Hints & Tips

©If only someone had warned us about the new gate!

This section is meant to be all about handy tips to help improve your birding, either in a very practical way or by dint of useful knowledge. I have drawn from some questions asked on mailing lists with responses that try to resolve problems. As ever, I would be happy to pass on other such tips & wrinkles.

Foggy Spectacles

Question: I wear spectacles when birding, folding down the rubber eyecups on my bins. On my recent Jamaica trip, I got very frustrated by the fact that my specs kept misting up every time I used my bins. Has anyone found a reliable remedy to prevent this happening?

Answer 1: I have heard that if you clean your glasses with neat washing up liquid, and then wipe it off this alleviates the problem. However, can I also point out that I have *NOT* tried this myself, as I tend to get eye irritation from such things. If anyone is brave enough to try this, please let us know if this works!

Answer 2: I know that our medical endoscopists use this kind of washing up liquid to prevent misting on their endoscopes. I’ll try on my specs. Another solution would be to warm up your glasses, with a lighter? Or matches..?

Warning: My optician’s reply was something like this, when asked about washing up liquid? CERTAINLY NOT! It will eventually take any of coatings off lenses, even damage the lenses themselves. The proprietary sprays are better, wipes better still, but they do not have a perfect remedy. Quote It is just something we have to live with So folks it would appear it is a problem without a perfect solution (no pun intended). (Personally I use a microfibre cloth – Fatbirder)

Answer 3: When I process black & white films at home, during the final rinse I use a few drops of a rinse aid which is a detergent that is designed to break the surface tension of the water and prevent droplets adhering to the film and causing drying marks. It says on the bottle that it is good for cleaning glass too. Perhaps wiping the glasses using this stuff would prevent the misting? Nip down to your camera club and ask someone for a few drops or a buy a bottle from a camera shop for a couple of quid – you could also use it to clean your optics too I suppose.

Answer 4: There are any number of anti-static lens cleaning sprays available from opticians etc. many of which claim to prevent misting when applied. The one we use is fairly effective in as much as the lenses de-mist a hell of a lot quicker than when not applied. Not really a complete preventative remedy but maybe something worth considering.

Definitive Answer: Re the prevention of misting specs in hot climates: Advice is, don’t use washing up liquid, as it contains more salt, also Non-ionic surfactants (Grease – cutters); whereas Shampoo has less salt, milder Surfactants (Amine oxides) and no Nonionics. Other wetting agents, Rinse-aids etc contain similar things but tend to also contain solvent, which may damage lens coatings, or even lenses if they are plastic. My advice – try a bit of shampoo or some other cleaner that is suitable for skin contact, but don’t use too much. And NEVER clean your specs while dry, because you will inevitably get scratched lenses!

Telescope Eye

Question: Does anyone out there share my view, that I am suffering from bird-watchers` [or perhaps, rather, SEA-watchers`] eye, caused by too much time squinting through the telescope? One tries to use the other eye, but you all know how difficult that is. Eric Wydenbach

Addition: Yes. My right eye’s vision is definitely less clear than my left’s. I attribute this to nearly 30 year’s frequent use of a scope … I’ve suffered rather bad cases of telescope-eye and sea-watcher’s arse in the past. Mike Alibone

Answer 1 Try wearing an eye-patch on the other eye. Less than £1 from Boots or any other chemists. Looks silly I know, but it does relieve a LOT of the strain, which is mainly caused by holding one eye shut and the other open for a long period. And so what if it looks silly, if it helps you find birds, that’s all that matters. Michael Frankis

Answer 2 With a little effort and training, it is perfectly possible to keep the non-observing eye open which helps a lot. Exactly the same with using a monocular microscope. The other thing I do is to alternate eyes as much as possible. You may think that one eye is much better than the other, or physically easier to use, but a lot of this is just what you’ve got used to. Unless one eye is much worse optically than the other, after a little while you should find that both work through the telescope with equal facility. Malcolm Ogilvie

Answer 3 As someone who sea-watches almost every day, I too would recommend an eye-patch (ie for the eye not looking through the scope). I also find less strain when using my scope with angled eyepiece although it may have more to do with the flap of the zipped open end of the protective casing which I find covers my left eye to an extent which means I don’t need to close it while scoping with my right eye… Brian Unwin

Answer 4 I have a rectangular piece of closed cell foam – about 10 x 6 inches – with a hole for the telescope eyepiece. I can look through the telescope with either eye (it takes a bit of effort to use my left eye as I am a right-eyed person) and keep the other one open quite easily as there is only a dark blank for it to see – no distractions. This avoids the discomfort and silly comments that come with wearing an eyepatch. As I wear glasses all the time (including when looking through telescope, camera or binoculars) it is also much more practical than an eyepatch. Annie Poole

