Enjoying Winter with Small, High-Quality Binoculars.

Enjoying an early sunset at Loch Lomondside, Balmaha,  Scotland, December 30 2020.

A work begun January 2 2021

It’s taken no less than two and a half years for me to settle on the binoculars that I wish to use in the long term. In this time, I have bought in, tested and rejected the vast majority of instruments, finding fault with their optics, mechanics or both. Some of those instruments were mechanically quite sound but proved deficient in critical optical tests; others displayed the very opposite. These experiences have collectively shaped my philosophy about binoculars for personal use, and it is admittedly quite different from the conclusions I have garnered regarding astronomical telescopes. Because telescopes are relatively simple devices, the best bangs for buck are clearly Newtonian reflectors, where one does not need to invest a great deal of money to acquire very good optics. My three regularly used telescopes – all Newtonians – deliver brilliant, high-resolution images of the heavens when properly collimated and acclimated to the environment I set them up in.

Yet, in comparison to my binoculars, my telescopes are now used far less frequently. Where typically I would employ a telescope for a couple of hours every week, my binoculars are employed for timescales at least five times longer- at home by the window watching the birdfeeders, or during long walks out of doors and also at night. And because these small, portable instruments are used so frequently I quickly concluded that it pays to invest in the best instruments that deliver everything I could possibly wish for in a binocular. These instruments are both made by the world-leading optical firm, Leica; a little Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 and a larger Trinovid 8 x 32 HD, featured below:

My two instruments of choice: the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25(left) and the Trinovid 8 x 32 HD(right).

They are both light weight and easy to transport, they have excellent build quality and are designed for prolonged use, even under the harshest of outdoor conditions. Built to last, they will likely outlive this author if properly cared for. They also deliver excellent images, rich in contrast and accurate colour fidelity, with great control of glare and internal reflections. And while both fall a bit short of Leica’s flagship models, the Ultravids, these Trinovids provide 95 per cent of the performance of the former, so here, yet again, is a classic case of diminishing returns; you have to fork out considerably more to gain that last five per cent in optics and ergonomics, which, with my average eyes, I can well do without. The Trinovids have a pedigree that goes all the way back to the 1950s, unlike the Ultravids, which are relatively recent additions to their product line. In this capacity, the ‘Trinnies’ are more thoroughly tried and tested by binocular enthusiasts, not just from my own generation but also from a generation once removed from me. Of course, you don’t need to take my word for that. You will hear this from enthusiasts who own instruments from both of these lines. Check out this link as an example in point.

The 8 x 32 is a brilliant general-purpose binocular with a superb close focus of under 1 metre and a field of view of 124 metres @1000m, while the smaller, pocket-sized 10 x 25(with a field of 90m@1000m) provides an extra magnification boost when the need arises. Because both instruments do not make much demands in terms of size or weight, I can and often do take both of them along with me on general walks. This blog will describe some of the wonderful things I enjoy glassing with these instruments during the short days of Winter.

Enjoying the Magical Light of a low Winter Sun

Sunlight is a precious commodity in the bleak mid-Winter. God gave us sunlight to sustain living things by providing electromagnetic radiation that fully penetrates our atmosphere, providing both light and heat. But while we take such things as sunlight for granted, it is really a miraculous event, as the laws of physics and chemistry could well have prevented that light from penetrating all the way down to the surface. Sunlight lifts the spirit, strengthens the immune system and allows to us to see amazing details. The low altitude of the Sun at this far northerly latitude(56 degrees) creates wondrous light shows, bathing trees, hills,  streams and snow covered open fields in magical light. The 8 x 32 Trinnie serves me best during these short days, its larger objective lenses drawing in a good amount of light to the eyes.

Winter is also a great time to start birdwatching, as the trees where many birds take refuge in are much easier to pick up in the binocular, as they are devoid of leaves. Red breasted Robins, blackbirds and Blue tits are very commonly observed on my walks, and they also seem to be quite undaunted by human passers by. But the cruel frosts of Winter can make life difficult for bathing birds such as mute swans, ducks and geese, which sometimes get into a spot of trouble when the pond freezes over. Culcreuch Pond, a mere half mile walk from my home, is one of my ‘local patches,’ a place where a variety of habitats are provided for our feathered friends. During the cold snap of early January, I was anxious about the swans in particular, as they have been known to get trapped by ice on the water’s surface. Luckily, they were sensible enough to move elsewhere before the ice got the better of them. When milder conditions return, so hopefully will this monogamous couple, which together successfully raised 6 strapping cygnets this past season.

