TV presenter Iolo Williams has been a Leica brand ambassador since 2015. Here, the Welsh birder recounts a trip to northeast Scotland.
The most difficult problem with an early spring guiding trip to Speyside is knowing exactly what to pack. Will it snow? Is it going to be wet? Do I need my wellies? How many coats do I take? One thing’s for sure however, my Leica Noctivid 10×42 binoculars and APO-Televid telescope with 25-50 zoom receive pride of place in my rucksack. These are two things I never leave behind.
The week started well with a trip up the majestic Findhorn Valley in search of raptors, and our group certainly wasn’t disappointed. The unseasonably mild weather and light winds made for perfect soaring conditions and my binoculars soon picked out a distant golden eagle. Through the scope, every member of the group was able to make out the large, white underwing markings of a juvenile.
As the last of the group viewed the bird, a peregrine falcon came into view over the crest of a heather-clad hill. It was descending rapidly and virtually disappeared against the dark background as it dipped below the horizon. Not a problem for my Leica binoculars as their incredible optical clarity allowed me to follow the bird across the face of the hill before it landed on a sheltered crag. Having found it through my telescope, everyone enjoyed crystal-clear views of its black hood, barred chest and piercing eyes.
The next day, my telescope really came into its own as a visit to the west coast found us standing on the shores of Gruinart Bay. Several great northern divers and Slavonian grebes were just moulting into their resplendent breeding plumage and through the telescope, a distant speck became a glorious red-throated diver, complete with grey head, red throat and upturned bill. A heavy shower failed to ruin the optics or dampen our spirits, and as the sun reappeared, my binoculars allowed me to pick out every primary feather on a huge adult white-tailed eagle.
Day three turned out to be just as fruitful with visits to several Caledonian pine woodland in search for more specialist Scottish wildlife. This was a day for binoculars, the confined spaces and narrow paths making the powerful Leica APO-Televid telescope redundant for once.
My Noctivids soon picked out a red squirrel scurrying along a branch, soon followed by a lone crested tit skulking amongst the tallest canopy branches. Several colourful common crossbills were much easier to see as they fed on the ripe pine cones and it soon developed into a procession with siskin, lesser redpoll and a passing osprey all noted in quick succession.
By the end of the week, we had seen more than 110 different species of birds and 13 mammals but more importantly, the whole group had enjoyed themselves, not least because they had taken advantage of my superb Leica optics. If I’m ever invited onto ‘Desert Island Discs’ on Radio 4, you can guess what my first two items will be!