Friday, September 21, 2012

Binocs for kids and seniors - not so different ...

I was going to reply just to the mich birders list, but wanted to share with a wider audience. So I cut the whole thing out and post it here and just left a ref posted on the birders list. Heck, it is about time I said something on my blog!
refer to the thread posted by Bryn on Friday, September 21, 2012 2:05 PM for many suggestions and comments on bonocs for kids in  reply to a posting earlier by another mich birder:

(Well I just tried it, but it looks like crap because of the list serv not handling any punctuation, so I am not referencing it. It looks fine as a post in e-mail! Anyway, I put the original notes at the base of my article here - removing all names. There were more great comments on the list serv, but this has the most.)

However, I highly recommend the list serv! Unlike some state sites, they even allow "rambles such as this - if on topic! Besides the e-mail stuff, be sure to check out the photo-sharing page and especially check out the HUGE list of references and URLs compiled by the amazing Brice Bowman!!!
See to learn more about mich birders!

I am glad Bryn kept the thread. Yes I know it is longer, but it is so much easier to reply than with bits and pieces.

I think this is really important!!! But what I want to add is a note about getting seniors into birding.

Seniors – like kids – often have diminished capacities for holding weights aloft for long so we need something light. And, if we are not already interested in birds, we gotta have something easily visible that might stick around for awhile so we can focus in it! The birds gotta get our attention and make us want to see and learn more. Not so different, I think!!!

I know for sure the weight thing is huge! I have two older binocs (1970s): 10x50 and 7x35. I just gave up on the 50s – heavy – a backup pair in car! I now use the 35s at my kitchen table in the mornings.

I have had a decent pair (not most expensive – ca. $250) for birding. They focus close – like for b’flies and d’flies which I love as flappy things because I am still a kid – and are decent for most birding. Yet, at Pte. Mouillee for Hawk Fest, even with very specific directions as to location of birds, I could not even see the “dots”! Now I do have to account for the fact that my eyes are older, and I was only using 8x (I no longer can hold 10x), but wonder about whether better optics would have helped. On the other hand, the “kids” (maybe 50 and younger) might have had 10x? But several other birders (mostly elderly) admitted they could not see them either.

But back to the question …

My wonderful wife and faithful companion Judy got into birding because I did. I got into birding because as a re-born photographer, I shot birds and wanted to know their names. Yes, I was trained as a biologist, but after over 25 years in a cubicle, I mostly had forgotten the joys of photography and Nature (well, exaggerating quite a bit here …), and certainly never knew mid-west birds.

Even with decent zoom cams, Judy always focused on bigger birds (geese, ducks, herons, etc.). She tries to get the smaller birds, but they move and the cam autofocus makes it hard. Yet, she does get great pics that often surpass mine! Cool!

I tried to get Judy to use my binocs on several occasions, but I think she did not want to deprive me of them for long. So, I finally bought her a personal pair. Now she really looks like a birder with binocs and cam. Cool!

The other fact is that she never really had a chance to “practice” with the binocs. It really takes some time to set the distance between eyes for binocular vision, and it takes even more time to learn to focus – especially with moving birds! And it is very frustrating when the darn bird does not sit there long enough to get the focus!!! Big, slow birds are better!!!

Hey! It works for me- both for viewing and photography!!!

I went thru a dilemma as to which binocs I could get at a reasonable price for Judy. Certainly price was my first consideration! - Would she use them and for how long? It ended up that as we were reloading feeder seed at WBU in Rochester Hills, and I asked to try all of the binocs. I settled on Eagle Optics 8x25 Triumph. I think it was less than $100 at the time – possibly closeout. I also think it has a lifetime guarantee! Light and decent! Judy had problems in the beginning (as noted before, it takes learning), but she really likes and uses them now!

There are many cheaper binocs out there, but the questions are really not about what WE want to share, but more about interest. Yes, the weight is important, and yes, the optics will become more important with use, but it really becomes a matter of interest.

I remember my first uses of binocs – the teacher wanted us to make a field book about bird behavior. Heck, I could never even put my binocs on the bird before it flew off! And teacher forgot the first thing about birding – he never really taught us any bird ID features! Sure, ecology and behavior is important, but my field notes of “bird flew from bush into tree” were ridiculous. Boring! Forget birds! Bad teacher! Fifty years later I am trying to learn birds! And, as a well-trained biologist by many others, I probably understand more than most birders that ID is not the main contribution I can make! Yet, you gotta start with taxonomy – and for that you need good optics and good field guides! And – I might say – lots of help from your birding friends!!!

So, consider the audience! First is interest! That takes a good teacher (You!). Then consider weight and possible longevity of interest. Some toys only have short half-lives. Again, it is interest (You!). As experience grows, and the larger birds become smaller birds, maybe it will be a time for an upgrade. But, wait and see!

"Dr. Bob" Setzer
Streamwood Estates, Rochester Hills (Crooks & Hamlin), Oakland County


From: Bryn Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 2:05 PM

Subject: [birders] Re: binoculars for young children

From my perspective, just as or more important than bins are field guides (birds, insects, reptiles, etc...). My girls love thumbing through them and really like when I show them what we saw/are seeing. They're starting to understand the range maps and some of the symbols in one of their guides. By far the most important thing, though, and I think most people would agree with me, is just taking them outside and spending the time with them. They will pick up on your enthusiasm and grow fond memories of just going out on adventures.

