From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Holiday gift-giving this year may have been less splendiferous than usual, but it’s a safe bet that some birders received high-quality binoculars. Maybe these were gifts from partners or parents or friends, or some birders may have decided to splurge on gifts for themselves. One way or another, right now some birders will be looking at birds through brand-new lenses.
Kim and I have some important advice for you. It’s not about what kind of binoculars you should have bought; we have our favorites, of course, but there are many great optics available today. No, this is advice about what to do AFTER you’ve tried out your new binoculars, gotten used to them, fallen in love with them. At that point, ask yourself: What are you going to do with your old binoculars?
That’s assuming that you had old ones. If these are your first, congratulations! Just file this advice away for future reference. But if your new optics represent an upgrade, then they’re replacing old ones that served you to some extent. If your old bins were just awful, you should throw them away. But if they’re in good shape, those old optics could be a tremendous help to someone who has no binoculars at all.
Maybe you know some local nature center with a limited budget that could really use "loaner" binoculars for field trips. Or a camp or a school where the nature programs would benefit from having optics available. But if not, there’s an organization that can help deliver used optics directly to the people who need them most.
The Birders' Exchange is an ingenious program that gathers used (but still useful) binoculars, telescopes, and other items of field equipment and delivers them to people who can least afford them but who can make the best use of them: biologists, naturalist guides, park rangers, students, and others in the developing countries of Latin America. Deserving individuals in no fewer than 29 countries have already received the benefit of such donations. It’s safe to say that the program is making such workers more effective throughout the American tropics, thus contributing to education and research and bird conservation in a huge way.
The Birders' Exchange was started in 1990 by the Manomet Bird Observatory (now Manomet Center for Conservation Science) and is now administered by the American Birding Association. Sharp birder and all-around wonderful person Betty Petersen has managed the program for years and has made it into a terrific success. She and her colleagues run a very economical and efficient operation, and they don’t have time to deal with repairs or replacement parts -- so we shouldn’t ever send them junk. But if you’ve got some good-quality used optics to donate, go to their website and check it out. Your old favorite bins could have a second life looking at tropical birds and helping to make a difference.