Challenges for observers and optics

The bird of extremes, the Harpy Eagle, is the name giver of our new spotting scope, the Victory Harpia. It has caused us to think about when birding gets extreme for us humans. “Extreme birding” is sometimes used for special phenomena among birders.

If we stay to those nature enthusiasts, who would well do nearly everything to see a rare species but always stick to the limits in protecting the bird and their habitat, then we come to the question: What is extreme? Can I feel something as extreme if the joy of seeing the bird is stronger than anything else challenging you?

Extreme is always a relative feeling. What is right for one person is too extreme for the other. We look at the term and the evaluation of it from different perspectives and clarify the respective needs for the optics.

Extreme in the meaning of much more than average
So called twitchers, who run their list of bird species in detail and go miles for each additional rare species, often have a kind of pager or they programmed their smartphone that it alarms when a missing species comes up. Sitting with those alarm carriers in meetings, however inspiring and important the topics may be, means that as soon as a peep is heard the attention of the twitcher is only on their technical reporting system. Within milliseconds it is decided if the meeting has a sudden end or if the counterpart has seen the species before and gets relaxed again. What may appear a little eccentric to non-birders is genuinely very pleasant: What could be more important than following your passion in nature? No meeting of the world can keep up with this.

Dorian Anderson, who cycled 17,830 miles through the USA to discover 619 bird species, in addition watched out for a personal positive ecological balance. Others who undertake a Big Year in the US by car and plane get around 780 bird species.

Spending thousands of dollars for your passion and travelling countless miles to focus on one thing is much more than average. It sometimes even costed a marriage. Still, it is well not too much or too extreme for one of them. That it does not get too much for the eyes, for a Big Year it is crucial to choose optics for fatigue-free observation: The gear should be ergonomic, provide a big field of view and should dispose brilliant optics for identifying all details in a relaxed way. Here the ZEISS Victory SF in 10×42 is recommended.

However far they go for a twitch the big majority of the bird watchers behaves according to the etiquettes for all serious ornithologists never to disturb a bird or another species close by.

Extreme in the sense of unusual
There are some interesting and unusual phenomena, which we better should not talk about. One we could mention are the pictures we mainly know from UK: crowds of bird watchers in front of a private garden where a rare songbird has looked for some rest.

There are people with optics on roofs, big car and on walls of upset neighbors, who do not understand why one would make such a fuss only because of one bird.

The Swedes like to sometimes make jokes about their Finnish neighbors. Until today the rumor survives that Finns run a separate list of bird species, they only see while they are naked. That will say when they leave the sauna. For all who have not a comparable sauna culture this sounds unusual.

It stays unanswered if the phenomena really exists. Among all Finnish birders no one has ever admitted it. We should ask them after a joint visit in the sauna. Special needs concerning the optics are not to be considered for those unusual habits of bird watching anyway.

Extreme conditions
Even if we regard ourselves as ordinary bird watchers and cannot leave our job for one year to undertake a Big Year we all know extreme weather and environmental conditions. Ivan Ellison is a police officer and his freedom for bird watching is dependent on his shifts at work. During a vacation he sat hours in a refrigerated hide in the Pyrenees equipped with binoculars and a camera with a big lens in order to get a vulture in front of the objectives. “The experience in seeing the birds in such numbers and close proximity took away the cold and it was only afterwards that you got to realize how cold it was”, describes Ivan. Anyhow, the hands do not forget the coldness and become stiff. So a fast and easy to handle focus wheel is important for the right binoculars.

As a British man Ivan often happens to experience strong rain. In this case his Victory binoculars prove that wet and blown-up sand from the beach cannot harm them. In fog it feels like someone has turned on the light by watching through the bins.

What may feel too extreme for his wife experiences Ivan in a different way: “I think a passion for something goes a long way to overcoming difficulties and I would try my utmost to see something if I really wanted to.” A trip to Alaska is high on his list of things to do when he will retire. Just one thing is too extreme for Ivan personally: he would not wait up in the trees for the best photo of a bird. He does not like heights and he is grateful that others take over the job and he might enjoy their pictures.

Who wants to observe birds in an extreme landscape with lots of sun and sand for 24 hours should plan a trip to the Champions of the Flyway in Israel. For the start of the bird race during the night binoculars with at least 90% of light transmission are required. During the day a spotting scope with extreme magnification for the long distances is requested. Whereby we are back at the beginning of our considerations: at the Harpy Eagle, the Victory Harpia, the last technology for extreme bird watching.

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Michaela Sulz

Michaela Sulz is a passionate birder and blogger for ZEISS Nature Blog.