis A inoculations, if you haven't done so already. An injection followed by a booster six months to a year later provides an estimated 10 years of protection. Unfortunately, there is no available vaccine for Hepatitis E, which like Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and water.

Get a prescription for Norfloxacin (Noroxin®, Chibroxin®) tablets or similar. Norfloxacin is an antibiotic that knocks out most E. coli infections very quickly. In addition, get a prescription for Metronidazole (Flagyl®), an antibiotic that is effective against certain protozoal infections, especially Giardia.

Bring Loperamide hydorchloride anti-diarrheal tablets to treat acute symptoms until the Norfloxacin takes effect.

Spray all your field clothes, hats, boots, insect nets and sleeping bag insert with Permethrin on both sides until damp. 6-ounce pump spray bottles are available from Campmor for $4.99, No. 56624-P. [Caveat emptor: Studies have shown that permethrin exposure causes "structural chromosome aberrations" in human immune system cells as well as in the the reproductive cells in laboratory animals. See Brevard's Health Risk website. Since the (mostly corrupt & incompetent) local governments in the New York City area have sprayed mass quantities from the air in their hopeless and militaristic ("destroy the town to save it") campaign against West Nile virus, wiping out butterflies, bees, lobsters, and other invertebrates, with ripple effects up the food chain, involuntary exposure seems a far greater risk than the minimal exposure from sprayed garments. Some employees of the NYC spraying contractor have catastrophic symptoms similar to Gulf War Syndrome. UPDATE, 1 May 2003: Permethrin and other pesticides have been linked to prostate cancer.]

Get eye forceps with a narrow, curved end at a surgical supply store for safe removal of any ticks that get past the Permethrin barrier. (Available at Arista Surgical Supply, 67 Lexington Ave., NYC, for $6.50.)

Carry a small bottle of 100% DEET insect repellant, available from Campmor for $2.99, No. 82160-P. DEET melts plastic and may have harmful health consequences as overused by many people, but in the small quantities used by world birders -- on face and hands only -- the risk of malaria, leishmaniasis, river blindness, Dengue fever or other flying insect-borne diseases has to be considerably greater than the potential risk of DEET exposure. See "DEET: It Can't Be Beat." By Brian Reid, Washington Post, 6 May 2003.

Carry a bottle of iodine crystals in solution for treating questionable water. (Marketed as Polar Pure and available from Campmor for $9.99, No. 81320-P.)

Bring an electric mosquito killer. They are marketed in Europe by by a number of companies, but don't seem to be available in the U.S. [Here in the New York area the ignorant and corrupt politicians are bombarding the environment with massive doses of pesticides in a futile effort to eliminate mozzies with West Nile disease, while these really useful personal control devices are unavailable, presumably due to the manufacturers' fear of the unpredictable U.S. legal system.] These small units plug into 110-240v AC and vaporize tablets or mats of insecticide. Unlike mosquito coils [which are available in the U.S.], there is no obvious odor, yet they are very effective in hotel rooms. I can personally recommend the Lifesystems Plug-in Mosquito Killer, available from Country Trails (UK) for about £7.60, including 15 tablets. A slightly larger model, the Mosquito Destroyer may be ordered from MASTA for about £9, including 20 mats of insecticide. I have had severe allergic reactions to insecticides sprayed by some tropical hotels, but suffered no symptoms at all using the Lifesystems unit. Caution: A recent post to the SABirds list reports that one species of Anopheles in southern Africa now is resistant to pyrethroid-based insecticides, the type used in the electric mozzie killers.

Check with experts about malaria risk and prophylaxis. It would be prudent to consult a well-informed travel physician, such as Dr. Bradley Connor of New York City. I generally don't take malaria pills because of their unpleasant to severe and bizarre side effects. (See "Third Bragg soldier [who murdered wife] took malaria drug [Larium]" UPI, 17 August 2002; "Malaria pill's side effects raise issues about safety," Wall Street Journal, 4 September 2002 (Suicide, hallucinations, violent behavior).) That may be risky in areas where P. falciparum occurs, since it can be fatal within days. Birders died from malaria in South Africa and Cambodia in the late 1990s. Beware of  counterfeit malaria pills, particularly artesunate -- see The Hazard of Counterfeit Antimalarials in Asia by Paul N. Newton, BirdingASIA 1(2004):72-74: "In 2000-2001 38% of the shop-bought 'artesunate' sampled in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma did not contain the active drug. . . . The third-generation fake is almost indistinguishable from the genuine hologram. . . ." An alternative may be to carry a "knockout dose" of quinine sulfate and Fansidar® tablets, which contain pyrimethamine 25 mg and sulfadoxine 500mg, in areas where non-Fansidar-resistant falciparum is known to occur and to take it if you experience malaria symptoms. See MASTA. Caution: Fansidar® "is no longer recommended for malaria prophylaxis due to the possibility of fatal toxic epidermal necrolysis." ( A rapid malaria test, the OptiMAL® assay, is claimed to be able to detect the presence of malaria in a drop of blood within two minutes and distinguish P. falciparum from P. vivax.

