The nature of the birding activities I engage in means that clothing
and equipment needs to perform to the highest standards. Birding in the
often harsh climate of western Norway can be far from from comfortable
seawatching in a blizzard in early January is
certainly not for the faint hearted; being properly dressed is half the
story, having previously frozen out the nerve endings in one's feet is
My Swarovski 10x42EL
binoculars are quite simply the best
I have ever bought. As most of my birding is done in open landscapes I
chose the 10x magnification in preference to 8x. These
accompany me everywhere.
One tip I have for birders wanting to bird on a family holiday, rather
than full on birding trips is to use a "binocluar booster" which turns
binoculars into a telescope. These handy devices do not give the same
kind of good quality as a proper scope but they save
worries about theft (....hotel safes aren't that big!) AND they can
give that added extra that may just save the day.
Opticron and Swarovski both offer such products.
My scope is a Swarovski
Habicht AT80 HD; I've had it a
years and it has stood up to everything it has been put through. I tend
to opt to use the 30x WA eyepiece as this gives the best field of view
and brightness - though this can be a bit risky as occasionally
something good "gets away". I upgraded the ocular of my scope to the
"new" one - much cheaper than buying a whole new 'scope.
The relatively recent issue of the wide angle zoom, something I started
using in 2009, was a real boost. I now use this lens almost all the
time. Although it still doesn't compare with the 30XWA at 30X it is a
MASSIVE improvement over the original zoom. The range of magnification
has dropped but sharpness and brightness are greatly improved. It is
now possible to have a decent zoom for seawatching purposes.
Tripod / optical support
sturdy tripod is
vital; in my opinion any extra weight is well worth the additional
and my scope, along with its tripod is carried countless kilometres
every year. For seawatching one concern may be that the tripod cannot
be set up low enough - the central support on my current tripod
sometimes prevents it going as low as I would like it to. However, this
support cannot be removed or shortened otherwise it would not reach
high enough when using it fully extended.
Oil filled heads are another good investment - being to smoothly track
a flying bird over the sea is essential. I purchased a Manfrotto 501
HDV oil filled head in August 2008 after my original tripod head
finally (and spectacularly) gave up the ghost. After many years of
abuse it failed in a traumatic manner - sending my scope flying across
the tarmac whilst I was cycling along a road at Falsterbo.
The new Manfrotto head (pictured above) is superb, giving a
nice smooth action and great stability. Additionally there is a
balancing system which prevents telescopes suddenly pointing skywards
when left to their own devices. The spirit level is not just a fancy
gimmick either - using this to level the head makes scanning along the
horizon a whole lot easier. The only negative point thus far is the
length of the handle is a little too long making it difficult to manage
When seawatching alone I use binoculars to pick up most birds - this
means having to have somewhere to rest my elbows - something that is
not always practical. A device popular with Finnish birders is a
"binocular stick", these tend to be simple and easy to make at
as demonstrated by Heikki
The following is a review of the Wunderbird
Gyfalcon Hoody which I started testing in July / August 2018
Gyrfalcon hoody in action
I'm writing this up with my Gyrfalcon hoody in the washing machine for
the first time - I have used it every time I've been out birding since
it arrived in the post and will continue to to do so as soon as it is
Most of my birding consists of walking in rough terrain with a rucksack
on my back - and this is where the top scores very well. The padding in
the shoulders make carrying a heavy rucksack a lot more bearable. The
other major advantage from my point of view is that bincocular swing is
a thing of the past - meaning that is possible to walk and climb
normally without having one hand constantly on the bins - something
that makes life a lot easier.
When guiding I normally carry a telescope on a tripod over my shoulder
and have trialled the top under such conditions - a definite
I've not been bothered too much about the weight of my rather heavy
binoculars in the past but now that they sit in the high pocket I have
noticed a big difference on my neck - both the reduced swinging and
support help alleviate strain more than I had anticipated.
The roomy larger lower pocket is handy for phone, notebook or whatever
it is you want to carry. However, a couple more zips here would
probably be an improvement as things can fall out both when taking the
garment off and when climbing around.
