Vis mig, as us birders like to call visible migration, is the observation of birds migrating, primarily in spring and autumn.
This spring, with more than half the World in lockdown, getting out to watch birds and photograph wildlife has been curtailed for us all, but armed with a pair of Olympus 8 x 42 Pro Binoculars I have been laying back in the sun on our garden patio getting my birding fix by watching the skies and observing the goings on in our garden, from the antics of the sex crazed Dunnock to Holly Blue Butterflies flitting around our ivy.
If you are new to birding and wildlife watching and wondering what 8 x 42 actually means, then a short explanation. Every binocular has two numbers, the first in this case 8 x is the magnification. Higher magnification bins are not necessarily better, there is a 10 x in the Olympus Pro range but this requires holding the binocular a little more steady and a 10 x will never be as bright as an 8 X 42 which brings us to the 42.
This is the size of the objective lens, the bigger the brighter and these 8 x 42 are very bright, perfect for early morning or dusk or peering into very shady spots. The large objective lens does mean they are classed as full size binoculars so they are not as small as a pair of 8 x 32 but with the little extra size you get that added performance.
Back to my garden. Stare skywards for a few minutes and you will start to notice birds flying over. As I write its now mid May and migration is coming to an end but while I no longer have the opportunity to see much vis mig I can admire the aerial acrobatics of Swifts newly arrived from their wintering quarters over Africa and on most days there are thermalling Buzzards climbing high into the sky and of course always the chance of something more exciting.
Watching for long periods means you want a pair of binoculars that are both bright and easy to hold, comfortable on the eyes and not too heavy. Weighing in at 670 grams the Olympus 8 x 42’s are very comfortable, whether lying back looking skywards or carrying around your neck. The ergonomics have been well thought through as they sit very comfortably in the hand and the large eyepieces, are comfortable when held up against the eyes for extended viewing. The large eyepieces did take me a little getting used to, however when my daughter looked through them with the eye cups down to accommodate her spectacles she found them much better for viewing than another brand we own. So if you are a spectacle user then these binoculars are definitely worth considering.
One afternoon laying on the sun lounger a Red admiral Butterfly landed on my shoe, to my surprise I was able to focus on this delicate beauty and revel in its colours. The official close focus distance is listed as 1.5 metres but my pair focused closer than this and when I put them to the test I measured this at 1.25 metres. So they are perfect for looking at dragonflies and butterflies. This close focusing does mean you have to move the focus wheel a little more than with a pair that lacks this, from my feet to a bird in the sky I had to move the wheel just over two revolutions, however this is the best focus mechanism I have used on any binocular the movement is buttery smooth, a joy to use.
Looking into the light there is very little if any noticeable ghosting or flare, and a key feature typical of the optical products Olympus offer are a robust build and full waterproofing. After using these binoculars I assumed having not looked up the list price that they would be well in excess of £1000. I was astonished to find they come in at under £500. A bit like bagging a Ferrari for the price of a Ford Focus.
The vis mig during lockdown from my garden has produced some exciting moments. An Avocet flew over one afternoon as did a pair of Mandarin Ducks both new for my garden list. I watched Red Kites and a probable migrating Osprey high in the sky one day but it was what I missed that really hurt. In April a White-tailed Eagle did a tour of southern England. It was one of the birds being reintroduced to the Isle of Wight and clearly intent on doing a little exploration it left the south coast flew north and turned round over Holt here in North Norfolk. One of my neighbours enjoyed views as it wheeled in the sky before heading back to the Isle of Wight. Oh to be a bird during lockdown.
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