I have always used a bridge camera and likely will never be one of those folks with a DSLR and an armory full of high-dollar lenses. But I got a pretty significant upgrade to the mediocre thing I have been using for the last four years. I now have a Nikon Coolpix P600, which despite being named by a sixth-grader (my pix r coolr then urs!) has some pretty great features. I understand that the photo quality of cameras like this will never approach the professional-grade images that litter the blogosphere, but compared to what I was using before (an L810 with no manual controls whatsoever), the improvement is vast.
Both of the above pictures are uncropped out of the cameras at full zoom. The top one is the old L810 with a 23x zoom and focal equivalent of 540mm, and the bottom one is the new P600. The zoom on it is 60x, which reaches an equivalent focal length of 1200mm. The difference is significant. Both shots were taken from roughly the same point at the terminal pond, but now I can discern Gadwall from even the 150+ yard distance across the water.
The zoom is a very nice feature, but the thing that frustrated me most about my old camera was its awful focusing and shutter speed. With few interesting birds this weekend, I spent most of my time photo testing. Carolina Chickadee made for a good subject because they are small, move quickly, and like to hang out with twigs. The P600 was able to lock onto them and get pleasingly clear shots that the old L810 could never handle well.
The P600 is now two years old and has been replaced by a successor model in the P610 and the even more ridiculously long-ranged P900 with an 83x zoom. But if you are a birder foremost and a photographer second and have a budget of no more than about $300, then the P600 will serve you well.
Now that February has ended, I am at 53 species on the year with 163 miles biked/hiked. But even better than that, I am now properly equipped to document the birds that will be making their way north soon!