Answer 5 In the use of microscopes, I managed to keep both eyes open. However, with a scope, there appear to be too many distractions to the non-scope-eye, whereas with a microscope, the other eye easily switches off because all it usually has to look at is a desktop. If using a scope for longer periods, I tend to cover my non-scope-eye with a hand, so I can then keep the eye open, although the eye-patch method must be just as good, if not better. Nigel Moorhouse

Disabled Birders – off-roading

I recommend a new device, which has recently been launched on the market in Britain having been showcased on Tomorrow’s World a few months ago. It is called the Powertrike, and basically it consists of a motorised front wheel, attached to motorbike-style handlebars which fits on under the seat of a manual wheelchair. It is designed for off-road use, and I have been using one to go birding for the last three months. It is a fantastic idea, and it makes accessible lots of places that would be almost impossible on your own, or certainly hard work with a friend to push. I have chased dragonflies in the swampy meadows of Strumpshaw, ploughed through tall grass at Wood Walton, taken it through the woods of Thetford Forest, and used it daily on rough tracks at Wicken Fen where I’ve been doing fieldwork this spring.

The motor is surprisingly powerful, and can drive you at 11mph on a good surface. The battery takes a few hours to charge up, and supposedly lasts 10-15 miles (but this depends on the terrain). The concept is brilliant, and the advantage is that it is light enough that you can throw it in the back of the car and take it out and attach it yourself.

There are various shortcomings which are worth bearing in mind:

1. It is still heavy. I have a complete T5 spinal injury, so I am paralysed from the chest down. I am reasonably strong armed though and can lift it in and out of the car and attach it myself, but other people may need help.

2. To avoid front-end wheel spins, the back wheels on your chair (which should be fat mountain-bike tyres for best effect off-road) should be set as far back as possible, shifting your centre of gravity forward. Not all wheelchairs have rear-wheel extension axles to allow this. Kuschall do but Quickie R2s don’t for example.

3. The fitting under the seat to which the powertrike attaches weighs a couple of pounds, and is semi-permanently fitted on fixed chairs (but can be easily removed each time on folding chairs).

Despite these issues, and a few teething problems with the first batches, this is a really clever idea, and is brilliant for the wheelchair birder. Call your wheelchair dealer to find out more. Stu Butchart 

Binoculars & Spectacles

Question: Being of an age when I need a pair of spectacles for reading and writing – and now reaching the stage where I need another pair to look across the room/drive/look for birds, etc. I face a dilemma – one I am sure someone out there has faced in the past. I am, I am informed, a little too old and the eyes a little to dry for contacts – and would need a reading pair of specs. anyway. So how do I carry on my birding. Do I use bifocals/varifocals and push my specs up on my forehead? Do I look through my specs and my bins (loss of field of view). What do I lay out some £150+ on? I want the best of all worlds – probably no possible but your thoughts much appreciated. R. E. (Bob) Scott

Answer 1 Sorry to hear that old age has caught up with you (at last!). The choice of whether specs are kept on the nose or pushed up when using bins was one we asked in the first-ever British Birds survey of binoculars and telescopes used by its readers, published in 1978. The division between spectacle wearers who bought bins with roll-back eyecups to allow close contact with the spectacles and who didn’t was just about 50:50, which suggests that it is a matter of personal preference. My advice is the same as for people asking here about which bins or scope to buy. Go to a good stockist and try some different types out, with and without your specs. And perhaps bear in mind that while you may, now, be able to flick your specs up out of the way in a millisecond, as your reactions slow down with increasing age so this will take longer and longer thus allowing the bird you want to look at to get safely out of the way :-)) Malcolm Ogilvie

Answer 2 I have just bought my first pair of varifocals, and whilst I usually bird wearing contacts, these have to be the next best thing. In the past I`ve occasionally worn glasses whilst birding, it does take a little getting use to. But after a couple of years of having to lift my glasses on to my head, or looking over the top of them as I went about my daily business, I decided to try varifocals. They are very good. I was used to them in minutes and feel quite confident that I could go birding wearing them with little problem. Paul Bromhead

Answer 3a  I’ve been using my Leicas with my existing three pairs of specs for over three years and none are scratched through using my bins. A good pair of modern bins should NOT scratch your glasses – mine don’t and many bins I test (for bino surveys, work, etc) do not either. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of a mid-to-top end pair of bins introduced in the last 5 years that do. Yes some old models (of even some top notch manufacturers) have parts around the eyepieces that can scratch glasses, but the current crop of bins are all glasses friendly.

