Tag Archives: binoculars

All play and no work


Finding the balance at the moment is kind of tricky. I’m am meant to be working whilst on the road. The book I’m currently writing about a medical condition is just not progressing as I had hoped… it was easy at home when I had childcare and evenings without distraction – I flew through chapters churning out thousands of words in a day. Here I have the children all day, Orla has dropped her nap (oh joy!) and then in the evenings it’s hard to find the motivation to carry on after blogging and sorting through emails.

The days are a combination of fun farm work, like milking the cow and collecting eggs, the mundane like sorting out meals and washing up (which is still pretty fun and novel in the Airstream), the mind numbing, like changing nappies and picking up clothes constantly, and the unbelievably exciting, like watching a bald eagle fishing on the river here. Plus we’ve been having campfires and using the bat detector and tracking deer through the woods (and, ahem, watching Game of Thrones on DVD). But that doesn’t leave a lot of time for blog and book writing or charity administration. I am proud to say though that I got up at 06:30am on Friday, sneaked out to the car (turned the heaters on!) and attended an online meeting. I suppose getting up early to work is an option that many people in my situation would embrace but honestly… it’s not going to happen so lets not pretend it is. I’m far more likely to get up at dawn to look for owls and coyotes and listen to the dawn chorus while watching the sunrise. And even that wouldn’t be a regular occurrence – sleep has become far to precious since having children.


Rob and Patrick cleaning out the chickens


Alfie and I spend a while trying to get a picture of him kicking a ball. This was my favourite.


He climbs everything!

Slightly more frustrating is the lack of time with my camera. I am determined to get a decent picture of a bald eagle. Last night at dusk we spotted it flying along the river and when it perched I grabbed the camera, I got this rather ridiculous picture from our door in the hope I could see it more clearly on the computer but alas it was too far.


Spot the eagle…


Zoomed right in, barely visible… but proof none the less that we have seen a bald eagle! It was somewhat better in real life 😉

This morning we saw him again perched on a branch by the river but this time we were about 40 metres away from him… without a camera or binoculars! “Why on earth don’t you just take the camera out with you all the time?” I hear so many of you cry… You people with none, one or maybe two children… With three kids in tow I can only take the camera sometimes and only if I also have Rob with me. Picture for a moment if you will… me laden with kids coats they are refusing to wear, chasing Orla down the road (man can that girl move when she wants to!) Alfie is chasing her for me and I diligently have my camera over my shoulder and across my chest resting on my back while not in use chasing them both. Patrick is somewhere near me but he is sly like a fox and moves around me shadow style. Orla stops suddenly, Alfie crashes into her and down they both go like a sack of spuds. I catch up, anticipating the howls that are about to start and on swooping down to retrieve Orla to her feet the lens on the camera cracks Alfie on the head… On turning to comfort him and apologise Patrick is taken out, again by the lens… I can’t pick any of them up in case they kick the damn thing and they are all now crying and it’s starting to rain…

This scenario happens on a daily basis, add Swarovsai binoculars in to the mix and there is even more chaos. Actually, that’s not true, it happens multiple times every day and the only aspect of it that I can alter or improve is the camera/binocular element. It’s the kit I’m worried about obviously… the kids heads will be fine, it’s never a particularly hard clonk!

That said, I do take it out with me when Rob is with us (so he can sort out the scrapes and falls without braining the children in the process) and I love using it when I can. I just have to accept my limitations. But you all know me, when I’m determined to do something, like get a photo of a bald eagle… I do it, and I’m even more proud of it knowing the challenges I faced in getting it.

Learning to use binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve


It was a proud day for Rob and I – taking our boys to Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham to teach them to use their binoculars and the basics of bird identification.

The last time we visited the reserve was before we got married and long before the children arrived. We used to go to Attenborough often as it is a particularly good reserve for wetland birds and was on our Nottinghamshire doorstep before we moved to Cornwall. We have missed the days of easy bird watching where you can just pick up your coat, binoculars and scope and head on out. Those of you with children will appreciate the mammoth task of simply getting three little ones out the door, let alone being prepared for quiet time in hides and long walks along muddy paths.

Keeping quiet is important and a major reason we haven’t taken them before now. It’s not easy for kids to keep quiet and other bird watchers don’t appreciate it if your kids scare all the birds away! Luckily we didn’t have Orla with us (she was at home with Grannie).

Learning to use binoculars is no easy feat for adults or children as it takes practice to continue to look at the desired bird/animal etc. whilst bringing your binoculars to your eyes. Scanning around with them is even harder. So we were pretty impressed with how easily they both picked it up. I had imagined more frustration for them trying to focus and keeping them still. Patrick successfully focused on a moor hen and identified it from the field guide by looking at the colour on it’s head, bill, legs, wings and tail. Alfie identified a coot. We also saw lovely tufted ducks (pictured above) and great crested grebes as well as cormorants, Egyptian geese, pochard and a redwing amongst plenty more.


