Freezing fog hung low in the air, a pale wintry cloak shrouding the treetop canopy at RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve in Suffolk. Id spent hundreds of hours on the reserve as a volunteer guide, learning about and photographing its varied wildlife, but this Saturday morning was somewhat different. We unfurled banners and opened our counters to exhibit the wonderful Leica Sport Optics, ready for the RSPB Optics Weekend. A solitary Robin provided a perfect backing track with its gentle warbling melody, as we made some finishing touches to our display. Despite the bitter chill in the air, the first visitors slowly appeared from the refuge of the visitor centre, donning their warmest attire.

I am often immersed in nature thanks to my day-to-day work as an ecologist and freelance nature photographer. Unlike carrying out bird surveys alone in the field, or waiting for my photographic subjects to appear, this weekend I was excited to share my love of ornithology and bird identification with guests of my guided nature walks. Equipped with some supreme Leica optics, including the Noctivid 10×42 Binoculars and APO-Televid 82W Spotting Scope, we set off for the first walk of the weekend.

© Simon Buck

We began to wander, soon approaching a scrubby area known as the North Bushes. A gang of Redwing cruised by overhead, their Silhouettes, barely visible in the thick icy fog. A diagnostic high pitched Seeeeeepcall gave them away, a reminder that along with these birds, the winter was here to stay. We paused to listen to the distant call of a Bullfinch, when an extremely high-pitched repetitive call stole our attention. Firecrest! Surely not? The group turned to an evergreen Oak, standing silently. Out of the dark green tangle, a Goldcrest appeared. Could we have misheard? We soon got the confirmation we anticipated, as not one, but TWO Firecrests emerged. Grasping our optics, scanning and focussing frantically, we all managed to get a view of the tiny, restless jewels. Green backs and striking white eye stripes to boot!

We pushed on across the exposed north wall, buffeted by a biting wind. In the dunes, we walked past some coastal Anti-Tank Blocks. These large concrete relics were installed with the intention of slowing advancing tanks in the 1940s. But on this December morning, they simply provided some perfect perches for a handsome male Stonechat to pose on.

Reaching the hide, we all took a seat to scan the flooded scrape in front. Ducks like Goldeneye and Pochard were diving regularly, emerging many meters from where they disappeared. A beautiful drake Pintail showed itself, with its colourful plumage, impressive extended tail, and chocolate brown head.

© Simon Buck

Using the APO-Televid 82W scope we scanned the far bank, picking out an elegant Bewicks Swan. It was a treat to spot this scarce winter visitor, which migrates from Northern Russia! We meandered to the final hide of our walk, overlooking a vast reedbed. With barely a second to settle ourselves on the benches, a piercing high pitched Peeeepcall alerted us to a flash of electric blue. A Kingfisher whizzed right past the window! Quality optics and extreme magnifications aside, this speedy little bird STILL managed to catch us all off guard!

Sunday brought a complete change in weather, as torrential rain forced all exhibitors of the optics weekend indoors! After the visitor centre opened at 9am, it took some time before people started to arrive. Despite enjoying some lovely conversations with visitors asking about Leica optics and equipment, the inclement weather was an obvious deterrent to visitor numbers. Luckily, the warmth of the visitor centre and itssuperb cake selection spurred all exhibitors on into the afternoon! It was soon time for my second guided walk of the weekend. A small, tough group of us rallied together to brave the wash out. Over the next couple of hours, the weather sealing of the Noctivids and APO-Televid were pushed to their limits! Powering on through the deluge, we spotted a sodden Kestrel. It was perched, scanning a scrubby margin for rodent prey. The rubber armouring of the Noctivids allowed me to maintain a solid grip even when completely soaked, so I could continue scanning the horizon for birds. We moved into the woodland for some cover from the rain, where we enjoyed excellent views of a Treecreeper effortless scaling an Oak trunk. Nuthatches werent put off by the wet weather either, their flutingcalls echoing through the woodland around us. Red Deer hinds stared us down from close range, and we stared back.

In the welcome shelter of the next two hides, we enjoyed views of multiple bird species, many undeterred by the rain. A male Marsh Harrier dived and soared in the strong gusts, using them to his advantage. A Bittern flew distantly. It fought against the wind, visibly less content than the Harrier, with the winds ferocity. Two Snipe sat motionless beside the flooded ditches, their cryptic plumage almost indecipherable against the cluttered reedbed. After a successful couple of hours, we marched back to the visitor centre where our walk finished, the rain unabating. Despite such flat and dingy lighting, the optical performance of both binoculars and scope remained exceptional, transforming our nature viewing. As visitor numbers diminished, it was time to wrap things up for the weekend. It was a pleasure to work alongside Leica Sports Optics for the duration of the weekend. A huge thank you to everyone at team Leica, including Mark, Farah and Francesca for having me along!

About: Harry Read
Harry Read is a professional ecologist and award-winning wildlife photographer. You can find out more about his work by visiting or via his Instagram, @harryreadphoto.

Products in use

Spotting Scopes

Leica APO-Televid 82W

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