Wisconsin Reader Rendezvous Success!

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Earlier this year I told you about a series of small-group birding adventures dreamed up by our friends at Bird Watcher’s Digest (BWD). In its inaugural year, these Reader Rendezvous events have been enormously popular–starting in February with Owls With Al, then August in West Virginia: Birding Valhalla with Julie Zickefoose, and last weekend’s Optics Opstravaganza, right here at Eagle Optics!  It was a thrill for us to host the participants, talking optics and showing them some of the natural treasures in our neck of the woods–beautiful south central Wisconsin–during fall’s peak color. Beginning with a Wisconsin cookout at our shop on Friday evening, the Rendezvouzers mingled and shopped, sampled some of our state’s best beer and bratwurst, and had their optics cleaned and checked by the experts in anticipation of the full weekend of activity. BWD Editor Bill Thompson III serenaded us, and BWD’s talented sales director, Wendy Clark jumped in for a duet, to everyone’s delight.

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Saturday morning, the first stop was the International Crane Foundation in nearby Baraboo, where all 15 of the world’s crane species can be observed. What a great resource, and so close to home.

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Blue Crane photo by Diane Porter

(Blue Crane photo by Diane Porter)

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Whooping Crane pair (photo Ben Lizdas)

Then it was off to lunch at the Leopold Center and a tour of the fabled Leopold Shack, where father of conservation Aldo Leopold penned much of his book, A Sand County Almanac. Hallowed ground, to be sure–which was not lost on anyone as they strolled around the grounds under a canopy of brilliantly colored leaves.

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And as if Saturday couldn’t get any better, it did–with a hike up Ferry Bluff to a spectacular overlook of the Wisconsin River, replete with Bald Eagle and Ospey sightings, cruising by at pretty much at eye level.

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That evening, back at the hotel, special guests Diane and Michael Porter gave a fascinating presentation about the ways in which they test and evaluate sport optics for Birdwatching.com.

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The adventure continued on Sunday with a Sparrow ID field trip led by our own Mike McDowell, at the gorgeous Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Participant Sheila Barr wrote, “Your assistance on the field trips was especially appreciated (I will never look at sparrows quite the same way now-can’t wait to try out the tips when bad weather brings many species to our feeders.)”

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Sandhill Crane flyover from the Drumlin overlook

After lunch and checkout time, the Rendezvousers were treated to one last excursion on the shore of Lake Mendota. Here, they enjoyed views of waterfowl through a variety of scopes, and Mike’s digiscoping demonstration.

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Then, tired and happy, the Reader Rendezvous participants headed off their separate ways (they had convened from North Carolina, New Mexico, Missouri, Indana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota). BWD’s Wendy Clark summarized:

Our Reader Rendezvous weekend in Wisconsin was full of great birds, wonderful people, and unforgettable experiences. Our friends at Eagle Optics, The International Crane Foundation, The Aldo Leopold Foundation, our wonderful team of sponsors, and our enthusiastic attendees made the event an overwhelming success. I wish everyone could experience a Reader Rendezvous!”

See more photos from the Optics Opstravaganza here.

Perhaps you, dear reader, would like to experience a Reader Rendezvous? There are more being planned! The next one, in Florida in February, is entitled Birding Basics and Beyond. Small group birding in and around one of the most bird-rich areas of Florida: Titusville.  Register early!  Before you know it, you’ll be in Florida, learning alongside new friends, and you’ll understand the magic each of this year’s participants have discovered. Reader Rendezvous events are not just birding. They offer an intimate birding experience that will not be forgotten.

But for the best beer and bratwurst, well, you’ll need to come to Wisconsin!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

One Weekend, Two Bird Fests, and a Great Lake

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In mid-September, I cleared my calendar and made preparations to fulfill a wish: to see thousands of raptors migrating along Lake Superior’s western shore. At last, this would be my year to go to Hawk Fest, at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota. I made plans to travel alone–a 6 1/2 hour drive–and meet my birding friend, Susan, once I got there. Susan told me we could also check out Jaegerfest at Wisconsin Point in Superior, happening the same weekend. Really? I’d heard of jaegers but had never seen one. Wow–this would be an excellent adventure with major migration satisfaction.

