Friday 25 April 2008

The First Love is the Lightest

Patrick (you sure know who he is and what blog he's on) started this nice little inquiry into his readers' or fellow bloggers' first pair of binoculars.

Surely, an object as vital to our hobby as fins are to a fish has to have a lot of interesting stories and memories attached to it, and so this is a thread I was very happy to pick up.

However, my efforts came to an abrupt halt right at the start: This is such a nice thing to think and write about but, try as hard as I might, I just couldn't remember my first pair of binoculars!

You see, being the son of a forester, I can't remember days of my youth when I did not have a pair of binoculars. Indeed, I was frequently and completely astounded as a kid when friends of mine told me in one of those deep and meaningful sandpit conversations they did not have a pair of bins and neither had anyone in their family. This seemed as strange to me as saying they didn't own any Playmobil or that no one in their family used air for breathing.
Sure enough, my very early pairs of binoculars - and I certainly made use of them so intensively that I had to have my parents give me a new one as often as I needed new shoes growing up - were rather simple 8x30's or 7x50's that didn't cost a lot and were thus of a low quality. I can't even remember how many I had, let alone tell any stories connected to them. These early bins are therefore of no use to me in the context of this post or to satisfy Patrick's curiosity.

Therefore, I have slightly bent the rules like this:
my first pair of binoculars specifically chosen and obtained to look at birds was the 10 x 50 Optolyth alpin. Back in the very early days of birding, those ancient times of youth, Optolyth was a brand very popular and common amongst birders in Germany. They were somewhat intermediate in both price and quality between the cheap no-name-no-use brands and the top notch Svarowski, Leica and Zeiss elite and - in my very honest opinion - had the very best price-performance ratio of all the binoculars in the whole wide world (not that I knew all of them, I was just so fond of my bins). The alpin series was specifically designed to weigh as little as possible for long days out in the field or - as the name implies - for carrying them uphill over prolongued periods of time. And indeed, they were very light in comparison to other bins back in the olden days of the late 1980ies and fully served that purpose to my maximum satisfaction and my neck's most heartfelt gratitude.

Why did I choose them?

- The 10 x magnification because I needed it for bird identification, with the 7 x and 8 x I had used before not giving me the visual satisfaction and close-up views I had desired to get.

- The 50 front lens diameter to allow for use during dusk or dawn expeditions (well, rarely the latter to be honest, I do like to listen to my pillow especially before my morning coffee) when I was after mammals in Germany's forests with my dad.

- The alpin series because I did a lot of my birding on foot and by bike (naturally in the days before I was legally allowed to drive) and these were long days out, so having a light-weight pair of bins instead of a heavy-duty brick around my neck was very comfortable.

- And last but not least Optolyth because Svarowski/Leica/Zeiss was and still is far too expensive for me.

Now, what about that special, charming and funny story connected to them?
In this aspect of Patrick's inquiry, I fail miserably.
I specifically remember these two things about them:

After finishing high school, I went on a 100-days birding trip throughout Scandinavia and after a very memorable midnight tour onto a Swedish fjäll (barren, tundra-like mountain top) where I was guided by locals to a Great Snipe Lek, I drove off with my bins on the roof of my car until I could see them through my rear view mirror falling off and onto the concrete road at 60 km per hour. This was just a few days into the trip and I feared the worst, but happily the bins survived almost unscathed. The optical axes were slightly off afterwards, so I always saw the double amount of birds there really were, but that was solved by conveniently closing one eye looking through the bins, turning them from binoculars to a monocular. I kept on using them like that for a few years and when I got another pair (of the same kind, by the way) it took me quite a while to adapt to using both eyes again.
And to the geeky side of things, I had a handy black leather bag attached to the strap to protect the bins if I got into rain or heavy weather. So whenever I raised my binoculars, this big black leather bag would cover my whole face from my eyes downwards to my chin. Often - especially during summer when my clothes didn't offer many pockets - I would store my notebook in the bag and it would thus swing back and forth like a clock's pendulum banging against my nose each time I used my bins.
Sometimes, having specialized tools might give their bearer a certain gravitas, but that surely wasn't the case here. I most certainly just looked like I was trying to redefine "geek" in a very motivated way.


Mel said...

Hope to get my first pair of binoculars soon!
I just started working again, so, I might be asking for advice soon!

Larry said...

That was entertaining tale about the history of your binoculars.-I find it hard to believe that you stuck with one-eyed binoculars for so long.-Then again, I drove a car with no reverse gear for two years so I guess I shouldn't talk.

Jochen said...

Mel, binoculars will completely change your way of looking at birds and birding, literally!! Do ask! That would - by the way - be a good question for the 10,000Birds clinic!

Larry, you completely amaze me: two years with a car that couldn't drive backwards? HOW did you do it!!!???
Just like my bins, once you get used to it, it works, and as long as it works, there's no need for a change, I suppose!

Larry said...

You always have to park so that your car has nothing in front of it.If you park nose first the car has to be on an incline so that you can roll back.

anushka said...

your blog was very helpful to me.i am new in this.i also request you to help me in identifying birds in my blog.thank you.