Alfie mastering his binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve

Although they did well and showed perseverance with the binoculars and prolonged interest in identification, they are just five and three years old and it did occur to us that our wildlife spotting and bird watching are going to be significantly limited to short bursts when we reach the states. An hour is about absolute tops… but that’s fine… we are a family and a team, and a team travels at the pace of it’s slowest member. We can work around the challenges by taking it in turns with one child each and other techniques for dividing and conquering. Mixing activities up helps too… Alfie found some big dog prints and tracked them along the path for a bit!

The visitor centre at Attenborough is really good too. In addition to a shop supplying all your birdwatching needs there is a children’s learning area which is engaging and interesting. The boys enjoyed the interactive activities and we bought activity sheets for them to do as well.


Patrick at one with the geese… I swear he can converse with animals!

Wetland reserves like Attenborough are great places to ignite an interest in nature and wildlife as they are generally accessible with good paths and flat terrain and the birds there are so interesting. Wetland birds are great ones for amateurs to start with as they are all pretty distinctive and interesting looking, easy to spot on the water and a good size. The boys were both full of enthusiasm and chatter about the birds and binoculars on the way back to Derby.

Attenborough Nature Reserve is open daily from 7am until dusk and the visitor centre is open 9am-4pm daily. Parking is £1.50 donation for upkeep and there is good public transport links to the reserve.


Black headed gull (in winter)

Personal Goals


Setting personal goals is a good way of getting the most out of our experience. Although they are obviously flexible and overlap massively with each others we hope by focusing on specific areas individually we will all get a chance to really experience the things we want to.

It’s also a good way for focusing the children to key areas of learning and will ensure that we don’t just drift aimlessly around. We don’t intend to be “slaves to our goals” but these are all achievable and fun areas of focus.

My goals

Tracking animals and people in the wild and gain practical experience in the art of tracking. Tracking is a skill which has long interested me yet I rarely have time to pursue. I spot animal tracks and signs regularly, probably daily, which living in the countryside is relatively straight forward. But spotting them is a lot easier than reading them and knowing who made the track, when, why and where they went next. When you have the ability to know those “W’s”, who, when, why and where, suddenly the natural world is a constantly changing newspaper.

Photography – I’ve bought a decent lens for wildlife photography and I obviously want to gain experience with landscapes. But I hope to focus on portraits too of the people we will meet on our journey.

Geology and ancient history really captures me and I want to learn to “read the landscape” so I can look and understand how it was formed and altered both naturally by the earth’s processes and by man’s intervention.

Rob’s goals

Bird watching and identification – Before we had children Rob and I were keen bird watchers. Not the sort that would drop everything because some rare migrant had been spotted at Lands End. But the sort who, as a birthday treat, would get up at 5am and travel 3 hours to a particular reserve to see waders and terns. Since having children our ability to go bird watching is significantly limited and our skills in identification are dwindling. On this trip Rob wants to reignite his passion for his feathered friends and increase his identification skills, particularly bird songs, for which he has a natural flare.

Minimalist living is an area Rob struggles with! The whole “2 bag” thing is a lot easier for me than Rob. He just really likes having stuff that does stuff. He likes tools that make jobs quicker and easier. I expect there’ll be a bit of huffing and puffing along the way when we have to fix something or do something and he knows that in the shed at home he has a specific tool that would make it such an easy task but that right now we have to compromise with what we have and it will take longer as a result. But in the long run, being able to live more independent of “stuff” will be a great skill and unbelievably liberating!

Alfie’s goals

Fire lighting – he’s been practising a lot already and is skilled with a fire flash and a flint and steel. He’s really rubbish at the preparation stage though. He knows a lot about the theory and can identify and find a number of natural tinders but he wants to get straight on with the spark. Without a carefully built fire to light the spark is pointless. So building a proper fire is Alfie’s main goal. Once he has mastered the preparation and actual fire lighting we will move onto other techniques like the bow drill for creating embers and sparks.

Carving and knife skills – again he is already getting going on this with the little pen knife he got for Christmas and occasionally using our bushcraft knives. By the end of the America leg he wants to have carved a spoon.

Patrick’s goals

Using binoculars is a skill that we think Patrick is ready for. He’s mad for the bird and animal watching and is already a good spotter. He got some good binoculars for Christmas but mastering them takes patience and perseverance which for a 3 year old is quite something.

Bird identification is something he already has a bit of a flare for. He can identify quite a few birds already from robins and woodpeckers to barn owls and buzzards. This is obviously something he and Rob can really work together on which will be nice for them both.

Orla’s goals

Walking – Although she is already a competent little trekker and can walk about a mile without complaint, we are not going to have a pushchair (I think, it’s still a little in debate!) so she’s really going to need to strengthen those pins. We’ll have an ergo carrier though so please don’t worry that we are literally making her trek North America!

Keeping quite for wildlife watching! Keeping quite is definitely not something Orla is much good at yet. But learning to be calm and quiet in hides and along paths is key to spotting birds and wildlife… leading by example will be the way forward on this one. She’s soon get the hang of it, I’m sure.