Monday, July 15, 2013

Birdwatcher starter kit: Just add wildlife

If you have just recently developed an interest in birds and the natural world, or have always wanted to get a bit closer to the wildlife in your garden or in the countryside then here are a few tips for the kind of equipment that can really enhance the experience.

The most important piece of kit is a good binocular. It is not necessary to buy the top of the range to get something of good quality that is very usable, but it is worth while getting the best you can afford. The most popular specification for binoculars is 8x32 (8 times magnification with 32mm objective lenses). This specification gives a good compromise between magnification, field of view, brightness and weight. The birdwatchers' standard is an 8 or 10x42, but the larger 42mm lenses on these make them a little heavy for a lot of people. Unless you are often using your binoculars in low light, the smaller and lighter 32mm is a very good all-rounder that will be light enough to go everywhere. This is in no way to detract from the benefits of large-lensed bright binoculars which can be awe-inspiring in twilight conditions.
Many modern binoculars can close focus down to around 2m (6'6") which makes them very good for observing butterflies and dragonflies without disturbing them.

Testing scopes at our Glandford shop
Telescopes (also called spotting scopes or just “scopes”) are for the most part less frequently used than binoculars by birdwatchers. The purpose of a scope is to get higher magnification than can be sensibly achieved with portable binoculars. The limiting factors with binoculars in terms of magnifying power are being usable hand-held without a tripod and the need for a wide field of view. The same principals apply as with binoculars; bigger is brighter and better for higher magnification, but if weight is a consideration then a smaller and lighter scope may be a better idea. If you walk long distances or go birdwatching abroad then a scope with an objective lens diameter between 50mm and 65mm will be quite portable. On the other hand, if you mostly visit nature reserves with relatively short walks between the hides or like to do a lot of sea watching for passing divers, shearwarters and skuas then a larger (77mm to 95mm) scope will be better for higher magnification and low light conditions.

Insects and plants can prove an interesting
diversion when there are no birds about.
The eyepiece on the scope controls the degree of magnification and if it is fixed at one power or is variable (zoom). Most entry level and mid-range scopes are supplied with a zoom eyepiece, typically giving a range of 15-45x on a 65mm scope and 20-60x on an 80mm scope. Zooms are more popular because they offer flexibility and high magnification, but some people prefer fixed magnification eyepieces for the wider field of view. A resent innovation that is appearing on many top of the range scopes are wide-angle zooms which are designed to give the best of both worlds.

In addition to the Scope itself a tripod or at least monopod is required to keep it stable. For more information on these have a look at our website or click here to read our blog post on the subject.

The final piece of equipment is a field guide.  These range in complexity and coverage from garden birds of Britain to the whole of the Western Palearctic and vagrants to the whole world.  It's best to get familiar with the common ones first before confusing yourself with anything more comprehensive.  We stock a range of field guides at our Glandford shop including the ever popular black-covered Collins guide.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, second hand equipment can be a great way to get started with better kit than you could have got for the same money new.
Kitted up and ready to go
Whatever your budget or requirements we have a wide range of kit that will meet your needs. We also take part exchanges against new and second hand equipment so upgrading can done at lower cost.

Once you are kitted out all you need to do now is look for birds and all the other wildlife. One of the joys of birdwatching is that almost anywhere you go there will be something of interest to look at. If you are also interested insects, plants and mammals then you will never be short of something to watch and enjoy at any time of the year.