This was one of my offices in June: The city of Innsbruck in Tyrol, Austria and I got see the mothership aka the Swarovski Optik headquarters. It's an incredibly beautiful city with fascinating architecture and cuisine that was a lovely combination of German and Italian food.
Not only did I get a tour of the factory, I also got to whip on a lab coat and put together a pair of new binoculars they debuted this week. I have to admit, in my work in the birding industry, I've had the opportunity to see lots of behind the scenes things, but actually using tools, greasing threads, turning screws really helped understand the inner workings of optics, how the mechanics function together to adjust for individual eyes and all the precision involved to keep a pair running smoothly for the long term.
DO NOT WORRY--the pair I put together will not go out for individual sale--so if you order from Swarovski, your pair will be put together by a well trained professional. But I got to put together their new CL Pocket Binoculars--so tiny or Shaz sized as Non Birding Bill might say. The amount of individual care and time that is taken with every binocular and scope from that factory is incredibly hands on. Oh sure, there were a few JARVIS type contraptions for proper timing with cleaning lenses, but they are primarily human made pieces.
Part of seeing this new bad boy was of course taking it out in the field--from the bustling streets of Tyrol and seeing historic sites like the Golden Roof, a 15th century as the residence of the Tirolean sovereigns...where I could use the pocket bins to take closer look at the art like...
A snake eating a baby which is part of the coat of arms for Maria Biana Sforza who was married to Emperor Maximilian. But we also took trams up the Nordkette Mountains:
Which gave us incredible panorama views. There wasn't a huge variety of birds, but the ones we saw were quality like alpine accentor and snow finch.
I was especially chuffed to see an alpine chough and get to digiscope it. Let me tell you, this Minnesota girl who is used to elevations of 1200 feet was not quite used to that elevation: 7,657 feet. Fortunately, my elevation sickness manifests itself as me feeling like a just downed 2 martinis but I tried to be a bit more aware of my footing. Tiny binoculars that fit in my pocket are a good thing...as was the choice to bring along my smaller spotting scope (the 65mm is much lighter than my 85mm and was glad to not have the extra weight).
But we also spent a day in the Pinnis Valley at the base of the Habict mountain--a place so remote, only one taxi service is authorized to drive you on the roads (which incidentally was called the Pinnis Shuttle Funk Taxi and keep in mind that Pinnis is pronounced like the male anatomy). We used the Karalm Alpine Lodge as our base for food and our water came directly from the Habict mountain springs.
And the cheese...I ate so much cheese...Just about everything on the table was made on site--including the night's dinner which was a red deer that had been wandering around injured on the lands that the hunting guide had recently shot. This feast of cheese, meats and veggies was laid out and we were given lunch boxes to fill up for a picnic lunch in the mountains. There was of course coffee and the milk served with it was directly from the cow. The milk was so fresh, it had a distinct mammalian smell and taste--mmmmmm.
The morning was spent climbing the mountains (some of us more slowly than others). There was still quite a bit of snow to trek through and in the case of some of us, we used some plastic bags to slide down the sides of the Alps. I'm warned that there's a YouTube video taken by a Spaniard of me sliding down Gangnam Style. If shows up, I'll be sure to share.
The week before we arrived, there had been a significant snow event and all of that was in the process of melting. Small mountain streams from the melting snow grew as the sun shone brighter, echoing off the valley walls. Periodically, tiny avalanches crashed above us. What was lacked in bird variety was more than made up for by the mammals:
Chamois (the above and not to be confused with ChamWOW) roamed the cliffs as did marmots and ibex. There weren't many trees but one of them was the stone pine and I was very excited because that is what used to make Zirbenz one of my favorite odd liquors. It's not something you want all the time, but especially around the holidays, it's a fun after dinner sip. Your first sip: "Oh cool, this tastes like a pine tree." Your last sip, "Yep. That was a pine tree." But sipping it now, I can also get a flavor of that mountain air and remember the echoing songs of alpine accentors and dunnocks.
After a morning of hiking, we collapsed in a mountain meadow to eat lunch and take a nap. What a strange sensation to wake up surrounded by the Alps. One of our companions for the day was Carina Swarovski--the head of Swarovski Optik. If you listened to the last podcast, I'm a bit ambivalent about the blog post at the ABA about women not being in the upper echelons of birding. I felt like the upper echelon was considered bird listing. Who cares? Well, listers care but here we have a woman who head of one of the top optics companies in the world...I'd call her in the upper echelon.
I have to admit, I'm not personally someone who has sought out pocket binoculars. They are usually so futzy because each barrel adjusts individually to the eye and the companies that make them, make them as cheaply as possible to appeal to the person who just wants something inexpensive and not really something that works. What a difference it was to have something so tiny with REALLY great clarity like the CL Pocket Binocular. They come in ten power magnification or eight, I prefer eights and even though the objective lenses are small (25mm), you would think that they wouldn't let in much light, but they did almost as well as my larger 32mm binoculars do in cloudy light.
These are handy for someone who is a very casual birder, wants them for stadium use or sight seeing in a big city. If you don't consider yourself a birder, but you want a pair of binoculars that are small, will fit in a pants pocket (or small purse) but actually will give you a clear, bright image--these are for you.