3b again, I’ve never had any problems with positioning and I have no loss of field of view with my bins, and you shouldn’t suffer any loss with the new generation of bins from most mid-to-top end manufacturers – just look at recently introduced pairs from Opticron, Minox, Eschenbach, Kahles, Bushnell, Bausch & Lomb, Swarovski, Leica, Zeiss – all perfectly usable with bins. Even the RSPB now do budget-mid price binos, which are great with specs!

My STRONG recommendation would always be to take your bins with you to the opticians and try them against each pair of glasses. Remember too that the flatter the glasses are (ie no wrap around shades, etc) the better the bins sit on the lenses. The prescription of the glasses will also play a part, as the larger the prescription, the more curved the lens. If you fall into this category, try the higher index lenses from Hoya, Zeiss or Nikon to give a flatter lens profile which are thinner, weigh less and have a flatter lens surface which suits bins better. Beware though, some high index lenses are prone to chromatic aberration which is exaggerated when looking through bins and scopes. My other recommendation would be that if you think you are losing field of view whilst using your bins with your glasses – change your bins! I wouldn’t dream of removing my specs to use my bins – time wasted, fussy etc – so make sure you end up with the combination of specs and bins which best suit your needs. Steve Dudley

Answer 4 Any good modern pair of bins can be used with specs. I never lift my specs, I loose sight of the bird. Good modern bins give the same field of view with specs on or off. I used to suffer from scratching on my specs but with the modern spec coatings and the use of solid eye caps instead of rubber that held pieces of dirt, that is a thing of the past, and I use plastic spec lenses. The best innovation in recent years in the advent of the flexon frames. I can bend the lenses through 180deg and almost wrap the arms round a finger. Now instead of the frames bending or pushing into your nose they take up a new shape as you press the bins to your specs and spring back into shape when released. They are a bit more expensive but worth the money. John Miller

Supplementary Question As expected it seems each to his/her own regarding bins and glasses. I invariably lift mine because it definitely gives me a better field of view (but then I use my bins with the eye-cups folded back to get my eyes nearer the lens). I have my glasses on a cord so as not to drop them – yes they often get caught up in my bins strap but it seems a small price to pay to be sure where they are. I’ve rarely have problems getting onto birds between lifting glasses although it can be difficult when using a scope on flying birds as often I can’t see the spec I’m trying to focus on without my glasses. My biggest problem is when it rains – an umbrella would be fine with a third hand and even a cap with a good peak is not much use as not then able to lift the glasses, but then if it is raining much I can’t see through them anyway! Any bright ideas? Richard Fairbank

Answer 5 The specs thing happened to me a few years ago when I had to move from reading, to reading and distance. I find bifocals O.K. but it takes practice. If you fold the rubber eyecups down you get almost the same field of view as with the naked eye.I use my spare bifocal glasses for birding and general outdoor work as these have large lenses and the frame pushes against my brow when I have bins up against them. My everyday pair are the more fashionable small light type and these are O.K. too but need more practice to use. I see someone has mentioned varifocals, I have not tried these as I believe the optical compromise to be too great. For a very specific use at work where I need to be able to write, see far, and read instruments about 2 metres away I have invested in a pair of trifocals which work well for that use. Varifocals may be coming.The bottom line is that for general birding you need to be able to put bins to glasses. You need to persevere at first. If it helps, I use Optolyth Alpin 10×40 and find no difference in field of view with or without specs. I have had no scratching problems, but my optician suggested I pay for an extra tough coating on the lenses which seems to work. Finally, you need to talk to a sensible optician of about your own age. Probably not a 25 year old in a shopping centre. Hope this helps. John Lang Wilson

Answer 6 A few years ago I had a really small pair of glasses made:

1. Small so that they would be as close to my eyelashes to give widest field of view, but not touching as they get greasy quickly.

2. with glass not plastic so as not to scratch.

3. with out folding hinges to make them nearly indestructible.

4. gold frames so they would bend. Now small glasses are fashionable, you can get them with bendy frames which virtually will not destruct, plastic coated so hard it will not scratch and with verifocal so you can see the birds and make notes in your notebook. Cost UK The only thing you must do is to tell your Optician to put your close focus centre as low in the glass as he can to give you maximum long vision for bins and scopes. You only need a little to scribble in the note book! If you’re really lucky you’ll look too sexy for the birds! Brian Short

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