We all know that binoculars are one of the most important pieces of wildlife observation equipment. Manufacturers are always keen to tell you about long lists of amazing selling points – image quality, brightness, contrast, transmission, waterproofing and so on – but one they don’t often mention is how much protection they offer against dangerous animals.
This is probably because it’s relatively easy to test and measure things like light transmission and waterproofing. Testing against bears tends to be a bit more onerous – both for the bear and the tester, bears being busy animals in general with better things to do than hang around to discuss the finer points of dioptre compensation mechanisms. It’s safe enough to say that, on the whole, binoculars are not tested for their ability to repel large mammals with sharp claws and teeth.
There are exceptions to test every rule, however, and at the British Birdwatching Fair (known as Birdfair) this year, we found an exception to this one. Unsurprisingly, there weren’t any actual bears at Birdfair, which was held at the Rutland Water nature reserve in Leicestershire – better known for its ospreys than its grizzlies.
The Leica Sport Optics team was out in force at Birdfair, with our usual stand at the end of the optics marquee and its sweeping views over the reserve. Also present were our UK nature observation ambassadors: The Urban Birder David Lindo, Bill Oddie, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller from The Biggest Twitch, and TV wildlife presenter Iolo Williams. This year we were out to film interviews with each of them about their most memorable Leica experiences.
The experiences were all, as you’d expect, definitely worth remembering and it was a pleasure to hear them. We won’t spoil the surprise for most of them as you’ll be able to view the videos for yourselves soon (watch this space), but one was so out of the ordinary we couldn’t “bear” to keep it to ourselves…
The brave soul who put the binocular’s anti-bear credentials to the test was Iolo Williams, who has been a regular feature on nature programmes in the UK for more than 15 years.
The incident in question happened while Iolo was filming a TV series in Alaska for Welsh language channel S4C in 2005. “We were charged by a mother grizzly bear who was defending her two cubs,” he told us, “And all I had to hand was my trusty pair of Leica Trinovid 8×32 BN, a superb pair of binoculars and, when held by the strap and twirled around my head, an excellent bear-repellent!”
Iolo isn’t sure exactly what it was that sent the bear back into the woods, but he and the Trinovids came out of the encounter without a scratch. “I don’t know if it was the twirling binoculars or not,” he continued, “But the bear came to a halt just a couple of metres away with the binoculars tickling its whiskers, turned on its heels and walked back to its cubs. I was speechless, partly through fright and partly through relief. We learned afterwards that this same bear had mock-charged a group of American tourists a week before!”
Not one to forget his manners, even after an unexpected grizzly, Iolo would now like to issue a gentlemanly apology to the bear: “We believed we were far enough away not to interfere but we’d obviously wandered a tad too close. If the mother bear’s reading this, I’d like to apologise for our intrusion!”
We are, of course, pleased that no optics, humans or bears were harmed in the making of this story, but, as they say on the television: don’t try this at home!