Birding gadgets – for under 20 quid

by Roger

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).

Me at the birdfair, on the lookout for potential new subscribers…

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…

6 thoughts on “Birding gadgets – for under 20 quid

  1. Martin Helin

    It’s nice to see a mention about the finnstick. There a bit more (but not much and somewhat outdated) in wikipedia (mostly written by me):

    For us Finns it’s hard to to understand any ridicule around it as it’s really indispensible (isn’t it…?), and not just for visible migration but also when looking at little brown jobs where small details and colour tones are crucial for clinching the id. Naturally, I am keeping the stick attached to my bins when walking around (no time for extra hassle when that skulky mega appears…).

    The Finnature’s model I haven’t tried out myself but it’s a bargain for that price: buy it now (and dump it if you don’t like it)! (Peltsi@Finnature: you can send the royalties to my bank account… 🙂

    I have paid a lot more (about 100 euros) for the (commercial) version I use myself and although expensive I consider it a very good investment.

  2. Tim Allwood

    For seawatching: 7 x 42 dialyts – or similar – sit very nicely on top of a Nikon straight scope – or similar – and do the same trick and are presumably even more stable. And when you do pick something up just slide them few centimetres down and your scope eyepiece is already lined up…

    I might knock one up for a vismigging trial though Roger, although it hardly seems worth the trouble when a readymade is only £15

  3. James

    Hi – will you post your Blog at The Birding Community ay Our members will love it!
    It’s easy just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website. You can also add Photos, Videos, Articles, Questions, etc. It’s free and easy…
    Connect with other Birders from around the world.
    We are looking for contributors to share stuff with our members. Please help.
    Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
    The Birding Community:
    James Kaufman, Editor

  4. Laurie Allan

    Same here , i use my scope on a pod at right angles and when in mates car adjust the window but i rest the bins frequently in order to get a bit more spatial awareness and a wider field of view. It looks as tho it can be made for pennies for those that want one. The same with those rucksack scope carriers – i just made one from an old rucksack and some re-usable cable ties.

    ATB Laurie –


Leave a Reply