Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season, so it's time for my annual list of holiday gift ideas. Regardless of your budget, I think I've included something for everyone. Unless otherwise indicated, look for these items at wild bird stores and nature centers.
A while back I recommended a wireless microphone at a popular national electronics store as a means to monitor outdoor sounds from inside the house or office. It was a great product, but the company stopped selling it about two weeks after the column ran. Mother Nature's Monitor ($25), a battery-powered wireless microphone that can be tuned to an FM radio, takes its place. Set up takes about two minutes, and I've become addicted to mine. Even while I'm busy working, I can still hear what's going on around the feeders.
Get a date: The 2002 West Virginia Wildlife Calendar ($9 each ppd., plus 42ı sales tax for West Virginia residents; order from WV-DNR, P.O. Box 67, Elkins, WV 26241) may be the best deal on this list. This popular calendar features original art work of native wildlife by accomplished artists and makes a terrific, inexpensive gift for anyone who enjoys wildlife.
Everyone who works outdoors gets dry, cracked hands. The best treatment I've found is Bag Balm (Dairy Association Co., one oz., $3.99; 10 oz., $6.99), an udder cream that works great on human hands feet, knees, and elbows. Look for the distinctive green canisters at farm supply and feed stores.
The Bird Song Identiflyer and its innovative system of sound cards continues to be the most convenient way to learn nature's sounds in the field. The newest sound card features ten species of frogs. The player retails for $35, and each card sells for ten dollars. For more information, visit www.identiflyer.com or call toll-free 1-877-261-6556.
The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior (2001, Knopf, $45, $27 at amazon.com) is the best new bird book of the year. Written by 48 birding experts and illustrated by David Sibley, the book serves as an excellent introduction to ornithology that concentrates on the bird families of North America. This is a desk reference, not a field guide.
For map lovers: Any map lover would be thrilled with a gift from Raven Maps ($30 to $60). Views of the Earth, North America, and most states are meticulously detailed works of art. One of my favorites depicts the world's cities at night. These are truly magnificent maps, but they are large and require adequate wall space for display. Call 800-237-0798 for a catalog, or visit www.ravenmaps.com for more information.
The Stock Pod ($99; 1-866-265-4894/www.stock-pod.com) is an adjustable rifle stock that accepts spotting scopes, video cameras, and still cameras. It's great for birders who want to tote a spotting scope through the woods, but don't want to be bothered by a bulky tripod.
Squirrel stuff: North American Tree Squirrels by Michael Steele and John Koprowski (2001, Smithsonian Institution Press, $24.95; $17.46/amazon.com) is a fascinating and authoritative account of some of the most common mammals found in North America. Whether you love the squirrels you see in the park or hate the ones that raid your bird feeders, this book will help you understand their habits and biology.
Speaking of squirrels, consider a ceramic squirrel mug (under $10) for any squirrel lover on your list. My favorite features a squirrel wearing a black cape, a red mask, and a ransom note that reads, "Hand over the seed and no one will get hurt."
If you're looking for a quick and easy way to identify your backyard birds, a laminated poster entitled Common Feeder Birds: Eastern North America available at Wal-Mart for under four dollars will do the trick. It's published by Cornell's Lab of Ornithology and features 28 common backyard species.
Finally, if you value my advice on attracting backyard birds, I recommend my Building a Backyard Bird Habitat (2000, Stackpole Books, $16.95; $13.52/amazon.com, ). It's everything I know about attracting backyard birds with food, water, nest boxes, and cover.