Last time Leica Birding caught up with TV presenter Iolo Williams, he told us about scaring off a bear using only a pair of Trinovid binoculars. Since then, he’s been extremely busy on and off screen, filming and guiding around the UK and beyond. There haven’t been any more bare-knuckle grizzly encounters, but he has seen some fantastic sights with the aid of his trusty Ultravid 10×42 HD-Plus. One of Iolo’s recent series for the BBC was The Brecon Beacons with Iolo Williams, during which he guided viewers through four seasons of nature’s finest amid stunning mountain scenery in his native Wales. Conditions varied dramatically – proving that, contrary to rumours circulating in other parts of the world, Welsh weather isn’t limited to rain, rain and more rain. We asked him what the highlights were and how the binoculars held up.
“We had a very good winter when filming in 2014-15,” says Iolo, “It was very snowy indeed on the high tops and, with the wind-chill, temperatures got down to a bitter -10 and -11 degrees. It was great for capturing images of winter wildlife. One of the real best bits was watching foxes in the snow. Even at -11 and with a strong wind, the binocs never let me down. The focus wheel’s easy to use even with frozen fingers, and, at those temperatures, you really appreciate the rubber armouring. It gives you a good strong grip and fits perfectly into your hands, so you don’t suffer from shake even with the wind buffeting you from all sides.”
Spring brought gentler weather, but the wildlife sightings were no less special. “One sighting in particular will live long in my memory from that spring,” continued Iolo. “It had been a cool, sunny day, and we were up in the Western Peaks. We’d been walking all day and evening was coming on, so we were making our last stop when we came across a trip of Dotterel. It was a really magical moment – just being able to sit there and watch them through the binocs as the light faded. They came to within 10 metres and thanks to the Ultravids, I could see everything in brilliant detail – not just the colours or the outline, but every feather. It wasn’t quite a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it came close!”
Onto summer, which meant warmer weather and some genuine Welsh dragons – albeit in insect form. “The day that sticks in the mind from summer was lovely and sunny, and I spent it watching Four-spotted Chasers and Southern Hawkers through my binoculars on a shallow pool near Brecon. They’re absolutely beautiful things, especially when viewed with the clarity and contrast of the Leicas. The male Southern Hawker was a particular beauty with his sky blue and black bands.”
All this sounded wonderful, but something wasn’t quite right…we were talking about a year in Wales – by reputation one of the wettest areas in Britain – surely it must have rained at some point? “It’s funny you should say that!” Laughs Iolo, “Having had pretty good weather all year, towards the end of October things took a turn for the worse. After that it rained pretty much non-stop! One day, we had hoped to film Jays gathering acorns. It was very, very wet, but we found a perfect clump of mature oaks and the birds were there, as were the acorns. I had a great view of it all through my Ultravid HD-Plus – they’re not bothered by the rain at all: they’re fully waterproof and the lens coatings mean that I’ve always got a clear view no matter how wet it gets. I wish I could say the same for the cameras though! We didn’t get a single acorn on film as they couldn’t take the weather!”
Iolo Williams is a TV presenter, naturalist, conservationist, writer, public speaker and tour guide. Find out more and how to join him on his wildlife tours at http://iolowilliams.co.uk.