Putting the Noctivids to the test!

author Jeff Bouton poses with a giant Noctivid binocular

author Jeff Bouton poses with a giant Noctivid binocular

I got my first experience to enjoy the view through the new Leica Noctivid binocular at the British Birdwatching Fair in Rutland Waters, UK this past August. While I immediately appreciated the insanely vivid image, unmatched depth of field, and fast focus, I was really looking forward to giving them a proper test in the field searching for birds.

Leica Camera AG headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany

Leica Camera AG headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany

Following the fair, bird book author, colleague and friend Bill Thompson III from Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine joined me for a few days in Wetzlar, Germany (home of the world headquarters of Leica Camera, AG).

Bill Thompson III (BT3) and I hit the town in Wetzlar, Germany

Bill Thompson III (BT3) and I hit the town in Wetzlar, Germany

With Noctivids in hand, Bill and I made our way down to the river in the center of town to do some birding and begin our test of Leica’s new benchmark binocular. We were still reeling from the flight and the very busy and demanding British Bird Fair, so Bill and I started with less rigorous testing to begin.

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We set up at a local “bier garten” where we enjoyed a light lunch and subjected the Noctivids to a waterproofing test, letting the condensation from our cold mugs and possibly even drips of fine German pils fall right onto the lenses (first “real life” test passed with flying colors)!

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We enjoyed views of a Kingfisher and then a fabulous owl!

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The color was unbelievable on both of these, but given the Noctivid’s unmatched depth of field we decided 3-dimensional subjects might be even better. So after ordering our lunch we turned our focus to the river below us.amco-1 amco-2

Eurasian Coots with their extensive bill shields and red eyes preened and rested here. The images above were digiscoped through the Leica APO Televid spotting scope without getting up from my chair, this was pretty lazy birding!

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We enjoyed Egyptian Geese, Mallards, and Gray Herons foraging in the shallow riffles here.

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While a VERY worn and bedraggled Gray Wagtail bounded back and forth across the stream.

gcgr-1Across the river, near the far bank, a lovely Great Crested Grebe sat on its nest (digiscoped through Leica APO Televid spotting scope). It’s not hard to see how they got their name in this image.

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Being the hardcore birders that we are, we continued this rigorous testing even as we enjoyed a late evening dinner watching flights of swifts and swallows spiraling overhead against the darkening sky.

Common House Martin spirals overhead

Common House Martin spirals overhead

Never fear though, this was merely a day of rest to unwind from the insanely busy and exhausting British Birdwatching Fair. We had a more serious test scheduled for the following day.

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We awoke well before dawn and drove through the dark to fields blanketed in fog that hid some quiet Dotterels. We spotted some Skylarks here but not much else in these fields. Bill’s yawn reflects the hour. Thomas guided us expertly!

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Despite the fog we were able to find numbers of birds trying to hide in wooded lots here. They stood no chance against the light delivering capabilities of the Noctivid binoculars though, even deep shadows with fog couldn’t keep them hidden. Short-toed Treecreepers, Blue & Great Tits, Dunnock, Robins, Blackbirds, Chiff chaffs and other garden birds were seen to start our day! We were without doubt the only trio of birders using Leica Noctivids anywhere in the world on this day, a very exclusive group.

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A Spotted Flycatcher perches up waiting for the morning fog to subside.
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In hillside forests we added Eurasian Jays, Green Woodpeckers, Crested Tits and others.

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Continuing south, we added soaring birds like Common Kestrel, Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Eurasian Honeybuzzard while I insisted on a stop for more coffee and a very “Germanic” mid-morning snack!

BT3 soaks in the view of the rhine and its famed vineyards

BT3 soaks in the view of the Rhine River valley and its famed vineyards

We drove steadily southward and finally arrived along the shores of the scenic Rhine River. The slopes here played host to Yellowhammers and other bunting species as Kestrels hovered above them.

European Goldfinch, male captured through he lens of the Leica V-lux (typ 114) camera

European Goldfinch, male captured through the lens of the Leica V-lux (typ 114) camera

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Birds in deep shadows tried to hide against the brightly backlit green canopy here, but the superior contrast of the Noctivid binoculars showed these perfectly. The Middle Spotted Woodpecker (top) Nuthatch (above) and Mistle Thrush were but a few of these.

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It was already past 2 pm and our birding adventure had already been going  for nearly 10 hours so we stopped for some of the famed local cuisine including the recommended local wine (When in Rhine!) After lunch and more coffee to fuel our tanks we were driving North back toward Wetzlar. Along the way we stopped and picked out record numbers of relatively early Mediterranean Gulls mixing with more common Black-headed Gulls along flats on the river. Our trip list continued to grow!

Egyptian Goose glides into the marsh

Egyptian Goose glides into the marsh – Leica V-lux (typ 114) camera

Our next stop was back at a productive little marsh where we added many waders like Greenshank, Snipe, Ruffs, Redshank, Water Rails, and others.

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Some birds like a stunning male European Goldfinch popped brilliantly through the Noctivids as it caught the evening sun…

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…but others like Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, and the Reed Bunting above would have been easy to miss through a binocular with less contrast and color separation than the amazing Noctivids; Leica’s best binocular ever made!

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White Stork pairs preened in the fading evening light.

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The field below was full of Graylag Geese with lesser numbers of Egyptians, and a couple Barnacle Geese along with this unique hybrid Graylag x Canada Goose! All of the four images above were digiscoped through the Leica APO Televid spotting scope with the Leica Q camera!

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As the sun set below the horizon our list of birds had grown to 97 species but we were far from done. We were using the brightest binoculars made after all, so lack of light was no challenge. We drove on to our next site some 20 minutes away and quietly crept toward the edge of a steep rock face hidden in dusky shadow. At first, we saw nothing but after scanning the steep slope across from us we finally saw it…

Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) the largest owl species in Europe digiscoped 35 minutes after sunset!

Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) the largest owl species in Europe digiscoped 50 minutes after sunset!

It was the the single species Bill and I had MOST hoped to see, the largest owl species, Eagle Owl! Despite the distance the bird’s massively powerful feet were obvious and the fiery, orange iris seemed to glow from the shadows. After soaking him up for 10 minutes more we made our we back to the car. A Barn Owl let out a screeching call as it bounded over the marsh below bringing our day list to 99 bird species!

Little Owl

It was after 9:30 pm when we pulled into a nearby town and parked the car to grab a well deserved meal. From the residential gardens surrounding the pub, a Little Owl called! How absolutely fitting our “century bird” (bird species number 100) and the final bird we would tally would be the tiny Little Owl – “Athene noctua”. It was the bird that gave inspiration to the creation of the Noctivid binoculars. Six years in the making, Bill and I had definitely made up for our less than strenuous test the day before, finally putting the Noctivids down after birding with them for nearly 16 hours – beginning long before dawn and quitting long after sundown. I was physically tired but my eyes were not fatigued. It had been a great day and I had put the Noctivids to the REAL test that I’d wanted to give them. All I can say is they do indeed live up to all of the hype, and I’d encourage every birder to take the opportunity to appreciate the view of birds these incredible binoculars provide!