Duluth and Superior are cities connected by two giant bridges and share one of the country’s busiest ports. Located on the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, the area is bird-rich, especially during migration. Then, raptors pass over the shoreline between the lake and Duluth’s towering hills, riding thermals–columns of warm air produced when the sun hits the earth. Jaegers, on the other hand, may be seen (if you’re lucky, basically) during fall migration on the Great Lakes, as the birds head south to their winter habitats.

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Testing that luck, my first stop on Friday morning was Wisconsin Point: part of the world’s longest freshwater sandbar, and the site of Jaegerfest. My spirits were buoyed, knowing there had been sightings of 3 species of jaegers (Pomerine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed) here on Wednesday. I strode up the sandy path and through the opening of trees to the sight of literally dozens of scopes, tripods, and intrepid birders along the shoreline of the biggest and most pristine of the Great Lakes.

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I found Susan, set up my scope alongside the others, and settled in with our comrades. Word was, no jaegers had been seen in a couple days–but there were many sharp eyes present, and walkie-talkies on both ends of the crowd, insuring we wouldn’t miss anything. Though it was easy to discern: this would be a festival of patience. Looking to our left, we could see the ridge above the city of Duluth in the distance. If things got slow here, we agreed, we could always make a getaway to Hawk Ridge, just a few miles west. Thus began our festival-hopping that continued throughout the weekend.

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Weather deteriorated on Friday afternoon into a cold mist, so we started anew on Saturday morning and a Parasitic Jaeger (and possibly a second) was spotted shortly after we arrived. Thank goodness there was an enormous freighter “parked” straight out from us in the distance (photo above), giving onlookers a point of reference. “It’s left of the ship! Approaching the ship–now in front of the ship! It’s chasing a gull!” It was an exhilarating but brief experience–no more than a minute or two, and then it was over. Everyone who saw it was elated, and I took a sip from a flask and handed it to a friend to celebrate. He sipped too, smiled, and added, “Next time around, do I have to actually SEE the jaeger?”

Susan and I took a little time to explore Wisconsin Point, then headed to the hills above Duluth, and Hawk Ridge.

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Check back for Part 2: Hawk Ridge!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

Don’t Baby Your High-End Binocular!

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The author with her Zeiss Victory FL in Tanzania

I chuckle at how often we hear of customers babying their beloved high-end binoculars–by either saving them for special occasions, or leaving them safe at home while they go off on a trip to Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, or the Serengeti. Does this sound familiar? If it does, we need to talk. Whether that binocular purchase took months (even years) to save for, or was an impulse purchase that barely made a ripple in the bank account, your expensive, sturdy, well-made binocular is made to be used, and used well.
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Swarovski gear thrives during a wet pelagic on the Atlantic

Recently a customer called to order a lower quality binocular to take on a trip to Central America. He was afraid to take his Leica Ultravid (left), and he couldn’t be convinced otherwise. Thing is, the lesser quality binocular he purchased for his trip wasn’t nearly as well-suited to stand up to the prolonged humidity and moisture in Costa Rica, nor would it provide the bright, sharp, pristine views in the rainforest that the Ultravid would have.

The superior build quality of your high-end binocular is meant to withstand the rigors of everyday use, and hold up better against more serious bumps, drops, and weather conditions. But the biggest fear people have, they tell us, is damaging, or worse–losing their binocular. So they buy a cheaper one for their trip: often a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Does it make sense to leave your great binocular at home? No. So here are some examples of good binocular care on the road:
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~Before your flight to Ireland for your hiking tour, pack your binocular in your carry-on luggage and keep it with you.
~After sitting on a bench in Cairo to record 5 birds to your Life List, don’t leave your binocular on the bench.
~When kayaking the Apostle Islands, tether your binocular to the boat so if it goes in the water, you can easily fish it out.
~Upon exiting the safari vehicle in Tanzania, be sure to grab your binocular.

