It was Shakespeare who once described the UK as a fortress built by nature for herself, and in regards to birdlife this seems particularly pertinent. Britain enjoys a unique panoply of birds throughout the year, serving as an important stop-gap on their migrations, or as an idyllic home throughout the year. British birdlife, therefore, is unrivalled in terms of its diversity – and all you need to enjoy it is a pair of binoculars.
As Britain is an island, surrounded by large water masses like the Atlantic, it is the ideal stopping-point for many migrating birds. It is also seasonally temperate, meaning that it is suitable for birdlife migrating away from temperature extremes.
Swallows are perhaps the UK’s most familiar seasonal visitor and can be seen from around March to October. They are easily recognisable, preferably through a pair of binoculars, by their dark-blue backs, red throats and pale under-bellies.
Other notable migrating UK birds include geese, such as barnacle geese, who emigrate to escape extremes of cold, away from places like Greenland.
As well as migrating birds, there is also a wide variety of sedentary bids, visible throughout the year. Some common types include blue-tits and robins easily recognisable by their distinct colourings (pale-blue for blue-tits and red for robins,) and a particular favourite: starlings. These are recognisable throughout the year by the blue-green mottling on their under parts, easily observable through a pair of bird watching binoculars.
Quite obviously the moon can be observed with the naked eye. However, only through a pair of binoculars or an astronomical telescope does it truly spring to life, displaying its many features and contours. In order to maximize my viewing of the moon and to observe as many of its features as possible – what steps then can I take?
Firstly, the moon undergoes some striking visual changes depending on what phase it’s in. Therefore the viewing experience will be vastly different depending on the moon’s aspect. You may assume that when the moon is full, that its features would be most observable but this isn’t the case. Although astronomical telescopes will still be able to see many of its craters, during full phase the moon is so bright that any naked eye observing will not be able to see very much detail at all. Instead, it is best (especially when observing through binoculars or with the naked eye) to observe the moon during its other phases such as at quarter or half phase, when its contours are lit more delicately.
The next thing to consider is your viewing apparatus – whilst it is possible to observe the moon with the naked eye, it is definitely more satisfying to use binoculars or telescopes. Binoculars in particular are great for observing the moon as they have a wider field of view than an astronomical telescope, and are highly portable. However, if detail is what you want, then a telescope is also a fantastic viewing tool.
For owners of astronomical telescopes or naked eye observers, 2010 promises to be a fantastic year for astronomy, with celestial events ranging from eclipses to meteor showers, ensuring that your eyes will be fixed firmly toward the stars.
Already this year there have been some dramatic astronomical events. For example, on January 15 over Africa we saw an annular solar eclipse – the first of four eclipses this year. We have also seen our first meteor shower in the form of the Quadrantids at the start of January, which served as a portent to a truly dramatic year of meteor showers.
Don’t worry though; you’ll still have plenty of occasions to use those astronomical telescopes, as some fascinating astronomical events are set to occur later in the year. And 2010 is especially notable for its eclipses, most of which won’t be observable from the UK. However, toward the end of the year, on December 21st to be exact, you’ll be able to point your astronomical telescopes toward the night sky and be able to see a total lunar eclipse – from Europe.
As well as an eclipse there will also be a chance to observe that most dramatic of celestial events – meteor showers, either with the naked eye, or through astronomical telescopes. Specifically, you can expect to see them at mid April, at the beginning of May, around August 12th , at the end of October and November, and in the middle of December – so get those telescopes ready.
If you aren’t happy with seeing your child in front of the television again or playing on computers, then perhaps you should consider buying them a telescope.
1. Buying your child a telescope will help improve their schoolwork. The very nature of astronomy is inextricably linked to mathematics and physics. Your child will be able to explore the universe and see the point of these school subjects that they may have previously felt were dry or simply irrelevant to their life. This should improve not only understanding, but encourage motivation.
2. Stargazing can help encourage their curiosity and imagination . Just when you think children will never stop asking questions, they do. Whether it is age or boredom or a lack of stimulation, you can encourage and maintain a curiosity about the world through gazing at the stars, and this curiosity will inform other aspects of their learning too.
