Of Stargazers and Starry Night

Musing over the star studded space from terrace in the quiet of night even half-curiously may have philosophical implications on your life. You didn’t know?

Stargazing as an activity is not very different from other idle pastimes like Trainspotting and Bird-watching. All three are notable for their apparent uselessness, their no particular learning curve and for not demanding any pre-requisites to begin with, something that from a child to the great-granny can do with equal engagement. The other thing that unites gazers, watchers and spotters is how conveniently, and often naturally, they draw a line between casual curiosity and seriousness of academic flavour. In fact, the element of idle-wondering is the most fulfilling aspect of stargazing and, needless to say, contrary to all the negative claims, it does bring you a lot of interesting trivia.


Using binoculars effectively for bird watching

If at first you don’t succeed, sky diving is not for you–and if you believe that bird watching is strictly for the birds, then binoculars aren’t for you either!

True, bird watching is getting harder as our parks disappear, but it has its joys. It puts you closer to the wilderness, something we city dwelling office goers sorely miss. It also teaches you patience and observation, which can improve your work in the office too (we hope that your boss is reading this and agrees to use office money to fund a trip for you to the Western Ghats so that you can observe a lot of birds!)

Many people believe that you just need to press a pair of binoculars to your eyes to spot birds, but this is far from the truth. While the equipment you use plays a role, your ability to use it effectively matters too. Prashanth Hebbar , an avid bird watcher who has been practicing his passion for several decades, says that the way you use your binoculars can make all the difference.

It is ideal if you can afford binoculars that use prisms rather than lenses. A bigger lens lets in more light, but is heavier. On the other hand, if you’re off trekking long distances, you might want something more compact. A pair of binoculars with a field vision of 10/50 is ideal–such a pair can zoom in on objects 10 metres away by 50 times, which is cool for bird watching. As with everything in life, what’s right for you depends on what you want! To view a range of options, click here.

You have a choice between a wide FOV (field of vision) or a narrow FOV. You can alter this by moving the two halves of the binocular closer together to get a narrow FOV or further apart to increase the FOV. While different bird watchers have their own preferences, Prashanth said that he prefers a narrow FOV. “That way, you see only the bird,” he said.

Talking about mistakes made by beginners, Prashanth said that many people use the binoculars to locate birds, which is wrong. You should first spot the bird, identify the area where the bird is present, and only then–without changing your position–bring the binocular to your eye. “The binocular is used to magnify objects that you have already spotted. It is not an instrument for spotting objects.”

Once you have learnt how to use your binoculars, you also need to learn how to protect them. The biggest danger is moisture–if it settles on the prism, your investment is gone because fungus can grow on it. You can use some anti-moisture gels for protection against moisture.

Many binoculars come with lens caps. Always use them when you are not using the binoculars. Use a cloth, preferably a woolen one, to wipe the body. Special care has to be used while cleaning lenses. Never wipe them just like that–dust on a lens can scratch the glass and render it ineffective. It is better to use a blower to remove dust.

Sounds complicated? Well, think of how birds build their elaborate nests with no hands. We have hands, but we can’t build anything even remotely similar to such nests. The least we can do is get binoculars and observe those birds hard work!