For the Birds

December 30, 2011

A good pair of binoculars can be a weighty item to add to full panniers. But the few times I've elected to leave them behind, I've regretted doing so.

They are for the birds. Literally.

Several days or sometimes weeks can go by when I just don't reach for them. But that moment when you encounter toucans in Guatemala, or magnificent frigate birds in Turkey, or bald eagles in northwest Washington, binoculars are worth their weight in gold.

In Venezuela we were in Los Llanos, the vast, flat marshy plains that are home to hundreds of bird species. One evening, a large flock of birds flew above us, silhouetted against the bright glow of the soon-to-be-setting sun.

It wasn't until they flew to the west side of the road that the sun beams revealed the birds' true colors: the most intense red-orange I'd ever seen in nature. Even far away it was spectacular, but with the binoculars? These birds didn't look real. They looked like they'd been dipped in dye. They were the color of the orange breakfast drink of my youth. I jumped up and down like a seven year-old.

I hope you too get a chance to see a flock of scarlet ibises someday. And if you do, I hope you (or one of your traveling companions) remembered to pack the binoculars.


Photos by Willie Weir

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His books, Travels with Willie and Spokesongs, will inspire you to hit the road, and might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at


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