I get a yellow fever inoculation every 10 years, the period of validity, and carry the yellow certificate with my passport when traveling to tropical countries.

Avoid all on-site inoculations and blood transfusions unless you get the blood and sealed transfusion supplies from known, safe sources. "Each year, over-use of injections and re-use of dirty syringes and needles combine to cause an estimated 8-16 million hepatitis B virus infections, 2.3-4.7 million hepatitis C virus infections, and 80,000-160,000 infections with HIV/AIDS worldwide." (WHO, 14 March 2000.) Third-world transfusion supplies are suspect. For example, in China, where an astonishing 60% of the people have Hepatitis B as a result of injections and blood collection with dirty needles, even disposable syringes are cleaned and repackaged in a large, underground market. (NY Times, 20 August 2001.) Chinese peasants have taken revenge by stabbing innocent pedestrians with hypodermic needles filled with HIV-infected blood (Telegraph, 10 March 2002), including three lo fun at a fake designer clothing market in Shanghai. (Reuters, 1 July 2002.)

If you will be staying in one place for an extended period, it would make sense to seal holes in screens with a tube of glue and cracks and crevices with Mortite or caulk.

If you expect to take to the water, you may want to consider Doxycycline prophylaxis for leptospirosis. (See "Deadly infection re-emerges as people get adventurous", NY Times, 10 October 2000.)

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a serious health risk on flights of a few hours or more. In August 2005, Ron Gatrelle, a well-known, 58-year-old lepidopterist, died of DVT after flying home to South Carolina from the Lepidopterists' Society annual meeting in Arizona. A recent study found that 10% of people over 50 develop blood clots on flights longer than eight hours! "Blood clots risk 'for any journey over four hours.'" Telegraph, 9 April 2001. You may calculate your risk of developing DVT on See compilation of information on DVT by the Sydney Morning Herald. [More information and a message board with personal reports on, and additional information on DVT and in-flight disease transmission, and an airline seat pitch table, on] On long flights, flex calf muscles and get up and walk around at regular intervals.
UPDATE 15 November 2003 - The Knee Defender is an important new product that helps prevent DVT and makes air travel much more pleasant by making it impossible for inconsiderate slobs to recline their seats into your lap. It consists of a pair of small plastic devices that slide down the arms of the tray table and costs $14.95.
Airlines Accused of Hindering Key Blood Clot Study. Reuters. 29 January 2003. And forum shopping.
UPDATE: A retired pilot has invented a product to prevent DVT - the Airogym DVT Airbag. Wired, 26 February 2003.

Take your own food on Garuda Indonesian Airlines? -- Garuda airline meal used to kill activist. Times Online, 10 October 2007. (So sorry Meester John, but the specially seasoned chicken was intended for Munir.)

Useful over-the-counter medications for treating minor cuts and rashes include New-Skin liquid bandage (Medtech Laboratories) and Dr. Withrow Skin Protectant.

Beware of all tame mammals -- they might be rabid. In 1992, I gave some fruit to a tame Mountain Tapir that begged for a handout at the Pasochoa Reserve in Ecuador. It later died of rabies, having been bitten by a rabid cat. Report by Craig Downer.

Don't eat pork unless you know it has been cooked thoroughly. See, e.g., "Worm on the Brain: Woman recuperating after doctors remove parasite [from skull]." ABC, 10 April 2001. (Taenia solium picked up in Mexico from a pork taco caused neurocysticercosis, a brain lesion.)

Crime is increasing around the world, and has reached such extreme levels in some countries, such as Colombia and South Africa, that few birders are willing to assume the risk. It can be difficult to obtain accurate information, as unfavorable crime statistics sometimes are suppressed or doctored by governments. iJET Weekly Travel Intelligence Reports are available for most countries, although the emphasis is on touristy destinations that birders usually avoid. For nearly every country, there are travel websites and message boards that may help you evaluate risks. Once underway, you should always ask regularly about local conditions. Generally, tourist spots, particularly beaches and bars, are among the least safe places. In countries where ecotourism has taken hold, such as Costa Rica, nature reserves are becoming popular foraging grounds for criminals. Here's a link to a book about travel safety that I haven't read.

