We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I do birding entirely by ear. I don't even look for the actual birds - usually I'm commuting on a bicycle anyway - saving a fortune in time and money.
Just record what you hear, if it's unknown, and take it home to compare with some bird CD's. I not only did that but posted stuff as I went along http://home.att.net/~rhhardin/index.html way down the page, to learn the stuff.
Peterson's Backyard Bird Song is a good novice start, followed by the 3-CD Birding by Ear. At that point the narrator is becoming an intrusion and you can go to the more encyclopedic Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, and perhaps More Birding by Ear if you can stand more Peterson narrators and want to fill out the set.
To hell with what they look like. You can waste all day trying to figure out what it is by looking.
When looking for binoculars, I noticed that there are several types: hunting, marine, birding, millitary, etc. What I would like to know is this: how are "opera glasses" different than say small field glasses?
I've perhaps a tad much post-Thanksgiving cheer. But in my humble opinion...
Much like buying a computer... depends on your needs.
It is a very complicated subject... the 'best' magnifiers.
The feature that costs most is optics... in other words... how clearly, crisply and under what light conditions can you see what you are looking at.
Next is magnification, an entirely subjective need. From 'opera' to details of craters on the moon. But this part is tempered by 'optics' as above.
The hunting, marine, military styles generally mean ruggedness. Impervious to water, salt or fresh, is the major threat that those words connote.
My preference is for 'optics'... I like what I am looking at to be absolutely clear. I purchased some Nikon's twenty years ago, which still draw comments from strangers to them, as to how 'clear' they are.
So, after all my verbiage... clarity in the lens, magnification, robustness... a workable algorithm, at least for the average user.