Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Birding 101: Using Binoculars

After the boys gained a little knowledge and experienced the fun of identifying the birds which are common to our region, they needed training on how to use binoculars.

Using binocs was challenging for both boys at first but particularly for Orville.  He is legally blind in one eye and wears progressive bifocals.  He cannot see anything more than a distorted, fuzzy jumble of colors without his glasses, and he found using binocs to be very challenging, particularly inexpensive beginner binocs.

I am forever thankful for my friend Molly who did some research and found these Leupold binoculars with lens pieces that easily twist into place for use with glasses.

You don't necessarily need a $100 pair of binoculars for every child in your family who wants to bird watch and whether or not a child is ready to properly care for an expensive piece of equipment has to be determined by each family.  However, I do recommend that you ditch the inexpensive beginner binocs as soon as you can.  At least have one pair of good binocs that can be shared.  It really enhances the bird watching experience and alleviates frustration when trying to identify a new bird.

Once we found binoculars that worked for us, there was still some training to be done.  It takes practice to be able to find a bird and bring it in to focus. 

We use these steps:
  1. Find the bird without binoculars first. 
  2. Take note of any features of its surroundings that might help you find it if you "lose your place", like clumps of leaves or a curve in the tree.
  3. Once the bird is in your line of sight, move the binoculars to your eyes without moving your head.
  4. If you do not immediately see the bird, move your binoculars slowly and with small movements to the left, then to the right, then up, then down, until you find it.  Look for your "landmark" along the way.
  5. Once you find the bird, use your dominate pointer finger to adjust the focus knob until you have a clear view.
Sounds easy, right?  Not really.  And it takes practice.  Here are a few fun activities we did to gain experience....

Hide Easter eggs around your backyard or at a local playground.

Place them in a variety of locations, some easy to spot...

...and others a little more difficult.

Have your children find them using their binoculars
and describe the color of egg and its location
 to a sibling, friend or you.

You can make this game as easy or difficult as you like, increasing the difficulty as your children's skills advance.  Eventually, I drew stripes, dots and other "field marks" onto our eggs so that the boys would learn to take notice of more than one attribute.  Other times, I would hide several eggs but pick a "golden egg".  They had to meet the challenge of finding the blue egg with green dots and purple stripes, for example.

We also went to this spot,
one of the most beautiful look-outs in our state,
to play a game of I Spy.

Each of us would take turns saying,
"I spy with my little BI-noculars
a white roof."
Do you see the barn with the white roof, too?
It is easy to find with binocs!

Soon they would play without me.
It was a fun brother game
in which they were very motivated
to challenge each other!

Even though these games increased their binocular-using skills, sometimes binoculars just weren't enough.  Join me next time when I will tweet about cameras!  They are a bird watcher's friend!

Until we tweet again...


  1. Thank you so much for these tips! I think it might help me with my photography skills too -- I'm constantly losing my place when I take pictures of birds. I love the practice activities too. One question: Are the binoculars you listed the ones you recommend for general use, or just for people who wear glasses?

  2. You're welcome! I'm glad you commented bc I realized I wrote "loose your place." ay, ay, ay!!1 Too many irons in the fire and too few brain cells! :)

    I highly recommend the Leupolds for those with vision problems. Other binocs we have can be adjusted for use with glasses but those are so easy to adjust.

    I actually prefer Eagle Optics. The boys each won a pair at YBC one year. They're less expensive than the Leupolds and are a little better quality. They have held up under boy usage. Here's where to find them on amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Optics-Triumph-BinocularsModels-Binocular/dp/B0002CTXY0/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1297812991&sr=8-4

    I don't know what brand I have but they are 9 x 63. That first number is what is really important. I wouldn't go for less than 8.

    My dream binocs have night vision, automatic zoom and take digital recordings! I guess can get those after I lose 100 lbs! HA!

  3. oh, no. I think I bought the wrong ones. I wear glasses and forgot to look for some that adjust well with them. Exactly what should I look for in "being good for those with vision probs?"

  4. Wonderful post. You have great ideas for practicing with binoculars. Thanks!

  5. Thank you, Lynn. Glad you stopped in!


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