Get the idea? Now remember: your top-tier binocular has an excellent warranty. If it should incur damage, it can be repaired according to the conditions of the warranty. Though even the best warranty can’t cover the loss or theft of your binocular, you’ll lessen the chance of that happening by adopting a heightened awareness. That’s what an expensive binocular will do–teach you to look after it as you would a family member. You wouldn’t leave your baby on the bus, would you?blogwbliz12ba

You bought your outstanding binocular or scope to give you the advantage of seeing life in all its glorious detail. Its performance, quality and durability will serve you well for many, many years. So, take it along. Don’t leave it behind at the restaurant, on the park bench, or in the taxi. But most definitely, don’t leave it at home!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

The ABA Now Sells Federal Duck Stamps!

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Artist Adam Grimm's Canvasbacks graced the 2014 Duck Stamp.

Our friends at the American Birding Association have a great plan to make sure birders count in U.S. national conservation efforts by selling the 2014 Duck Stamp through the ABA website.

The ABA does not make any money from the stamp, and 98¢ out of every dollar raised from the Duck Stamp sale supports the endeavors of the National Wildlife Refuge System to lease, purchase, and protect wetlands.

Purchasing Duck Stamps through the ABA offers a better picture of the birding community’s impact on conservation initiatives–and Eagle Optics hopes you will get on board with the ABA’s initiative to make the stamps more easily accessible to birders.

Nate Swick, editor of the American Birding Association Blog, suggests birders not only buy a Duck Stamp for ourselves, but additional stamps for others as gifts, awards, and to sell at birding events, meetings, and outings.

Once known as a license required for duck hunters, the Federal Duck Stamp, also known as the Migratory Bird Stamp, is much more than that today. Birders, wildlife biologists, conservationists, and nature lovers buy Duck Stamps each year. Why, you might ask?

1. Funds raised from Duck Stamp sales enable the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to lease and purchase wetlands for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

2. A current Duck Stamp serves as an admission pass to any national wildlife refuge which charges an admission fee.

3. A Duck Stamp purchase, is, dollar for dollar, one of the best investments one can make in the future of America’s wetlands.

4. The Duck Stamp is beautiful, collectable art!

Purchasing a Federal Duck Stamp–now available through the American Birding Association–is a wonderful way to support wetland conservation and migratory bird habitat for years to come.

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

Birding the Sandias in Albuquerque

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Just east of Albuquerque lie the beautiful Sandia Mountains. On a recent visit, my daughter Callie and I were treated to a day of birding with our friends Ashli and Larry Gorbet. As newbies to the area, we were lucky to have such expert guides. We didn’t know what to expect–and the day was full of surprises, new birds, and varied landscapes to savor.

We started the morning by driving up into the foothills to Embudito (Little Funnel) Canyon. Following a recreational trail, we could see that it had been a good year for the surrounding vegetation–the cacti, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers were healthy and abundant, and provided excellent habitat for the many species of birds we saw and heard. Craggy rock outcrops and giant boulders dotted the landscape–and Albuquerque laid out below, in the distant flatland.

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With virtually no shade to protect us from the hot July sun, we were grateful for a breeze and scattered clouds that morning. Taking in the rugged and picturesque surroundings, we stopped frequently to listen to bird songs and to train our binoculars on any movement. Larry and Ashli know this area well. Nothing is missed.l10801631

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As the trail reached the narrow of the canyon, we turned and headed back to the car. Our next stop would be the Sandia Ranger District in the Cibola National Forest, on the opposite side of the mountain, so we had some driving to do. Ashli and Larry told us to take note of the landscape here–because over there, it would be completely and totally different. Callie and I were curious. How could it be that different? This is how:

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What a stunning transformation! And our friends timed the day perfectly–now the sun was high, and we had access to the welcome shade of deciduous and evergreen trees. We stopped to do some birding at this picnic area, where Ashli pointed out the fascinating Alligator Juniper:

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Continuing up the steep road, our next stop–a few thousand feet higher up the mountain–was The Log at Capulin Spring. What makes this log so special, and such a destination for wildlife observers? It’s the only source of water for miles around. A spigot drips water in to one end, and the water puddles all along the log’s length and collects, birdbath style, at the other end. All you have to do is watch, and wait. The birds come.

