The amber-hued objective lens at the business end of Canon's massive 600mm supertelephoto lens is large to gather as much light as possible. But even a lens this size — it's about 2 feet long with its protective lens hood attached — can't magnify tiny or distant birds as much as a photographer would like. It invariably attracts stares from curious passerby.
Thousands of birders descend upon a half-mile boardwalk to see warblers each May in northern Ohio's Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The warblers migrate north but stop at Magee Marsh to rest up before crossing Lake Erie. Even with apps and digital cameras making birding easier, binoculars remain a nearly universal birding tool.
Planning a trip? The eBird service tells you which weeks to travel if you want to see birds in a particular region. It's also useful for figuring out what's near your own home if you're getting started.
I photographed this common murre with a huge 600mm lens that magnifies subjects but makes it harder to frame the shot from the heaving deck of a ship. This murre just caught a fish in the Pacific Ocean west of San Francisco.
Keith Barnes, a South African living in Taiwan, carries a massive 500mm Canon supertelephoto lens and Leica Ultravid binoculars. The birding expert works for Tropical Birding, which runs 120 bird tours a year for avian enthusiasts.
Lots of US birders are retireees, but there are plenty of younger ones, too. This teenager at the Biggest Week in American Birding event had better camera equipment than most adults and knew his bird IDs.
A ruddy turnstone looks for tasty tidbits among the rocks on the shore of Lake Erie in northern Ohio. The bird got its name from the way it flips stones over to find food. CNET's Stephen Shankland photographed this with a Canon 7D Mark II SLR, 100-400mm lens all the way out to 400mm, and a 1.4x teleconverter — a relatively portable and affordable camera setup.
One modern birding tool is "digibinning," or shooting a digital photo through your binoculars, often with your phone. Here, the Merlin Photo ID app successfully identifies an oak titmouse even though it was pretty small in the original 12-megapixel photo.
Many birders use spotting scopes to magnify distant birds. Expensive models from companies like Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica cost thousands of dollars. Adapters let you attach phones or cameras to take photos.
Magee Marsh and the adjacent Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge are unspoiled, but they're located in an industrial part of Ohio. Four miles east, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station cooling tower releases steam into the sky.
Noah Strycker, a professional "bird nerd" from Oregon, saw a record 6,042 birds in 365 days of birding around the world in 2015. He chronicled the trip in a book, "Birding Without Borders." Here, he's standing along the Magee Marsh boardwalk, holding a Canon camera and 400mm telephoto lens along with his usual binoculars. He's good enough to identify many birds just by their calls and songs, though.
Cars make a good hide, a secluded spot to photograph birds without spooking them. CNET's Stephen Shankland and a 600mm Canon lens here takes up most of the front seat in Point Reyes National Seashore, California.
Small shorebirds are collectively called "peep" because they often are hard to tell apart. I used the Merlin Bird ID app to figure out that this is a western sandpiper poking through the shallow water for food in the San Francisco Bay.