6 Essential Products for Beginner Birdwatchers and Naturalists

Storey Publishing, LLC/Meidase/Amazon
Storey Publishing, LLC/Meidase/Amazon

If you’re looking for a new hobby that doesn’t involve the couch, all you really have to do is step outside and open your eyes—there are plenty of animals and plants to observe at your local park, nature trail, or even in your own backyard. But if you really want to get the most out of being a birdwatcher or naturalist in your spare time, you’ll need some basic equipment. From binoculars and cameras to a field guide and notebook, here are some staff picks of the essentials to start with.

1. Leupold Acadia Roof Prism 8x42 Binoculars; $239

Leupold/Amazon

As a longtime user of a similar pair of Leupold binoculars, I can vouch for this brand’s clear visuals, ease of use, and durability. Affordable for the beginning birder without sacrificing quality, this waterproof 8x42 pair gives you a magnification power of eight (suitable for backyard wildlife watching) with an objective lens diameter of 42mm (allowing for sufficient light to enter the roof prism and illuminate what you’re looking at). Leupold binoculars tend to be a bit heavier than other brands, but with a comfortable neoprene neck strap included, you’ll get used to it. This pair also comes with lens caps and a protective neoprene case. There's also a 10x42 model here—Kat Long, Science Editor

Buy it: Amazon

2. The Naturalist's Notebook; $12

Storey Publishing, LLC/Amazon

A notebook for recording your backyard observations is an essential tool in a naturalist’s kit. This hardcover journal not only gives you a seasonal five-year calendar in which to write down a species list or sketch a wildflower; it also offers instructions for observing nature en plein air and inspires you with illustrations of birds, trees, butterflies, and more. Just grab a pencil to get started. —K.L.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of the Midwest and others; $18

Houghton Mifflin/Amazon

One of the most exciting aspects of backyard nature-watching is identifying, and then learning more about, the organisms you find. There are hundreds of field guides dedicated to IDing birds, trees, rocks, shells, butterflies, mushrooms, and much more, but naturalist Kenn Kaufman’s regional guides to nature are a great place for a beginner to start. In volumes covering the Northeast U.S. and the Midwest, Kaufman illustrates and explains the native mammals, reptiles, plants, fungi, and other members of the ecosystems. Readers in other parts of the country can check out Kaufman’s many guides to flora and fauna of North America. —K.L.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Droll Yankee platform bird feeder; $44

Droll Yankees/Amazon

Birding purists might consider feeding birds “cheating,” but I am in favor of bribing avian visitors into your line of sight with food. This nice-looking hanging platform feeder comes with an adjustable cover that can be lowered to keep out large birds (like crows or pigeons), or removed to allow an all-bird buffet. The feed tray holds one pound of sunflower seeds, peanuts, fruit, or other tempting treats, and the cover’s spherical shape is guaranteed to confound squirrels. —K.L.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Trail Camera; $50

Meidase/Amazon

You can’t keep your eyes glued to your yard 24/7, so it’s helpful to have a camera snap footage of any animals you may miss. The motion-activated Meidase Trail Camera has excellent night vision, letting you see what critters come creeping through your yard without having to sit through an all-night stakeout. The camera’s so sensitive, it’ll even pick up a tiny mouse scurrying around in the darkness. There’s also no flash or shutter sounds, so you won’t have to worry about sudden lights or noises scaring any wildlife away. The camera captures both still images and videos, and you can fiddle around with the settings to customize how often it records footage or how long each video clip should be. You’ll also need an SD card, eight AA batteries, and a stand—Kerry Wolfe, Staff Editor

Buy it: Amazon

6. Smartphone Telephoto Lens Attachment; $112

Moment/Amazon

A smartphone’s built-in camera will only take your photos so far. The Moment 58mm telephoto lens snaps onto a Moment phone case to take your trusty mobile device to the next level. It’ll give you twice the optical zoom if you put it over a single lens camera, and if you pop it in front of the iPhone’s telephoto (portrait) lens, you’ll get four times the optical zoom. Use the lens with the Moment Pro Camera app (available on Apple store and Google Play), and you’ll be able to control your camera’s settings like it’s a DSLR camera. If you’d rather capture close-up shots of flowers, try their macro lens—K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

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14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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Stock Your Funko Collection While These 9 Figures Are on Sale

Funko
Funko

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Whether you're looking to get started on your Funko Pop! collection or just want to add to your tiny vinyl army, you can find figurines for every obsession, from Marvel to NSYNC, while they’re on sale for a limited time.

1. Funko Marvel Specialty Series Dorbz Iron Man Mark I Vinyl Figure; $13 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

Score this tiny Iron Man figure that's decked out in the character's original clunky gray suit of armor.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. The Walking Dead - Ezekiel; $23 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

Commemorate the king with this mini Ezekiel figurine (Shiva not included).

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Funko Pop! Vinyl Collectible Mystery Starter Box; $80 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

Start your collection with this mystery box, complete with six miniatures of iconic characters in pop culture.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Funko Pop Dorbz Rick and Morty Police Vinyl Figures (Two-Pack); $21 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

This Rick and Morty Dorbz two-pack features the alternate cop versions of the duo from the episode "Tales from the Citadel."

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Dragonball Z Super Saiyan Goku; $16 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

Go Super Saiyan with this Goku figurine. You could hold the first Saiyan to go super in over 100 years in your very own hands.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Funko Pop! Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Hulk (Gold Chrome); $22 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

Trade in the standard green version of Hulk for this rare gold chrome variant, which was made to celebrate 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Shadow the Hedgehog; $21 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

Sonic's gritty counterpart, Shadow, made his video game debut all the way back in 2001, and nearly 20 years later, he's still one of the franchise's most popular characters.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Disney Jasmine; $13 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

No Funko collection would be complete without a figurine of Jasmine, one of the most popular Disney princesses.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. NSYNC Funko Pop - Bundle Of Five; $57 (9 Percent Off)

Funko

All five NSYNC members are represented in this pack for collectors looking to say bye-bye-bye to 2020 and relive their favorite days of the '90s.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

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