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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

Binoculars, Biscuits and Bird Lists

January is just around the corner, and with a new year looming, our guides are all tallying up and reflecting on their bird lists. There are many ways to do a bird list, and a popular way, is to do a yearly one of every species of bird you have seen in Scotland and/or Britain. Another is a list of birds you’ve seen in your garden and local area, or just a list of birds to you had never seen before! Lists can also consist of other types of wonderful creatures, such as butterflies, dragonflies and flowers.


When thinking about how and what lists we like to do, we must remember to be prepared. It is advantageous to have a good set of binoculars, so our guides have given us a run down on their binoculars and why they are suited to each of them.


And finally, you can’t really go birding without taking biscuits! They go hand in hand, or hand to mouth. It’s important to keep your energy up, and quite frankly, biscuits are just delicious.


Duncan Macdonald, Wildlife Identification Course Instructor and Guide

Duncan Macdonald

Binoculars

I have had these for nearly 20 years, and they are just superb. Lots of birders use Swarovski these days, but for me, Leica are the best – they give a more natural image in my opinion. The ring on the strap is from a Tawny Owl - I ringed it near Tain but then sadly found it dead on the A9.

Duncan's Leica Binoculoars
Duncan's Leica Binoculoars

Biscuits

It has to be the triple-choc cookies from the Co-op! A standard feature in our colleague Mark's kit when we went out and I certainly try to have them when going out now in his honour and memory.


Bird Lists

I keep lists for the garden, Highlands, Scotland, UK, other continents, and a life list. It is a fabulous way to compare years, it challenges you to get out and look, to get to different and new places and, from a garden perspective, to look at how I can be improving my space for wildlife. New list to start on 1st January. Very exciting!


Roy Atkins, Wildlife Identification Course Instructor and Guide

Roy Atkins

Binoculars

Mine are Swarovski EL 8 x 32 and I love them. I chose them because they were closer focusing, brighter and lighter weight than my previous pair and since I look at butterflies, dragonflies, and other such things as well as birds the closer focus was important. This is also why I went for 8x rather than 10x which don’t generally focus as close


Biscuits

I used to always take ginger nut biscuits birding and a flask of hot coffee to dunk them in… nothing dunks better – you can leave them in for ages and they don’t fall apart. Recently I seem to have started buying plain chocolate bounty bars instead! I don’t dunk them but drink the coffee at the same time as I eat them.


Bird Lists

I don’t know if I want to confess about my lists – it is a little embarrassing. I seem to have a lot of lists!


Many birders have a British list and, if they travel abroad, a world list – and I have both of these. My British list is around 460 or so and my world list at least 3500ish. Neither of these are outrageous compared to many other birders but I may be unusual in having a lot of other lists…


I have now seen all of the British breeding butterflies and dragonflies except one of each – and those are very recent colonists. I have seen all of the British sedges, all the ferns except one in southwest Ireland (I am going there June!) all the orchids except one (and some other probably introduced species so I can’t decide if they count!). I have seen all of the horsetails and clubmosses and all the arctic/alpine flowers apart from one in Northern Ireland (I am also going there in June!) I vaguely keep a list of land molluscs (slugs and snails) moths and grasses (by ticking them off in my books).


But perhaps my most unusual list is my ‘dream list’ – these are birds I have genuinely seen in dreams while asleep. Last count was well over 600 species – many are real birds, but a lot only exist in my dreams! It is truly astonishing what my brain has invented from exotic herons to exquisite and colourful, tiny doves through to a huge shaggy green eagle! Many a morning I have woken to scribble notes on the night’s sightings in a specific book beside the bed! I think maybe I should say no more… but these dreams are so amusing at times that I even have an entire half-hour talk on the subject! If you run a bird club or similar and would like to hear it – let me know… I like to think it is very entertaining!


Darren Rees, Guide

Darren Rees

Binoculars

My binoculars are Swarovski EL 10x42 and they are as good now as they were when I got them in the year 2000. The EL range was brand new then and were much coveted, but they came with a big price tag… imagine my joy when I won my pair as a prize in the Swarovski Bird Artist of the Year awards! I can’t recommend Swarovski enough – their after sales service is exceptional (not always the case with other top brands). If you can afford them, they are a great investment, but I realise they are still very expensive… I do have a second pair of binoculars (always in the car) and these are Opticrons – great quality for the price.


Biscuits

Sharon’s shortbread from the Steading holidays takes me back, but I’ve always been a Choccy Hob Nobs man. I think we should also have an honorary mention for Nutter Butter – always Mark’s biscuit of choice when leading American tours – happy days.


Julian Sykes, Guide

Binoculars

I have used Swarovski binoculars for the past 23 years when I purchased a pair of ELs 8.5 x 42, which I still have. These were close focusing which my previous pair were not and a revelation at that time. I used these for 20 years before getting the pair I have now, which are equally superb and lighter, which is the reason for changing ultimately. I prefer Swarovski gear because the company’s philosophy on after-sales service is fantastic and have had my optics repaired free of charge on every instance. I love the rain guard with these bins stopping any biscuit crumbs getting into lens’!

Julian's Swarovski binoculars
Julian's Swarovski binoculars

Biscuit

My favourite biscuit is a dunkable ginger nut - just delish. Spice up the palette and goes down well when put for a few seconds in a hot drink.


Bird Lists

I am not really a list person anymore, but I do have a couple which I keep. My local patch/walk list is my number one, followed by my self-found list in the UK, which is quite respectable.


Simon Eaves, Guide

Simon Eaves

Binoculars

I’m using the Swarovski 10x32 NL. Lightweight and really well balanced in the hand compared to other 10x magnification bins. I previously had the Swarovski 8x32 EL and they were brilliant too, so I’ve kept them as a spare pair.

Simon's lightweight Swarovski binoculars
Simon's lightweight Swarovski binoculars

Biscuits

“Twitching Biscuits” as Mark Denman and I used to call them, had to be a bit special and come in a tall box not just a wrapper…. triple choc chip cookies a favourite.


Bird Lists

I keep a year list and usually try a target of 200 in the UK. This year I’m on 233 which is actually my highest ever so far.


Challenged myself a couple of years ago in 2021 to do a local (just in Badenoch and Strathspey) “Big January” list and ended up seeing 82 Species and even found a Little Bunting near Boat of Garten which was a first record for Speyside.


I had a couple who were guests with me on the North Wales trip this year who were trying to see 200 birds in the year, and they joined me again later in the year on the Isles of Scilly trip in October and during that trip they reached their goal of 200!


There are various ways to keep your bird lists, whether it be a notebook with intricate drawings, a tick list in the back of a bird book or on an excel sheet. Our Guided Days Out in Speyside are a great way to start your 2023 Bird Lists, or maybe add to your life lists. Always ensuring to have your binoculars and biscuits to hand, our guides all enjoy finding the special species to add to your lists, or even just your memories.


Although we lost Mark in 2017, it’s lovely to see his choice of ‘twitchers biscuits’ still lives on through his friends and fellow guides.

Mark Denman and a Gray Jay
Mark Denman and a Gray Jay.


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