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We were told the story of seeing a young bear there once–which ambled up to the log, climbed in, and laid down in the water–while Ashli and Larry slowly, and as silently as possible, backed away and high-tailed it back to the car.

Our final stop, at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, was Sandia Crest. Cool mountain air and spectacular bird’s-eye views of the rocky cliffs and ridges. Ashli could actually point out their house way down below, in the middle of the city of Albuquerque.

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It was the topping-off of a marvelous day of birding (44 species seen), camaraderie, and precious time together for a mom and daughter whose homes are now separated by too many miles.

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Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

An Island, a Bog, and a Mystery Bird

Up in north central Wisconsin, my cousins Willi and Betsy have a place on an island on Long Lake. One weekend each summer, Dale and I get to go there. It’s a 4-hour drive; then the fun starts. We park, walk to the shore, and ring the bell to announce our arrival. There are no phones, electricity, or running water on the island.159

Before long, we hear a motor, and cousin Willi’s boat appears around the side of the island and speeds toward us. We wait on the neighbor’s dock with our gear. This is part of the magic of an island visit.

This time, we are told, Willi and Betsy have a mystery for us to solve. There is an unseen bird that incessantly scolds anyone who walks out to the deluxe, 3-seater outhouse. Could we tell what species of bird it is?  Dale and I looked at each other and smiled. Oh, yes, this would be extra fun.

Arriving at the island, armed with binoculars and scope, we could hardly wait to put our detective skills to work. It would have to wait until morning, though. Twilight had arrived, and we needed to change our gears to island time.

I was awakened to the warning call of the mystery bird. Dale had beat me to it, and gone out at dawn’s first light to find and ID it. It didn’t take long. Over coffee, we learned that the island was host to a nesting pair of Merlins. Dale digiscoped the photo below with a Swarovski ATX scope, and his Panosonic camera.  So exciting!

The Merlin’s nest was well-hidden in a white pine just beyond the outhouse, toward the tip of the island. We were able to observe the pair as they crossed from the nest tree to a high snag across the channel on the mainland. Having accomplished the mystery bird’s identity, we headed over to Dark Lake and my favorite wetland habitat: the bog.

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Bare feet sink down in delicious, clear, soft coolness.

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Squishy sphagnum moss, pitcher plants, sedges, and wispy grasses kept us enraptured for a good while.

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As we motored out of Dark Lake, we hoped the smells, the sights and the feel of the bog, the call of the Merlin, and the memories of our island retreat would hold us over until our visit next summer.075

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Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

Creating a Yard to Attract Birds

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Wilson's Warbler photo by Dale Bonk

When it comes to bird watching, some of us need look no further than our own back yard. Sure, it’s great to attend birding festivals, travel to exotic birding destinations, and head to the nearest marsh or conservancy to observe our feathered friends. But with a little thought and planning, you can make your own yard an inviting destination for birds. Adding even one of the following elements can significantly increase your property’s desirability for birds.

Native plantings
Birds require cover, nesting sites and sources of food. Planting trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants can provide insects, seeds, nuts, ample cover, and sites for nests. Why choose native plantings?
Native plants, which have co-evolved with native wild birds, are more likely to provide a mix of foods - just the right size, and with just the right kind of nutrition - and just when the birds need them.” ~Stephen Kress, National Audubon Society
Trees and shrubs also afford protection from predators all year ‘round. These websites will give you ideas:

National Wildlife Foundation - Backyard Habitats

Audubon at Home

Water for birds
A source of water is important to birds, and can be offered in a variety of ways: from a simple birdbath (heated during winter in cold climates) to a pond with waterfall and stream for birds to linger in, drink, and bathe. The sight and sound of moving water attracts birds from the air, and also adds to the charm of your garden. I have a simple two-container pond with a small pump that keeps the water circulating. The birds (and visiting frogs) love it! A mister is an easy and inexpensive way to add movement to the water in your birdbath. A mister can also be positioned separately with a hose near perching branches; hummingbirds have been observed hovering in a mister on hot days. Replenish standing water often, especially in hot weather.003

Food for birds
Bird feeding has become so popular that these days, bird feeders come in every size, shape, and design imaginable for seed, suet, and nectar feeding. If possible, position feeders near some type of cover (brush pile or shrub) so birds can escape predators, and buy seed from a reliable source: birds don’t like stale or old seeds. Observe which birds visit your feeders, and choose the type of seeds accordingly.  If you notice seeds left on the ground under your feeder, switch to a blend your visitors like, or feed the best overall attractant: black oil sunflower seeds.