Miltefosine, an oral drug that is "95 per cent effective" at curing visceral leishmaniasis, became available in September 2002. "Ongoing studies are proving its effectiveness in treating cutaneous leishmaniasis."

Bose QuietComfort 3 Noise Cancelling Headphones. New in 2006. Compact, on-ear design. Kills airplane engine noise allowing study of bird tapes etc. en route.

I suffer from seasonal and cat allergies and have found that an allergy medication that works well with no observed side effects is Cetirizine (5mg pills), an anti-histamine that is available as an inexpensive over-the-counter generic or branded drug (Reactine) in Canada (e.g., from Sunrise Meds) but only as an expensive, prescription only, non-generic (Zyrtec) in the US.

The U.S. Navy's Disease Vector Risk Assessment Profiles for 147 countries are now online, having been produced in response to a FOIA request.

Other Things to Do

Make air and car bookings well in advance of your trip and request written confirmation of car reservations. Space is artificially limited on some special offers, such as the Brazil Airpass. Airline seat maps may be found at SeatGuru and SeatExpert.

Assemble all the relevant gen you can find and study it. Memorize the locality names and learn to pronounce them properly. Prepare lists of birds known from each site and study confusing species.

Check your equipment and order any needed replacements.

Most passports now have RFID chips that store your confidential information. As demonstrates, they are easy to crack, but you can protect your passport from electronic snoopers by wrapping it in tin foil.

In the US, if you lose your ID or if your name is on the comical (if you're not on it) No Fly List (as are "John Smith" and "Robert Johnson"), tell the airline you have lost your ID. They will give you a special boarding pass, marked "No ID" and "SSSS", which will let you go through  security. (See the website of security expert Christopher Soghoian.)

Tape recordists only -- Order sufficient blank tape for the rest of your life, as high quality analogue cassette tapes are being phased out. The tape I use, Maxell XLII-S, C-60, has become hard to find, but as of December 2005 is still available online for less than 70 cents per cassette.

If permits are required, e-mail, fax or call the appropriate authorities well in advance. Check with someone who has done it before for specific advice about how to frame your request. For example, in some countries it helps if everybody goes by "Dr." and has a professional title, whereas in other countries that is a path to certain rejection. You generally need to establish yourself as sufficiently serious about natural history to be allowed into an area closed to the public but not so serious as to threaten the local biologists or to require a scientific visa.

Purchase medical evacuation insurance, unless you are covered by a company plan. I can recommend Wallach & Company, P.O. Box 480, Middleburg, Virginia 22117, (800) 237-6615, (703) 687-3166. $250,000 of medical coverage, including medical evacuation by Medex, a UK-based firm, together with $25,000 of accidental death and dismemberment insurance, costs only $2.80 per day with $1,000 deductible. [A helpful reader has pointed out that Wallach's insurance policy precludes coverage of occurrences resulting from pre-existing conditions. It would be prudent for anyone with a serious pre-existing condition to search for travel insurance that does not exclude such conditions from coverage.] The best available medical evacuation program is offered by Medjet Assistance. For $195/year or $295/year for a family, members receive domestic and overseas medical evacuation by private jet to their hospital of choice. Other insurers will evacuate you to the nearest facility where in their opinion you will receive appropriate care.

Prepare your packing list.

Just before trip

Buy batteries, medicines, and food for the trip.

Pack using your packing list.

I pack my most valuable gear in a convertible travel backpack, which prior to the government's imposition of idiotic carry-on restrictions, I almost always was able to carry on board without objection and without it being weighed. Everything else goes in an old-style LL Bean zipper duffle bag. My bags don't appear to be worth stealing and never have been stolen. If you travel with a hard suitcase, you should use a lockable luggage strap and have the suitcase shrink-wrapped at the airport. (Note: This won't work in the US, where the security goons are now breaking locks and opening luggage.) Theft from luggage is widespread and out of control, but the major airlines don't care, since their liability is limited. See "Checking luggage? Think long and hard before answering yes to that question at MIA" by Kathy Glasgow. Miami New Times, 30 May 2002.

During trip

Carry a large spiral notebook and take notes on localities, birds and anything else of interest. Draw maps and record mileages.

