Birds are his world. So it is no surprise that Manuel Schweizer has once again won the Swiss Bird Race with his team. Leica products have helped him while bird watching – along with his sense of hearing. After all, anyone who thinks that good eyesight is all you need for bird watching is sadly mistaken.
“The most important thing is actually listening,” says Schweizer when asked about his approach to bird watching. “At least 50% of it is in the ears. You need to be able to recognize the birds’ calls.” Once a bird gives itself away, Schweizer quickly takes out his Leica binoculars or telescope. But how do you recognize a bird based on its call? “It takes a lot of experience. Years of experience. These days, I can recognize most calls immediately.”
Fast, clear sighting thanks to Leica
Schweizer’s considerable experience helped him to win the Swiss Bird Race with his two teammates once again in September. Over the course of 24 hours, the teams have to spot and document as many species of birds as they can. Anywhere in Switzerland. A minimum of three people must have heard the call or seen the bird. “That means we have to stick together as a team. We begin our tour in the evenings. By about midnight, someone will have heard the various species of owl. After a quick nap, we keep going for another hour before sunrise in order to document as many bird species as possible.”
Schweizer and his team can often be found in the Bernese Seeland – now accompanied by Leica equipment. “We were really impressed by the products’ outstanding quality. Noctivid is visually stunning and maintained excellent performance even in the rain,” says Schweizer, laughing. “And I’m definitely a huge fan of the telescope as well.” That’s because although a bird can be recognized by listening, sighting one requires top-notch equipment – particularly when looking at the sky. “The work goes so much more quickly with the Leica telescope. We became used to the Apo Televid immediately and found things in the sky in the blink of an eye. It must be due to the quality of the eyepiece. The focusing mechanism is also more pleasant to use.” Noctivid’s light intensity also helped Schweizer’s team edge out the competition, “because you can see much more in the twilight. The depth of field and spatial image impression also made it easier to detect the birds.” Schweizer knows from the constant attention he has received that Leica enjoys an excellent reputation in the scene. “People are always coming up to me to talk about my Leica products. And they’re really jealous,” laughs the likable Bern native.
No favorite bird
Schweizer’s team discovered a total of 126 bird species; significantly fewer than the record of 141 last year, but still the highest number among all the participating teams. While it may seem easy to outsiders, bird watching is not for the lighthearted. “There’s a lot of rivalry among the teams. You may offer a tip, but to win you have to stay concentrated and keep your eyes and ears open.” Some participants begin in the mountains and then make their way to flatter ground since they hope this will allow them to see more birds. But that’s not necessarily the case, according to Schweizer. “Seeland is rich in a variety of bird species. There are a lot of different habitats and resting areas here. In addition, much has been done for the conservation of the different species.” Schweizer has noticed a general decline in the number of birds, and some species seem to have disappeared completely. He observed this not only during the Swiss Bird Race, but also when he goes bird watching in his free time.
Birds in general play a major role in Schweizer’s life. He is a scientific curator for ornithology at the Natural History Museum of Bern, a lecturer at the University of Bern and president of Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Vogelkunde und Vogelschutz – Ala (Swiss association for bird research and conservation). So, he must have a favorite species, right? “People always ask me that and I never have an answer, because it always changes depending on my experiences and what I observe.” The choice might be easier for his young daughter, who has just begun feeding birds on the balcony – and can already recognize some bird calls.
Swiss Bird Race
The Swiss Bird Race is organized by BirdLife Switzerland and supports bird conservation. Various sponsors back specific teams with a predetermined amount per discovered species. The proceeds go to a BirdLife project. Leica sponsored the team of Schweizer, and Paul and Theo Walser with a considerable sum.