A nearly fully frozen over Culcreuch Pond, with Mallard Duck and a couple of Mute Swans( far right) preparing to leave temporarily.

The low Winter Sun also illumines the walls of Culcreuch Castle beautifully. The castle holds a special place for my family, as we had our wedding reception here some 22 years ago come the end of April next.  I often spend many idle minutes glassing the stone masonry of the castle on sunny afternoons, with its many nooks and crannies, and enjoying the glint of reflected sunlight from the hardy moss and lichens that eke out a living from the bare stone. There is history here too; the oldest parts of the castle dating back to Norman times (12th century). In the months ahead, God willing, Swallows and Swifts form Africa and southern Europe will roost and rear a new generation of these avian super-migrators.

Culcreuch Castle bathed in weak winter afternoon sunshine. January 2 2021.

 

 

Pure as the Driven Snow

A fresh fall of snow: Fintry, January 8 2021.

The second week of January 2021 brought very cold temperatures to our shores, when temperatures struggled to get above -6C during the day and plummeted to -12C at night, making it the coldest spell we have endured in about a decade. But we were also graced by a decent fall of snow which transformed the landscape into a winter wonderland, albeit for a brief few days.

While my sons enjoyed a few hours of sledging, my wife and I took ourselves off out to enjoy the frigid air in brilliant winter sunshine. There is something magical about enjoying the great outdoors during these conditions, when just a few inches of snow changes the valley into a painfully beautiful white desert under a cobalt blue sky. It’s during these conditions that one appreciates the larger focus wheel of a mid-sized binocular, which is easier to negotiate with thick-padded gloves on, though I was quite surprised to discover that even the small focus wheel of the 10 x 25 Trinovid can also be used reasonably productively under such conditions, and thus shouldn’t be a deterrent for those who use such a diminutive instrument.

In such an environment, even dull greys become quite intense and snow covered trees become especially colourful. One may not imagine that targets that are normally perceived as ‘white’ take on entirely different hues with snow on the ground. Take, for example, sheep foraging on the meagre vegetation available on the hilly crags. I was very surprised to discover that their thick woollen coats would render them almost invisible under such conditions. But quite the opposite is true; those woollen white coats show up as decidedly yellow under such conditions, making them quite easy to find and follow.

Even at the end of the first week in January, the increase in day length is quite perceptible and very much appreciated. It’s especially important to get out during these short but very cold days as even the feeble sunshine does wonders to keep one’s spirits high, now that the entire country is once again under these economically crippling, pseudoscientific lockdowns. Thankfully, the vast majority of the locals venture out without wearing masks, although it is occasionally distressful to see the odd mask-clad  soul struggling to get about and visibly frightened out of his/her skin. The Scots are canny people though- they’re not easily swayed by the cock ‘n’ bull propaganda constantly being beamed into our houses by the government. Even a short walk stimulates vitamin D production which has been shown in several studies to help protect against the Rona virus. During winter, I also take a few antioxidant supplements such as N-Acetyl Cysteine, a modified, sulphur-rich amino acid that has been shown to keep the lungs from clogging up and acts as a powerful protector against respiratory viruses. Indeed, ever since I started taking such a supplement during winter, I have not suffered a bad cold in nearly two decades! I also take extra vitamin D and astaxanthin(another powerful antioxidant) during the winter months, which helps keep one’s joints moving well. All of these supplements are available cheaply and without prescription. And true knowledge is power!

The bird feeders in my back garden are especially lively during these cold, snowy days, which I can enjoy from the comfort of the warm indoors, using the 10x glass to get up-close and personal with each subject. Starlings, which are rarely seen ’round these parts, make the most of the fat ball crumbs dropped by the hyperactive tits that swarm the feeders at this time of year.  Such harsh conditions often invites larger animals too, such as grey squirrels, which venture down from the conifer trees in the copse to the west of our home.

And up at the pond, the snow and ice provide some advantages over the usual grass and mud-covered tracks that make identifying some of its inhabitants, such as these laid down by a resident moorhen.

Birding is not always about looking up and about. It can also pay dividends to look down to the ground from time to time.