I have used the top a couple of times in light rain and it dried very
I ordered an XL which suits me perfectly, a very good fit with
long arms. The top is very comfortable and seems like it will keep me
warm when autumn finally kicks in - I received my hoody during a spell
of unseasonably warm weather so I'm looking forward to using it even more in
the autumn and winter, both as an outer garment and under a waterproof.
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boot was my
number of years as it performed better and was longer wearing than
anything else I had tried. Moreover it was, and still is, considerably
cheaper than many other boots.
your walking boots are they will sooner or later let in
water. On the west coast of Norway this is not a good thing so in an
effort to prolong the life of my extremely good and rather expensive
walking boots I tried some "thermal wellies". These proved to be
excellent - keeping me warm and dry whatever the conditions. They are
not something I would choose to walk huge distances in but beat normal
wellington boots hands down. They are so warm they can even be used to
seawatch in - holding the warmth in even when not walking. Another
advantage of these boots were that they had very "soft" soles which
meant they gripped well on ice, wet rock etc but of course wore the
tread out more quickly.
- warm, waterproof and will good grip
like most other outdoor gear I have tried, they gave up
the ghost after a little more than a year. Despite this I still
consider them well worth the money.
Warm during winter seawatching
temperatures for several hours in winter can provide some good birding
is prepared for it. The problem I have is that there is a good walk out
to where I do my seawatching and hence I get very warm on the way
out. This means I have to carry all my cold-beating gear in a huge
rucksack, but the extra weight is well worth it. Seawatching
usually starts just before dawn - which is
almost invariably the coldest time of day and the cold can soon set
in. I have yet to be forced off a seawatch by the cold - some
my cold beating tactics are as follows:
Use a folding chair of
some sort to keep off the ground. Best not to be
at one with the permafrost....
Mittens rather than
gloves are best. I have two pairs, neither of which
is perfect but each with their distinct advantages. One is a
woollen pair of mittens of the type used by hunters - ie fingerless
gloves with a "fold back mitten" on top. The advantage of these is that
fingers can quickly be freed to focus or write things down. Being made
of wool they also keep their heat even when wet - a distinct advantage
at times. However, when it is really cold they are not quite warm
enough; I then use a pair of double mittens as used by skiiers.
Sometimes, under the worst of conditions it can be best to
the mittens / gloves off altogether and shove each hand up the sleeve
of the other arm....giving up and going home isn't really an option.
is at its
coldest in Norway it usually means clear skies and no rain or snow
falling so under these conditions the outermost layer need not be
totally waterproof. There are three choices of outer garment one can
use over the top of the usual woollens, pullovers and fleece:
- a thermal "poncho" -
something I have only seen in Norway
and known in Norwegian as a "fjellduk"
- a sleeping bag (some
people use these and they really do work but one
is a bit resricted....)
- a thermal suit
("varmedress") such as used by fishermen and the like.
These are normally relatively cheap and very hard wearing and it is one
of these I have been using during the late winter / early spring of
headgear is a "balaclava" type which can be rolled up as a hat and
pulled down when the hail is coming in horizontally on a north westerly
gale...thankfully a relatively rare and/or short-lived event.
A flask of hot tea
other warm drink) helps enormously. I don't normally take sugar but add
it on especially cold days....
Lots of birders
kinds of electronics with them in the field, everything from palm top
computers to iPODS and other equipment. I like to keep such things to a
minimum, to me birding is an escape from these things - and I am
notorious for the destruction of mobile phones and the like on birding
trip. Generally speaking I am not a great fan of "playback", often used
to lure reclusive species out into the open or reveal their presence
vocally. However, I occasionally use an iPOD with some robust external
speakers to bring out species such as Water Rail. This is the one bit
of electronics I have managed not to destroy.
patented Woodcock (and occasional Great
accompanies me on almost all birding forays. Also functions as a top of
the range and highly effective cat deterrant, Mink scarer and childrens
toy. Quite what he is looking so pleased with himslef for below one can
I could only train him to alert me to the presence of distant flocks
of geese or the distinctive sound of the wingbeats of passing
Bird books are an integral part of birding and I have amassed quite a
library over the years.
of my favourite books is listed here.