3. Astronomy will boost their confidence. How? By being trusted with their own piece of equipment – and an unusual one at that – and taking care of it, assembling and disassembling their astronomical telescope as required. Also through learning about something mysterious and complex, and by having to spend time alone or with one other person. All of these factors will develop a child’s self esteem.
4. It can help create closer family relationships. Standing in the garden on a cold clear night and staring at shooting stars or a previously unseen planet are incredible experiences to share. Sharing a hobby is a great way to get closer to your child and beats staring at the TV.
Imagine you have just invested in a great piece of Generation I night vision binoculars. You’ve already tried them out and seen some animals in your garden that you didn’t think you’ve ever see – badgers and hedgehogs – and are planning a moonlit adventure to some nearby fields because you’ve heard from other wildlife enthusiasts that deer have been spotted there.
Here are a few tips to help keep your night vision binoculars in top form and keep you enjoying local wildlife.
1. Only use night vision devices in the dark. It may seem like stating the obvious, but using night vision devices in daylight or around bright flashlights or car headlamps could damage them.
2. Handle with care. Night vision devices aren’t usually shock proof despite their tough outer image! Treat them as you would a camera or camcorder.
3. Travel with advice. While Generation I night vision devices are not usually regulated, you might find that more high-tech models are restricted from country to country. Get some advice. And note that electronic baggage security checks will not damage your binoculars.
4. Do not try and adapt/modify your equipment yourself. You might be tempted to replace your lenses with stronger ones – don’t! The lens in your equipment is designed to work in harmony with the casing and changing it could affect focusing ability and light reflecting properties.
5. Protect your eyes. Look out for headaches and eye strain particularly if you are prone to these when watching television or using computers.
While most of us don’t have access to the kind of diverse wildlife we see on television documentaries, we shouldn’t overlook the wildlife which is – literally – in our own back yards.
In most British fields and gardens we have access to badgers, hedgehogs and birdlife such as owls. Even urban parks play host to urban foxes, and further out in the countryside deer are commonly found.
All of these fascinating and truly wild animals have one thing in common: they are notoriously shy and nocturnal, meaning that you are only really going to see them under a cloak of darkness.
Night vision optical devices refer to binoculars or telescopes that have been designed to assist night time viewing. They are usually divided into three groups: Generation I, Generation II and Generation III. Generation I is regarded as the best equipment for most amateur wildlife watchers, given the balance of price, manageability and result.
Night vision optical devices allow you to see up to a distance of 10 to 400 feet, depending on your equipment. Despite their name, night vision optical devices do require a small amount of light in order to work.
If you think that you will be regularly using your night vision optical device in poor weather conditions (such as fog or rain) or in total or near darkness, than it is probably worth investing in an infrared illuminator which increases the distance and quality of your view.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get closer to the wildlife on your doorstep.
If you find that you take more than a passing interest in the birds in your garden, wonder what the Latin name for a robin is, and fight to get the remote control from your partner when a documentary about birds is on, the chances are that there is a bird watcher in you dying to get out!
You’ve done a bit of research and decided you need to invest in a good pair of binoculars. So you’ve been to the shop and chosen a good power range and a comfortable weight.
Now you have to make the compact binoculars work for you – and don’t be swayed by what your friends tell you or what the salesperson tells you. Get the fittings right for your eyes and get the focus nice and clear. Make sure you have a good clear view and your eyes feel comfortable.
Do they feel ok hung around your neck? Is the strap too thin or not strong enough? You’ll be carrying them around your neck like this, remember, so they need to feel comfortable.
Try them up against your eyes. Check that they feel balanced in your hands and that you can reach the central focusing wheel.
A good tip for glasses wearers is to choose binoculars that have fold-down eye-cups.
Once you have found the right pair, paid up and gone home, it’s worth remembering a few pointers for everyday care of your bird watching binoculars:
1. Keep them clean and dry
2. Treat them gently – they are often more delicate than they look
3. Look out (excuse the pun) for health problems such as eye strain or headaches.