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"What equipment do you use for birding?" Part 1 - Speakers and flashlights

Over the years, I have often been asked what equipment I use for birding. I figure it's time to put on paper, so to speak.


I've never been one to stay on top of the latest fads or changes in the equipment and digital world just for the sake of doing so, but I like to continue to make my life, and those of my clients, easier and more enjoyable, not to mention more practical, cost-effective and efficient. As well as more environmentally-friendly where possible. I say, 'where possible', because the nature of change when it comes to equipment is inevitable, and change usually comes with discarding the old. What's more is, to be as environmentally conscious would actually mean not buying a speaker in the first place, it could be argued. But let's not go there.


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Speaker


Right, let's start with speakers. Most of us who have been birding since long before USB-charged speakers and Bluetooth technology came about have had the misfortune and frustration (and expense) of 'testing' numerous speakers for the purposes of playing bird and wildlife recordings in the field. I know I have. And, contrary to what you might think, given the enormous range of options, not many speakers do the job well. I went through at least a dozen speakers until I found what does! Well, to me, anyway.

In my case, it's the Ultimate Ears Roll. Why do I like it? Here are the pros for me:


• It's waterproof! Yes, completely waterproof. A great feature, not only if you ever go birding in the rain, but also if you have a tendency to leave it in the wilds overnight. Ahem.


• It has a great battery life. Not just in terms of how many hours it can be used, but also in terms of how long the battery will stay charged while the speaker is not in use.


• You can tell how much battery life is left! With a simple simultaneous pressing of the 'volume up' and 'volume down' buttons, a polite voice tells you how much, in percentage terms, you have left on your battery!


• Which brings me to another KEY FEATURE; voices and sounds. Many Bluetooth speakers (did I mention it's Bluetooth capable?) make awful sounds at startup and shutdown - often accompanied by annoying voices, often then delivering obviously made-in-proud-Asia English sentences. The UE Roll does no such thing, it has an audible but very unobtrusive sounds during startup, shutdown and successful connection. The only loud noise it makes, which is still not particularly obtrusive (I've noticed birds seem to agree, by the way) , is the sound it makes when you have taken the connected device (phone/iPod/etc.) out of range. It's actually a useful feature in helping you avoid leaving the speaker in the wilds. Ahem.


• Connection range is good. I forget..30m?


• It charges via USB


• One can connect to it via auxiliary cable. Those who would want this feature, you know who you are.


• It's loud! But, in my opinion, in a not-compromising-on-quality way. One can also connect one device to two speakers, should you want to call Friendly Warblers that might be on Mars. Yes, there is a bird with that name.


• More importantly, for me at least, it plays low sounds, like those common in fruit doves and pigeons, well. After many years of leading tours throughout Asia and the Pacific, it has become important to me to have a speaker that plays low-frequency sounds loudly and clearly. This speaker has done the job for me. I'm no sound engineer but I think it has to do with the disc-like shape of the speaker. I've tried the JBL Clip, which does equally well in most categories to the UE Roll, but it doesn't do as well with sounds like these.


• It has an easy-to-use method for clipping/attaching it to clothes, equipment or trees. Yes, you can make most things 'stick' to something else with a bit of engineering but I like to buy things that are ready to go - I do enough 'workshopping' on equipment. Ok, the attachment system in the UE Roll isn't quite as simple or as robust as that on the JBL Clip, but it's still good.


• It's compact. Not as compact as the JBL Clip but then perhaps that's another reason why the Clip doesn't deliver certain sound frequencies as clearly?



Flashlight/Torch



This is a tricky one; in my experience, there are far more great flashlights for birding purposes out there than there are speakers. I also have a bit of an obsession with the latest and greatest when it comes to flashlights, so it's no use telling you what I have - I'm restricted to a certain number of words in the blog posts!

The one pictured above - the Fenix TK35UE, though, is a standout in terms of what I've experienced. The pros? Read on:


  • It can be recharged via USB or you can take the batteries out - to replace with others if you're in a hurry, or to place in a charger (see my next post for advice on chargers and rechargeable batteries). The ability to charge via USB is a very useful feature for those who spend a significant part of their birding trips away from plug points! You can charge the torch while driving, from a battery pack, or even via a laptop.


  • It's bright, but not too bright. Ok, I do admit to having torches with a 10,000 lumen rating but I don't use them for birding. If the focus is right, a torch with a 3,000 lumen capacity is more than enough.


  • The focus on this one is good. No, it's not an adjustable-focus torch but I don't remember ever feeling I would like to adjust it in the field, while birding.


  • It's compact and comes with a carrier.


  • It's durable. This flashlight falls within a range called tactical torches by some - they're built to take some abuse.


  • It's powered by 18650 batteries. For those who don't know, these are the gold standard for flashlights. Good ones are expensive but they are widely available and, if looked after, last hundreds, maybe thousands of charges.

  • It does have an adjustable-brightness feature.


NOTE: Since this post, I see there is a new Fenix flashlight that might fit the bill as well, if not better, than the TK35UE for birders. It's called a Fenix LR35R. I haven't had a chance to test it. If you have, tell us about it!

ANOTHER NOTE: There are a lot of torches in the Fenix range; if the TK35UE is not something you can get your hands on, or it's not within your budget, there's likely a Fenix to suit your desires/needs. My advice is just that you look through the features I list above, and decide which are most important/useful to you.

Aside from Fenix, I can also recommend ThruNite, NiteCore and Olight torches/flashlights.


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If you found this blog useful, check out my next blog, where I'll be covering rechargeable batteries, battery chargers and useful apps for birding!


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