Suet (beef kidney fat) is a great choice for birds in cold temperatures. Suppliers sell specially processed cakes often supplemented with seeds, nuts, and berries. I leave suet out in the summer; as long as it doesn’t turn rancid, it gives me a chance to see Downy Woodpecker adults bringing their fledglings in for a first taste.

Other foods: I put out orange halves for Baltimore Orioles and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, nectar for my hungry, feisty hummingbirds, peanuts for White-breasted Nuthatches and mealworms for my Eastern Bluebirds.  blogbbird112a

Bird Housing
Many bird species will utilize bird houses: wrens, swallows, bluebirds, martins, and chickadees to name a few. Find out what birds nest in your region and buy a bird house with one of those in mind. It’s easy to find plans online for building your own, and can be a fun family project!  You can assist birds during nesting season by putting out nesting materials for them to use: lint from the dryer (untreated with dryer sheets or fabric softeners), hair from your hairbrush (or your cat or dog brush), or bits of yarn, string or twine no longer than 2″ in length.

No matter what size your yard (or balcony), you can transform it into a place that birds can’t resist. There are plenty of books and websites to refer to for inspiration. The sooner you begin, the sooner you can sit back, relax, and enjoy birds up close, right at home!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

Reader Rendezvous, Part 2: Canoeing with Julie Zickefoose, Aug. 22-24, 2014

readerrendezvous-226x300Earlier this year I told you about the Reader Rendezvous series, put on by our friends at Bird Watcher’s Digest. It’s three weekends, three seasons, and three uniquely different locations in the U.S.-–each a distinctly wonderful opportunity in 2014 to discover, learn, and walk (or in this case, paddle) alongside one of the birding industry’s most notable celebrities: Al Batt, Julie Zickefoose, or Alvaro Jaramillo. In late February, Al Batt started things off in the frozen hinterlands of Minnesota, leading participants on a winter owl quest called Owls With Al (see a scrapbook of pics here). Now it’s Julie’s turn to show you what she loves most, so gather ’round and I’ll give you the scoop!

This, the 2nd Reader Rendezvous, is entitled Birding Valhalla with Julie Zickefoose. In one of her favorite birding spots, North Bend State Park in West Virginia, share Julie’s idea of heaven: paddling a “flooded forest,” a serene lake created when the north fork of the Hughes River was dammed in 2003. According to Julie’s blog, “North Bend is a regular red-headed woodpecker factory…flooding killed the trees along the river, and this made a massive nursery for cavity-nesting birds, including great crested flycatcher, tree swallows, yellow-shafted flickers and the aforementioned red-headed woodpeckers. Eastern kingbirds also nest on and in the snags. The birds have high nesting success, because water keeps land-based predators like raccoons and snakes from accessing the cavities. Perfection!” zickcanoelookup

Besides birding by boat, other planned activities include biking, hiking, (more birding), and relaxing around a campfire with newfound friends. You’ll be drinking in Julie’s seemingly endless knowledge of the natural world, compiled over her years as a birder,10269561_10203618713087343_6135301275957511935_n1 artist, illustrator, author (The Bluebird Effect is her latest publication), and keynote speaker. In fact, a delicious summer picnic dinner followed by her keynote will kick everything off on Friday night.  Lodging can be booked right there at the charming North Bend Lodge, and boats and bikes are included in your registration fee–or you can bring your own.  A meal plan at the lodge is an available add-on, so you never even have to leave the park!

