Monday, June 18, 2012

Binoculars for the Backyard Birder

Many people become interested in birding simply by becoming aware of the birds that frequent their own back yards.  Somewhere in our collective memories is a picture of the idyllic.  Placing a feeder outside a back window seems right, and when birds find its fare then the fun begins and the idyllic becomes reality.  So too arises the need to learn more about these creatures of feathers and song.
This sentiment was brought once again to my attention this past weekend as a group of our local Audubon manned a booth at our community expo.  Several people asked for advice on procuring binoculars they or a family member could use to simply see the birds in their yards better and, perhaps, identify them.

My first bit of advice is to walk away from the cheap and small objective lens models.  You are enjoying the birds coming to your yard.  You want to add to the enjoyment.  You are not looking to become frustrated.  You must consider any binocular as an important tool whose purpose is to add to your enjoyment and experience.  Examine your budget and commit to investing enough to ensure this goal.

Now to the numbers…There are two numbers that you will encounter such as 8x30.  The first refers to magnification and the second to the size of the objective lens.  Most birders use binoculars with a 7 or 8 power of magnification. Objective lens size of at least 30 mm seems well suited for most of us.  In general, an 8x32 or 8x42 binocular will serve you well.  It may well be to your advantage to consider the larger of these objective lenses owing to the greater light gathering ability of the larger lens.

Two other important considerations need mentioning.  One is whether you wear eyeglasses or not.  Be sure to inquire whether the binocular you’ve chosen can be used with or without glasses.  Second, beginners, especially, need a large field of view (FOV).  This will assist you in finding the bird.  Try to find a binocular with at least 350 feet FOV.
Vortex Crossfire
Here are some recommended models that fit the above criteria.  First, the 8x32 Vortex Crossfire and its cousin, the 8x42 Vortex Crossfire, are roof prism models.  Then there is the 8.5x32 Vortex Raptor which is a porro prism model.  All are very good but not too pricey.  The raptor is even a very good choice for youth or adults with smaller faces.

Vortex Raptor
Find what is best for you and go see if that is really a Ladder-backed Woodpecker on your oak and not a Red-bellied.  Happy birding.

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