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Choosing the right gear

It doesn't take much to get started birding, just a field guide, some sturdy shoes and a pair of binoculars.

Most people know how to buy books and shoes, but choosing the right binoculars can be quite confusing.

Binoculars come in a variety of sizes, such as 7x35, 8x42 and 10x50.

The smaller number refers to a binoculars' power of magnification. For example, a bird viewed through a pair of 7x35 binoculars appears seven times closer than a bird viewed with the naked eye. The higher the number, the greater the magnification.

The disadvantage to higher-powered binoculars is that they are heavier. They also are more difficult to keep steady.

The higher number refers to the diameter in millimeters of the objective lens. The larger the lens, the more light it lets in. The more light, the clearer the image.

Once you have decided on the power, go to a camera store and find a pair that feels comfortable. Fit is a big factor. If the binoculars are too heavy or don't feel right in your hands, you will leave them at home on your next trip into the field.

You should be able to find an entry pair of binoculars for less than $100. But you may outgrow those quickly. So don't sell yourself short. Buy a good pair that will last.

Once you've got equipment, start by becoming familiar with birds in your back yard. Once you know them, learn the birds in your city, then county, then state. With roughly 9,000 birds in the world, it's doubtful you'll run out of things to do.

A good group of birds to start with is the wading birds. They include the herons (the great blue, little blue, tricolored and green) and the egrets (the great, snowy, cattle and reddish.) They are distinctive in colors and sizes, and occur in freshwater and saltwater.