A laminated folder "Quick Guide to the Birds of Lake Chapala" illustrating 150 local species can be purchased for $150 pesos at Diane Pearl Collecciones, Colon #1, in the center of Ajijic. This is especially useful to newcomers - it is produced by "Defenders of Wildlife" which works to protect imperiled species throughout North America.
Recommended Bird Books for Mexico
We recommend the following three books.
Note that bird books for Mexico in English assume that the reader knows the common birds from Oregon to Florida and does not need pictures of those species.
1. The first is a “field guide”, meaning it is thin enough to be carried in the field:
2. The next book is the essential reference book for birds in Mexico, but is too big to be carried around easily:
It is a good idea to have a good guide to North American birds. Many people like the illustrations in the "National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America". We happen to think that Sibley does the best job of illustrating US and Canadian birds of different ages and sex.
3. We use:
Sources of books
These books are now available from www.amazon.com.mx at very reasonable prices for delivery in Mexico (go to “books” and enter Birds of Mexico in the search bar at the top of the web page.) These books are not available locally in Guadalajara or at Lake Chapala.
Important note on the use of bird books
In general it is a mistake to identify an unknown bird on the basis of the picture in only one bird book. The truth of this statement will become apparent to you when you compare the pictures in the different books. You will see that many birds look quite different in each book.
Selecting Binoculars for Birding
Of all the uses for binoculars, birding is the most demanding. You need the greatest possible image resolution in binoculars that are not too heavy to carry for a few hours at a time, are waterproof, and sturdy enough to resist dropping.
For birding, the primary considerations are:
• The quality of the lenses and the quality of the assembly are the major contributors to resolution and sharpness.
• Ability to focus down to about 5-10 ft. for when that warbler gets really close.
• Ability to focus quickly before the bird flies away. Ideally you should be able to go from close to infinity in one full rotation of the focusing wheel.
• Low weight so that you can hold the binoculars for a few hours if necessary. The maximum weight for comfortable birding is about 25 oz.
• Good balance in your hands, and comfort when pressed up against your eyes.
• Weatherproof features.
Avoid cheap optics. Stay away from the $100 or less price category. Their optical performance will be only passable; their durability won't be very good; they'll likely fog up when used in wet weather; and they won't stay in alignment. At the very minimum plan on spending $200 for binoculars serviceable for birding, but spend more if you can.
Size 8x42 is Recommended. What do the Numbers Mean?
Binocular design requires a compromise between magnification, image brightness, image quality, weight and price. Size 8x42 binoculars provide the best balance of factors for most people (8 times magnification, 42mm light collecting lens). Let’s see how this works. If for instance you increase the magnification (to 10x42) the image will be less bright, the field of view will be less and the image will dance more if your arms are not rock-steady. If for instance you increase the brightness (to 8x50) the extra glass in the wider inlet lens results in heavier binoculars.
A few other Considerations:
• If you you will use your binoculars with eyeglasses or with sunglasses you need to pay attention to the "Eye Relief" - the distance behind the eyepiece that the image is formed.
• Avoid zoom binoculars. The image will never be as good as non-zoom binoculars.
• If possible try the binoculars before buying.
Here are some respected brand names:
• Budget Priced ($100 to $200): Bushnell, Audubon
• Medium Priced ($300 to $800): Vortex, Nikon
• Top of the Line (over $1,000): Swarovski, Zeiss
Here are some specific binocular recommendations:
• Bushnell Legend HD: 10x42 ($210)
• Nikon Monarch 5: 8x42 ($250)
• Nikon Monarch 7 ED: 8x42 ($450)
• Vortex Viper HD: 8x42 ($600)
• Vortex Razor HD: 8x42 ($1,200)
It is still difficult to find any vendor who will ship to Mexico. You can order good optics for US delivery through:
• OpticsPlanet. com
When you order your binoculars, seriously consider getting a binocular harness. It eliminates neck strain and is only about $20.
When you receive your binoculars, don't forget to make the diopter adjustment to compensate for the difference between your two eyes. (Close the right eye and focus in the regular manner; then close the left eye and focus using the diopter adjustment ring.)
The material in this article is based on many sources. The best reference is the Audubon Binocular Guide: https://www.audubon.org/gear/binocular-guide
Recommended Birding Apps for West Mexico
Bird Apps for your smart phone are getting so good you almost don't need a field guide. All three Apps below use real photos and include range maps and bird calls. All will work offline so you don't depend on an internet connection. All are free from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
1. We recommend "Merlin" from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It has the most Mexican birds and is easy to use. After downloading the app you must select which databases you want to download - choose all of Mexico, then choose all of USA. For beginners, it has a series of questions that lead to suggested species. You can also upload a bird photo you have just taken for suggested identification. This app was developed by the Cornell Lab, and requires you to have an eBird account (free and easy to obtain) before downloading.
2. We like the "Aves de Chapala" app. It has photos, calls and ranges for an impressive 285 species seen around lake Chapala. Currently available only in the Spanish language version. Try it and see if it works for you.
3. A good alternative is the "Audubon Bird Guide". This is easy to use, has a good search function to look for likely species, and offers several photos and calls for each species. Unfortunately its database is for the US and Canada, which means you can identify only half the birds you see here in Western Mexico.
So long as your smart phone has spare memory, you should probably download all three apps. Just as we recommend using more than one field guide when trying to identify a new bird, so now you should probably ID a new bird using more than one phone app.
Lake Chapala Birders
Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico -- email@example.com -- (52) 376.766.1801
Birding Mexico's Largest Lake