The Swarovski AX Visio Binoculars are causing a stir in the world of birding right now. I have seen a wide range of posts on various social media platforms where birders have shared their opinions on these new binoculars.
So what makes these binoculars so much of a talking point?
Swarovski claims that these innovative binoculars can identify over 9,000 species of birds and mammals using image recognition technology. Not only that but through an app that connects to the device, you can share and record your sightings with other people. You can also lock in the location of a sighting, and when you pass the binoculars to someone else, they can use the location you locked in to find what you were looking at.
So here is where the social media birding platforms come in. I have read comments from birders who have said that these binoculars will take 'all the fun out of birding.' Someone else said that this will make 'lazy birders,' and someone else commented on the threats that this could pose to the guiding industry.
I have not yet been able to test the binoculars, so I can't comment on how accurate they are or how easy they are to use. I don't think that I would use them myself as I enjoy the challenge of bird identification (although I do sometimes sneak some photos into Merlin to check the identification of something that I saw). But the question is, are these concerns that birders are raising valid points?
The first thing that we need to note is that birding is a hobby for most people. It's something that they do to have fun and to unwind. If I were to use AI technology to do all my work in my professional career, it might be fair to raise some concerns. After all, this is something that I am being paid to do. The concern about these binoculars making 'lazy birders' I think is not a valid point - you get out and bird to have fun and unwind, not to work. If a birder works hard the whole week and decides to get 'lazy' with bird identification, that is okay. It's what they do to relax and unwind.
Do these binoculars take the fun out of birding? Well, that depends on how you define fun. For some people, they enjoy the challenges of bird identification and figuring out what they saw. They enjoy studying field guides and learning fancy birding terms that make them sound clever. For other people, simply being out in nature is fun. They are not interested in racking their brains to identify a bird. It may take the fun out of birding for you, but this may not be true for everyone.
In terms of guiding, even though I know how to identify many of the birds I see (and what I can't identify, there is Merlin), I still enjoy hiring a guide to help me find certain birds that I want to see. Guiding is a lot more than just identifying birds; it is also knowing locations and adding value to the birding experience as a whole.
One of the problems I have is the idea of the 'gatekeepers' of birding. People who feel they have a right to decide how birding should be done. Just to clarify, I am not talking about ethical birding; I am talking about other areas of birding. How people bird and how their birding journey looks is up to them. Just because they don't do it like you doesn't mean that they are doing it wrong.
An example is twitching. You get those who will chase after every bird that shows up in some random corner of the country. The problem is that some of those people look down on other birders who don't chase after birds. I decided not to twitch a certain bird that was within a few hours of me, and I had a certain birder asking me if I was truly a birder if I didn't want to twitch the bird.
Then you get people who have strong opinions about those who want to twitch. They feel that twitchers are just after numbers and don't really enjoy the birds. Although I don't consider myself a twitcher, many of the people that I know who twitch are some of the most passionate bird lovers I know.
You don't get to decide people's birding journey. Provided they bird ethically, and they don't affect the birds or other people - it's their journey. If we want to see people being drawn into this amazing hobby, we need to make birding as accessible and inclusive as possible.
So what do I feel about the Swarovski AX Visio Binoculars?
Although I wouldn't personally use a pair, if someone else wants and can afford to use them as a birder - that's perfectly okay. If it helps someone to love nature and birds more, I am all for them getting a pair of these binoculars. If it makes birding more accessible for someone, then by all means get a pair.
The reality is that birding and technology are evolving at a rapid pace. We mustn't allow our fear of change and progress to become a dampener on someone else's enthusiasm.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments of this post.
The Swarovski AX Visio Binoculars are expected in retailers from February 2024