David Bishop has a better idea: "Instead of carrying a notebook in the field, which could get lost along with all your preceding notes, I carry sheets of waterproof paper. This is impossible to tear but can be cut with a knife or scissors. Anyway I fold the sheet into four and mark each small page from 1-8 with day, date, time, place, GPS co-ordinates as appropriate. It is best to use a 2B pencil as this does not run in the rain, however, you can use a biro. Once the page is full I just put it in a zip-lock bag in my day pack and then, when I get back to my room, lock the notes in my case. The notes can then be transcribed into a larger, longer lasting log that doesn't have to go in the field. This way you only stand to loose a day's worth of field notes if something happens to you in the field."

Dictate detailed notes onto your bird recordings, including date, time, weather conditions, and location for each cut. Leave space between cuts to insert cut numbers. Identify all vocalizations as best you can at the time.

For useful information about renting a car, see my Rental Car Checklist.

Road accidents undoubtedly are the greatest threat to life and limb. On average, at least one overloaded vehicle in common carriage must go over a cliff somewhere in the world every day. (See the Bus Plunge website.) Unfortunately, birders seem to have a higher than normal accident rate, perhaps because of our tendency to drive too fast (to keep on the itinerary) and to watch for birds when we should be watching the road. The passengers can help the driver by following the maps and watching for signposts. Remember to use the horn frequently and to watch for drunken drivers. (I missed a high speed, head-on collision with a wrong-way drunk by a few feet on the Bronx River Parkway when he turned onto an entrance ramp at the last second, perhaps alerted by my horn and flashing headlights.) See "The Biggest Epidemic", Travel Doctor, 9 April 2001, "To put matters in perspective here are the average annual number of accidental deaths over the decade of the nineties in Australia: Crocodile attack 0.7; Shark attack 1.0; Lightning strike 1.7; Bee stings 1.8; Snake Bite 4.5; Diving 6.9; Drowning 68; Road accidents 2979." Many of the deaths probably should have been attributed to overconsumption of alcohol.

The following websites offer helpful advice on dealing with airlines:

Fly-Rights - A Consumer Guide to Air Travel. Always carry a piece of carbon paper. If an airline loses your luggage, request two claims forms. Fill one out while making a carbon copy on the other, and have the airline stamp the time and date on your copy acknowledging receipt of the original. Claims must be submitted in writing, and there a short limitations period.

Rule 240: Don't Leave Home Without It! By Al Anolik. Every US airline has its own Rule 240 spelling out a traveler's rights in the event of flight delays or cancellations. This site has posted copies of the forms of the major airlines.

An airline to avoid: Nepal Airlines responds to technical problems by sacrificing goats. It's much cheaper than following Boeing's maintenance regime.

It can be time consuming and perhaps dangerous to try to turn something in to lost and found in the U.S. You may miss your flight or wind up on an enemies list. See "At the Airport". It may also be dangerous to ask police for directions, at least in Baltimore. Even pointing out suspicious passengers, such as the Flying Imans, can subject you to costly litigation, and you may wind up before a crooked judge who splits fees with the plaintiff's lawyer.

To avoid having your cash tracked or identified electronically, wrap currency in aluminum foil. See RFID tags in new US notes exploded when you try to microwave them.

What to do when you get lost in closed canopy forest

I was motivated to add these comments after hearing about the tragic loss of a Gabon birding tour participant who was unable to keep up with the group, got lost, and still has not been found. (His family unsuccessfully sued Field Guides, Inc. for negligence, calling Nik Borrow as an expert witness.) Getting lost is almost unavoidable, particularly when chasing voices in the forest to make good tape recordings. I have been "lost" many times, but always have been able to find my way back by following a few simple rules.

The best protection is to know the directions of roads, rivers, trails, clearings, and other landmarks in the area where you are birding. General information may be available from maps, but for the most part it is important to keep tabs on directions by referring frequently to your wrist compass.

When you discover that you are lost, mark the spot and consult your compass and the sky, if visible. Then walk in a straight line in the direction you believe most likely to lead back to the trail, marking your path with distinctive broken twigs about every 3-4 meters. If this proves unsuccessful after a reasonable effort, return to your starting point and try another "spoke" on the invisible wheel. This method will always work while preventing you from wandering even farther away from the trail. It is of course important to watch your step, particularly in limestone karst country, where dangerous holes may be hidden by tree roots and leaf litter.

Copyright © 1992-2012 John Wall