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 binoculars on Amazon.
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

The Naturalist's Notebook on Amazon.
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

Kaufman Field Guide to the Nature of the Midwest.
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 bird feeder on Amazon.
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 trail camera on Amazon.
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 smartphone camera lens.
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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10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Make Breakfast for the Family in a Flash With the Dash Rapid Egg Cooker

Dash/Amazon
Dash/Amazon

The number of ways you can eat eggs is limited only by your cooking ability and imagination. Now, thanks to the foolproof Dash Rapid Egg Cooker, even that doesn't have to hold you back, because you'll be able to prepare your eggs exactly how you like them in just minutes—no flipping, stirring, or frying required.

Weighing roughly 1 pound and measuring 7.5 inches across, this egg cooker is the perfect size for a shelf or countertop. Its design accommodates a variety of egg preparations, so if you like your eggs boiled, you can fit up to six of them on the tray at once and cook them until they're soft-boiled, hard-boiled, or somewhere in between. The cooker also features trays for poaching eggs and making omelettes.

Rapid Egg Cooker.
Dash/Amazon

The device comes with a measuring cup showing how much water you need to cook each style of egg, and it buzzes and shuts off automatically when they're done. That way, you can make your perfect breakfast even before you've had your first cup of coffee.

The gadget is super popular with breakfast-lovers. It has a 4.6-star rating on Amazon, and the online retailer lists it as one the most-loved items on the site. You can purchase it on Amazon today for $20.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.