(Photo by Don Reimer)
(Photo by Don Reimer)
What basic gear does one need to watch birds? Well, a good bird field guide (I like National Geographic’s) and a set of binoculars are starters. A spotting scope is a convenient tool for getting detailed looks at distant birds, but is not a necessity. You don’t need specialized clothing, but a hat or cap is often advisable for protection from the elements. Hats reduce sun glare on the eyes, give some protection from harmful UV rays and keep heads warm and dry in winter and shaded in summer. Certain hats can even reveal characteristics of the wearer. Through the years I’ve gained a collection of birding hats and caps that have benefitted me in the field. A few hats were gifts from generous birding friends. And one hat satisfied my sense of personal expression and whimsy as well.

The other day I pulled a clump of caps from my top closet shelf. Some models looked fresh and nearly new, while the sweat-stained visors of others portrayed a history of multiple days afield. Each of the hats bore some form of logo design commemorating a quality birding festival, birding hotspot, environmental organization or an individual bird species of note, such as a Connecticut warbler. The warbler cap has a double appeal to me as a reminder of spring excursions to the Connecticut Ornithological Association’s annual meetings, as well as being a temporary substitute for the living creature itself — despite a lengthy list of birds, I’ve yet to encounter a Connecticut warbler in the flesh. Maybe this fall on Monhegan Island.…

And speaking of Monhegan, I own a couple of island-themed caps from my favorite Maine birding location: one cap reads “04852,” the island’s ZIP code. The other cap features the iconic head of a goat, symbolic of the nimble-footed goats that graze the knobby slopes of adjacent Manana Island.

May I share a few other caps? As a field trip leader during the 2006 American Birding Association National Convention in Bangor, I wore a blue Maine Audubon cap. Upon returning from a pelagic outing, it became readily apparent that some trip participants had failed to see a great cormorant. Maine is the only U.S. state where the species nests, so the sighting was important to many of these folks. Against all odds, we spotted an immature great cormorant perched with open wings on a pond standpipe right beside Route 1 in Searsport! Needless to say, the bus turned around for the viewing.

A greenish cap from Cape May, New Jersey, holds some fond memories of that renowned birding mecca: It’s recognized as a fall raptor hotspot, and I’d watched kettles of hawks soaring above the Cape May Point hawk watch platform before commencing their cross-bay venture. By day, small groups of reclusive long-eared owls also skulked in the compact wooded sections nearby. To my amazement one twilight evening, seven of these majestic owls emerged to circle the Cape May lighthouse tower like giant slow-flapping moths.

And following my heart valve replacement surgery in 2016, I commissioned a dozen caps bearing a customized logo design. I’d come to realize that several of my birding companions shared a similar medical fate — with each surgical outcome, a cow heart valve was installed. We jokingly made references to our yearnings for Dairy Queen and exaggerated bovine imitations: M-O-O-O! Soon I determined that a cap signifying membership into the newly inspired Bovine Birders Club was needed. The cap (shown in upper center) features a Holstein cow with a pair of bright red binoculars around her neck. Appreciative club members were truly m-o-o-v-e-d by the caps. My surgeon was, deservedly, an honorary cap recipient as well.