Monday, July 7, 2014

Binoculars! A Helpful Garden Tool!

Do you look at the plants and wildlife in your garden with binoculars?
Or do you think binoculars are for rugged hikers, granola-eating backpackers, and those slightly nerdy bird watching types?  (Oops, I think I'm all three!) Or are binoculars just too expensive?  Do you think that they are a technical thing that you don't know enough about to shop for?  Are they too delicate and breakable? Do you have a big clunky pair that you inherited from someone or got as a gift long ago that are too cumbersome to carry or use?  Or have you just never thought of binoculars as a gardening tool?
Whatever your notions about binoculars and binocular users, I would like to encourage you to get a small pair and keep them in a handy place so that you can watch your gardens from indoors through windows and so that you can take them out with you when you are going to sit and enjoy some time in your garden.
I have a small pair that I bought for travel many years ago.  My sons and I went on lovely little trips for spring break and took them to enhance our chances to see wildlife on hikes.  But they serve me well now for watching the wildlife in my garden.  This morning, I observed several kinds of butterflies on my pale purple coneflowers, including many orange and black checked fritillaries and a pair of flirting monarchs.  On the wild quinine, there are at least a half dozen small gray butterflies.  Yesterday, here were two male goldfinches on my false sunflowers and today a female was picking at the buds of a tall prairie dock stalk that are not open yet.  Last week, I watched a hummingbird dart among the last of the beardtongue flowers.
These were all things that I could not have seen from the house with no magnification and also would not have seen had I just been walking out there.  The goldfinches and hummers leave as soon as I get near, and the while the butterflies are easier to approach, when I go out there, there might only be one or two instead of a half dozen or more.
I have used the binoculars to check whether the birds using the bluebird house are desirable wrens or swallows or undesirable house sparrows.  Native birds are protected while the sparrows are not. I can remove the nests of the sparrows and hope for nicer birds.  I have a hinged roof overhang that I drop if the sparrows have taken possession, which drives them away, and allows other birds to still use it.  It is much easier to patrol the bird box with binoculars!
At my back deck birdfeeders, I can observe feather and marking details that I would not be able to see without the binoculars, and I can follow the birds into the trees and observe their behavior beyond the feeders.  This is especially interesting in the case of the birds that eat insects in the bark, such as nuthatches and the various kinds of woodpeckers.  Last week, I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak taking seeds from the suet feeder to two individual young that were perched on different branches just beyond the feeders.
At the hummingbird feeder, I can see the birds' glorious emerald feathers in much greater detail with the binoculars.
And that's just the wildlife.  I can also see from the house what is in flower, what is in bud so that I know what blooms to anticipate, whether seedpods are ripe, what weeds have snuck their way in and need attention, and just enjoy a fascinating level of detail not normally seen with the unaided eye.  I can find things that pique my interest and that nudges me to get up and get OUT THERE!
And of course, I take the binoculars along to explore areas and nooks and crannies I cannot see from the house!  I can even see things like wasp and mud dauber nests ON the house!
These are the benefits, the things you can see, the results.  Now what do you need to know to acquire your own garden binoculars?
Feel free to research and learn about the details of optics and brands and price points, but if you are inclined to trust me and take a short cut, I will tell you about mine.

They are Nikon Travelite V, and older model that you can still find some places.  They are 10x25 which has something to do with the maginfication (10x) and something to do with the size of the view.  The larger the later number, the more you will see in the little window, but the physical size must also be greater to allow for more lens surface.  I find the 10x25 properties to be just about right.  You can get them 8x25 which is less magnification but a little easier to hold steady and you can get some 12x25, which are about the same size in your hand with greater magnification but also, harder to hold still enough.
These are around $100 in stores and online. The new model, the Travelite VI is shown on the Nikon website:
There are other brands that are good too, but these are what I happened to pick up on a trip to Arizona a few years back and I have been happy with them.  They've been bumped around a bit and have suffered no diminishment of function.  They are small enough to tuck in and I adjust the neck strap to be super long so that it hangs just below my camera when I go for a walk.  That allows me to hand them off to another person for a quick look without taking them off and keeps them from rattling against the camera as I walk.
I prefer shopping locally, so I went to my nearby hardware store to get another pair to have in the car.  They stocked the Sportstar line, also by Nikon, for watching outdoor athletic events and for hiking and hunting and fishing, and it appears a little more compact than the Travelite tho maybe not quite as bright in lower light such as at dawn and dusk and in the rain, but I have been very happy with them too.  They are so small that I have tucked them into my purse at the last minute on visits to the zoo and to public gardens so I have been pleased to have them in the car.  Mostly though, I keep a pair in the car because I am much inclined to pull over (carefully and with the flashers on) to sit and observe a hawk or a deer or a pair of cranes or a flock of wild turkeys or some other interesting bit of nature as I am driving about.
This is the model that I purchased at the local hardware store.  I think they were around $80.
If you take the time to look, I think you will be surprised at the local stores that carry them.  Hardware stores that have sporting goods often have them in a case and you can try out different brands and magnifications and sizes.  You can get them at some department stores and at a great many places online.

Happy garden watching!  Let me know what details your binoculars help you observe!