August isn’t that far off, folks. You’ll want to clear your calendar and register soon. If you’re already a follower of Julie’s blog, you’ll be happy to know that wonder dog, Chet Baker is slated to come along–talk about star power! Accompanying birding walks will be Julie’s husband, Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, who is ever-handy at wrangling kayaks, and who will lend some guitar pickin’ and harmonizing as the sun goes down. You’ll feel like family!  But don’t take my word for it: check out this video of Julie (or Zick, as she is fondly known), on site, tempting you to join her for this unique weekend in beautiful West Virginia, which will live in your memory for years to come:

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

Binoculars for Boating

boatingFor those of us that take to the water for recreation: whether in a kayak, canoe, motorboat, sailboat, or yacht, we want our binocular along. Here are 3 tips for buying a binocular to enhance our adventures on the water.

1. Buy a binocular that is waterproof and fogproof. These features are standard on most of today’s binoculars, but it’s good to ensure this by checking the specs before you buy. These binoculars are O-ring sealed to prevent moisture from entering the optical system, and the barrels are nitrogen purged to prevent internal fogging of the lenses. Waterproof binoculars can survive splashes or a quick dip in the water, but not extended submersion. When I’m in my kayak, I keep my bin around my neck or tether the strap to the kayak in case it goes overboard, so I can quickly fish it out.021

2. Low magnification works best when you’re on the water. Choose a magnification of 6x or 7x. When your feet aren’t on solid ground, even a magnification of 8x may be too hard to hold steady; definitely steer clear of 10x. Low magnification also gives a wide field of view. For a better understanding, check out our short video, Understanding Binoculars: Magnification.

3. Choose a compact or mid-sized binocular that is portable, lightweight, and easy to pack in your gear and carry along.

Note: Where there is water, there is usually sand. Beware of wiping your binocular lenses around sand. One little grain of sand on your lens may be too small to see, but when rubbed in, can cause a scratch. Blow the lenses with your breath or use a soft brush before using a cleaning cloth.

I’m counting down the days until I’ll be packing up and heading to the river. How about you? We’d be happy to help you choose the right binocular for your boating adventures. Give us a call!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

The Great Wisconsin Oriole Count

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One of America’s most beloved songbirds, the oriole, is coming back from its wintering grounds, and heading our way!  Wisconsin hosts 4% of the world’s population of orioles during breeding and nesting season. In order to care for and monitor numbers of this brightly-colored (and easily recognized) species, we’re helping put a call out to young citizen scientists: HELP US COUNT THEM! Join the Great Wisconsin Oriole Count!

Eagle Optics is proudly sponsoring this endeavor which aims to engage young people in scout troops, school classrooms, nature centers, 4H, and, well–just groups of friends! Orioles are easy to attract with orange halves and cups of grape jelly at feeding stations. Kind of that “if you build it, they will come,” type of thing. It’s like magic! You don’t have to live in the country. Orioles like urban settings, too! Find out more about orioles here.

It’s pretty amazing to learn that when orioles (the more prevalent Baltimore Oriole, and its rusty-colored cousin, the Orchard Oriole) arrive in Wisconsin, they have just completed a very long and dangerous migration flight. Most of the orioles that come here spend the winter in the Osa Peninsula, on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast. This brings me to the second goal of the Great Wisconsin Oriole Count: to raise funds to help the Bird Protection Fund protect the orioles’ winter home. Fundraising isn’t required, but it can be a fun and rewarding part of your project. Lots of teams have already registered! See the list of teams, join one if you’d like, or start your own!  Learn how here.

In order to best support this effort, two schools/groups will each receive five pairs of binoculars, a spotting scope, and tripod donated by Eagle Optics worth $1,100. Prizes will go to:
The team that raises the most money, and
A randomly selected team

Want to be a part of the Great Wisconsin Oriole Count? We hope you do!  The data you and the other participants collect are crucial to the well-being of our beloved orioles both now and in the future.  Spring migration wouldn’t be the same without heralding the arrivial of this beautiful species.  Register today (hurry–registration closes April 30), get your citizen scientist hat on, and stock up on oranges and grape jelly. We–and the orioles–will all benefit!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.