A week’s guiding with Nature Scotland on the wonderful Scottish island of Islay meant that it was time, once again, to put my Leica Noctivid 10×42 binoculars and my Apo Televid spotting scope to the test.
A seven hour, early morning drive from mid-Wales saw me arrive at Kennacraig in plenty of time to meet the six guests and catch the 1pm ferry. On the two-hour crossing, the guests were introduced to my binoculars whilst watching gannets fly past under grey clouds and light rain. The ‘dreich’ conditions, as the Scots call it, proved no problem for the incredibly clear Noctivids and soon, harbour porpoise and black guillemot were added to the growing list.
We set up base in a beautiful old house near Machir Bay in the west of the island, conveniently situated next to one of the island’s many whisky distilleries, and after a good night’s sleep, we set off towards the RSPB’s Loch Gruinart reserve. The thousands of barnacle geese weren’t difficult to locate but the Leica telescope brought individual birds to life and the shimmering black and white patterns suddenly became different hues of blue and grey. My binoculars picked out skulking pintail, shoveler, teal and wigeon amongst the tall vegetation and a sudden movement along the banks of a reed-fringed ditch turned out to be a roe deer buck, crystal clear thanks to the incredible Leica optics.
A short journey down narrow, traffic-free roads found us parked in a lay-by overlooking Loch Gorm and its surrounding moorland. Large skeins of geese landing in a stubble field turned out to be Greenland whitefronts and a handful of pinkfeet but I couldn’t get my ‘scope onto them because one of the guests was glued to the eyepiece, uttering a long string of superlatives at the quality of the optics.
As we scanned the fields, a flash of blue scattered a large flock of feeding twite to the four winds. It turned out to be a stunning male merlin and once it perched on a nearby post, I was able to make sure everyone got a great view before it was chased off by an angry mob of jackdaws. One merlin soon became two as a female tried her luck with the now nervous twite but she was too quick even for the Leicas!
At first light the following day, we headed to the far south, to the Mull of Oa. A short walk through fields and moor brought us to the high cliff tops where we set up our scopes and scanned out to sea. Even my Apo Televid spotting scope couldn’t conjure up a passing dolphin but I could see the Irish coast!
Soon, my 10×42 Noctivids were locked onto a hovering kestrel, every feather as clear as a bell. It was usurped, however, by a hunting peregrine that hurtled past the cliffs in search of prey. The fastest bird in the world was captured in all its glory by my binoculars and I watched open-mouthed as it stooped after a jackdaw that just managed to evade its yellow talons by diving into a cave.
Further along the Oa, we watched a party of chough bounce on the wind as it thrust upwards from the towering cliffs until, on hearing a squeal of delight from one of the guests, we all turned our attention inland towards a pair of circling golden eagles. I quickly set up my telescope and ensured that all the guests, in turn, were able to get full-frame views of these magnificent birds. I watched, transfixed, through my Noctivid binoculars as the pair slowly circled into the sky. I wish I could say that I had brilliant views through the scope also, but I couldn’t break through the waiting queue of guests!
A curry, two steaks and a haddock and chips later, I find myself sitting on the ferry back to Kennacraig reflecting on the week. Islay certainly delivered with its beautiful scenery and fantastic wildlife, the guests were all great company and the optics, once again, were superb.
Leica Noctivid 10×42 binoculars
Leica APO-Televid telescope
RRP: From £1,530 (without eyepiece)
Leica eyepiece 25x-50x