The effects of a snow covered valley on the night sky are especially pronounced. The  reflected light, even with the Moon out of the sky, greatly diminishes the glory of the winter stars. I was astounded by the darkness of the sky once the snow cleared from the valley, as if I were peering into another heavens altogether! Such is the power of the gentle snowflake!

Divine Light

One of the great tragedies of the modern world is that the vast majority of human souls, working in great cities strewn across the globe, never get to see the true splendour of the sky after dark.

God made the stars not only for signs and seasons but also to display His supreme power;

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

It is my firm belief that the emergence of towns and cities is one of the principal reasons why so many of their inhabitants have lost much of their sense of the divine. Furthermore, I feel very fortunate to live in a place where much of the majesty of the heaven is still manifested, and my binoculars are the ideal tools to explore its manifold wonders.

God made the Sun to rule by day and the Moon to rule by night, with both serving as masterful timepieces to orchestrate the fantastical rhythms of life in the Earth’s biosphere. But with the advent of human global civilization, science is yielding some alarming facts about the effects of artificial light on its various biomes. For example, recent studies suggest that the alarming decline in insect populations might well be attributed to the encroach of street lighting, and an even more extensive study has provided very compelling evidence that LED lighting is responsible for the decimation of coral reefs. These findings are completely at odds with the usual mantra of “climate change” parroted by environmentalists – for the most part, pagan to the core –  as well as those who worship at the altar of the new green religion.

Though valiant efforts have been made to raise awareness, both of light pollution in general, and to reversing its effects in some restricted cases, I’m not entirely sure whether much, if anything, can be done to reverse these worrying trends.

Birding Milestones

As a novice and only half serious twitcher, I have made some good progress finding new birds to add to my list of ‘conquests.’ On my river walk, for example, I discovered a patch of rather over grown bramble bushes where one member of the smallest species in the British Isles – the Goldcrest – hangs out. This tiny creature, barely 9cm long, betrayed its presence by virtue of a conspicuous yellow crest on the crown of its head, bordered by a prominent black stripe on either side. The fact that it was a yellow crest and not orange revealed to me that this was a female. Since first sighting it back in November, I have visited the same patch several times and have been lucky enough to glass this rather rotund bodied marvel a few times since with my trusty 8 x 32. And on one occasion, I was fortunate enough to observe her hovering over the same brambles, stalking its lunch or some such.

The aeronautical displays of the tiny female Goldcrest astounded me. Human aeronautical engineers have only recently been able to to design drones that only very clumsily approach the gracefulness of hovering birds. And the same is true of the ubiquitous blue tits that frequent the birdfeeders in my own back yard. Birds are marvellously designed creatures that abundantly display the power of their Creator who spoke them into existence. Of course, evolutionists will conjure up some just-so, cock n’ bull story that they evolved from reptiles or some such, but there is no compelling evidence that even a single species emerged in this way, just like aeroplanes and drones must likewise have intelligent designers.

On the dull, overcast afternoon of January 13 2021, I bagged yet another raptor. Glancing out of my front window across to the trees in the swing park, my eye caught the outline of a bird perched on one of the higher branches of a leafless Sycamore tree. Reaching for my 10 x 25, I could see that it was rather a large bird, about the size of a fully grown Woodpigeon, but with long, square-ended tail feathers. I called my wife, a far more experienced birder than myself, while scrambling to deploy my big gun, a Pentax 20 x 60. With its back to us, the 10x magnification wasn’t quite enough for us to identify the creature given the misty air we were peering through, but our luck changed as I was taking the caps off the objective and ocular lenses of the big bin, and it turned round facing us some 35 yards away in the distance. The 20 x 60 gave us an amazing view, its off-white belly adorned with dusky horizontal striping. But it was its ferocious stare, golden coloured talons and hooked yellow beak that finally convinced us that we were watching a female Sparrowhawk! After a few minutes, she took to flight, displaying her broad, rounded wings, which the RSPB handbook had alerted us to look out for.

What a wonderful distraction from an otherwise ordinary Winter day! And who says a 20 x 60 is too large to use as a birding binocular? On this drab afternoon, it made all the difference between vaguely suspecting and actually confirming a new bird of prey had paid us a visit.

Cool or what?

 

 

To be continued…………………………………

 

De Fideli.

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