Other excursion items (that work for us):

Camera (to document the memories with my kids and to photograph the creatures we see so we can go home and share them with "Mama")

Field guides (if we see a turtle, the girls have fun looking at the different turtle pictures to see if they can identify which one it is)--the books mean more to them back home when they know they are full of real things that they saw or could potentially see on future excursions

From: curt
Indeed! Kalila LOVES going dragonfly hunting, or butterfly, but dragons are easier to catch, and much less delicate.
Outdoor excursion items:
1. snacks and water
2. clothes that love mud
3. something to put cool stuff in (a bag or box, or old soda cup)
4. net
5. yes, pink is good.

From: Bryn

A few things from my perspective: When I take my 4-year olds out, we bring their pink bins. They are not very good, but they like "being official" and having them. They do enjoy finding big things in them and finding things to them is more important than identifying important characteristics. A scope works great at this age. Most of our excursions are general nature trips. We have bins, but we also have insect collecting gear, etc... I never have them try to see flitting passerines through their bins. Their bins are for them to experiment with and to try to look at things like herons. (They also like looking through the "wrong" end just as much.)

From: John
At the risk of being being seen as someone desperately trying to save face in the midst of all these great examples of hands-on experience directly countering my point...

I still think a good option is to acquire a decent spare binocular to have handy for those times when lending is appropriate.

But I especially like Dea's and Curt's advice regarding birding adventures with young children. More important to just get out and have an adventure than worry if you've got the right equipment.
From Fred:
Right on Curt! Kids will be kids and a happy kid is one who discovers how to have fun on their own. Like Adam Ant said in their song…”It’s so sad… when you’re young… to be told…you’re having fun”. I’ve seen way too many people buy the most expensive stuff for kids and then get all shocked and depressed when “junior” decides he’d rather play with the box the thing came in! I’m speaking in general of course and there is always room for the exceptional “budding” birder but childhood interests change too frequently to warrant the expense.

Buying a child a $500 bow does not necessarily make a world-class archer…I wonder how much Tiger’s dad spent on Tiger’s first set of clubs? Or…Eddie Van Halen’s first guitar? Hmmm

From: curt
I recall taking my first daughter out to Point Mouille in the winter (back in my survey days when I could drive there), and very excitedly getting a Snowy Owl in the scope and showing her. I had the impression she thought she was looking at a picture of some kind. If she couldn't see the bird with the naked eye, it was just too abstract. She had no excitement what-so-ever. I'm not sure if she was 3 or 4 at the time though. I know that my current 4 year old loves binoculars, but generally prefers to look through them backwards. Its much funnier that way. I am on the market for bins for her, I think, but I believe I will go for something like 4X and as wide angle and bright as possible. Then, if she sees a Robin or a Blue Jay, (birds she can identify) in the yard and wants to show me, she'll actually be able to do it herself.
I have never found it worthwhile to struggle to show a young kid a bird. My older daughters have seen so many cool birds, but they remember pretty much only the birds they discovered themselves. They do remember the trips. My 17 year old daughter remembers being small and having me carry her to the van in her jammies at 5 in the morning for a drive to Sarnia in an October storm, still remembers the Tim Hortons. She has no recollection of the adult Sabine's Gull, or the Pomarine Jaeger. To a young kid a mallard and a King eider are exactly the same thing: a duck, except a Mallard is better because they can know it.
For the most part, my kids like to go birding with me, they love nature and the outdoors, but they don't give a crap about identifying birds.
Just my 2 cents

From: Deaver
My experience with 3rd and 4th graders (walking through the Arb, all with very small field of view binoculars that they could hold and that fit them and were light-weight enough to carry easily) is that they were far more excited just being outside and seeing birds that you can see without binoculars (hawks,cranes, vultures, herons, ducks, large flocks of Cedar Waxwings and woodpeckers, etc) than they were about focusing binoculars on a fast moving small passerine. Probably because the binoculars were not too good and had such a small field of view. Though I cannot put my hands on Laura Erickson's book about birding with kids at this moment, I think that she says that she doesn't usually use binoculars with very young "birders". But kids want binoculars around their neck if you have them so get something light and that you won't feel bad if they get used infrequently. Young children will pick up on your excitement about birds and that will drive their interest the most. Almost any article about finding the right binoculars talks about "fit" and for kids, that is very small but also constantly changing as they grow. What I wouldn't do is spend lots of money. Optics are not the prime thing. For great close up views get a step stool for your scope when you are using it so you and your young birding companion can look through it without constant height readjustment or achy back on your part. Young kids can hop up faster than most of us can bend down and with good instruction can learn how to look thru a scope eyepiece.

In another article by Laura Erickson, she talks about good cheap binoculars for older kids and first time adult birders. Here is her cheapest suggestion. The article was written in 2008, but it will give you an idea ...

Bushnell NatureView Birder 8x40 -- $69.95

Reasonable price and light weight make this model a great choice for beginners, and the price and quality of optics make it a popular choice for groups. In fact, it is one of the only binoculars in this price range with good optics. It's great to pass out on field trips to children and casual wildlife viewers. The Tucson Audubon Nature Shop has sold it in quantity to a tour leader in the Grand Canyon and also to a world-famous health resort in Tucson.

I suspect others out there have some personal experience with kids and grandkids and I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

Been gone ...

Sadly I have not published for some time! Been busy! Also might just say I have been overwhelmed. So it goes. I will try to do better!