After a l-o-n-g weekend in a hot, humid marquee – at a sweltering birdfair – I have no birds of note to write about. Hence the first post in this exciting new series: Great Birding Gadgets for less than 20 quid (that’s 30 euros/30 bucks for those of you in Europe or the States).
Autumn migration arrived in Shetland with a bang last week, with a pulse of easterlies bringing plenty of common migrants and a scatter of rares – three Citrine Wagtails, an Arctic Warbler – and a Booted Warbler at Sumburgh Hotel, two miles from my house. The easterlies started the day I headed south for Rutland, so I managed to miss most of the migrants. No surprise there – in fact, my favourite Birdfair Factoid is that all the Hippolais warblers (in the old sense – i.e. before half of them transferred to the Iduna team) on the British List have turned up in Shetland in the past 10 years or so while I have been away for the birdfair!
Anyway, to get back to gadgets. We’ve heard a lot on this blog about the fantastic and revolutionary new Swarovski scope. But they don’t come cheap, so I thought it was time to redress the balance a little. How about some key components of the birding kitbag that cost a bit less? Let’s start with this one…
Great Birding Gadgets no. 1: The Finnstick
This one comes courtesy of the excellent Jari Peltomaki and his team at Finnature, who just happen to be our next-door neighbours in Marquee 3 at birdfair. This is my first custom-built finnstick – and early indications are that it works very well.
Brits don’t seem to ‘get’ finnsticks. In fact, there was widespread ridicule when I appeared back on the BB stand proudly brandishing a shiny new finnstick. Which just about sums up the attitude of the British birding community as a whole. (I was very relieved when Paul French appeared on the stand, and provided some moral support…) I guess that most Brits just don’t do enough vis mig to appreciate the benefits of looking through ‘bins for long periods without their arms falling off. But are we missing a trick? The Finns certainly think we are. Surely there are times when a finnstick would come in handy?
For me, seawatching in Shetland is a rare pastime, but when I do it, I generally watch from the car and I often use bins rather than a ‘scope – to catch the Little Auks, skuas and terns coming past close to the cliffs. A finnstick keeps you looking through your bins for longer. Previously, I’d made a fairly clumsy attempt to fashion my own basic finnstick from a nice offcut of oak floorboard. My carpentry skills aren’t up to much, but I managed to whittle something that worked ok with my second-string bins, the old Leica 8×32’s.
Using a T-shaped design and a quick-release nylon strap means you can use any roof-prism bins, meaning that I can now use my bigger Zeiss 8x42s with confidence. (They kept falling off my home-made model.)
So there we are – a top birding gadget for less than £20. You can make your own – but to be honest, for the princely sum of £15 for the Finnature version, it’s hardly worth it. It might just mean you’re still looking through your bins rather than resting your arms when that Black-bellied Storm-petrel zips through, close in…