Bioculars and Spotting Scopes
Optics have improved greatly in the past decade, so you can purchase a very good pair of binoculars today at a very reasonable price. Many birders start off with a pair of 8x42 strength binoculars. The price of binoculars ranges widely, from tens of dollars to thousands. A solid pair of binoculars suitable for a beginning birder would range from $200-$300. Investing in a good pair of binoculars will reduce eye-strain and increase your ability to identify what you see. Remember, you will be using your binoculars often, so having a quality pair will improve your overall birding experience. There are multiple online and brick-and-mortar retail outlets for binoculars. Most have a very informative and helpful customer service team. Almost all binoculars, regardless of manufacturer, come with some kind of warranty. Spotting scopes resemble a compact telescope, and are mounted on a tripod. They are used to spot very distant birds, and are especially useful for picking out the different shorebirds along a mudflat.
How to focus your binoculars: 1) Close your right eye and adjust the center focus wheel until the image is clear, 2) close your left eye and adjust the right diopter until the image is clear, and 3) using both eyes, adjust the center focus wheel until the image is clear. Now you have perfectly focused lenses. If you are wearing glasses, keep the twist-up eye cups down, but if you aren't, twist them up before looking through.
Field Identification Guidebooks and Smartphone Apps
There are also many good field guides to choose from. The most important thing to remember is that Missouri is in the Eastern United States. Most field guides are separated into east and west, so choose the appropriate field guide. If you are a beginner, you do not need a field guide of all North American Birds; it will only confuse things.
Choosing a field guide comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer illustrations to photos, or the species organized by color instead of family. Try checking a guide out from your library and giving it a test run if you are unsure of what you’d prefer.
A more modern option is a birding app for your smartphone. Merlin Bird ID by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great free birding app, but most birding apps cost about the same or less than a printed book. The convenience is usually worth the extra investment, as apps can be updated more frequently than a printed book and the bird song recordings are a great help in the field.
Be sure to dress for the weather, and be mindful of your surroundings. Bring your water bottle and a snack on your adventures. Plan for the weather and habitat, bringing sunscreen or bug spray if necessary. You may be exploring a remote area without a drinking fountain, restroom, or other services, so plan ahead.