Monday, June 20, 2016

ThermaCELL Keeps Pests Away: Mosquitoes Not Invited!


Summers are too short and outdoor gatherings too precious to let mosquitoes and biting flies spoil the fun.  Set up your ThermaCELL portable appliance or lantern in the yard or boat, and you'll enjoy hours of bug-free time with friends and family.

If you're like us, you aren't fond of slathering insect repellent on our skin (I mean, what's really in that stuff?).  Kids don't much like it, either. It smells bad, makes your skin feel weird, and the spray goes everywhere. Then you have to reapply it throughout the day. And do you really want those chemicals around everyone's food and drink?

The ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent Portable Appliance couldn't be simpler to use: just turn it on, set it down, and enjoy your time outdoors. Hey, it works for us. We tested it and were thoroughly convinced. There is no smell, and you don't even notice it's there until you happily realize your yard party went off without a hitch, or an itch. The unit runs on a single butane cartridge that heats a mat which releases a synthetic copy of a natural insecticide. The mats last about 4 hours and keeps a 15'x15' area protected. Nice.

Going birdwatching or hiking? Simply bring the portable appliance along! The holster accessory (sold separately) allows you to clip it to your belt, backpack, or tent pole. TheThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent Outdoor Lantern, in addition to its bug-fighting power, gives the added benefit of two illumination settings: perfect for the deck, pier, or campsite.

ThermaCELL has got you covered at the lake, on the trail, and at any outdoor gathering. Instead of moving the party inside, keep mosquitoes away while you celebrate summer and fall in the great outdoors!

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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fabulous Alaska beckons: May 12-15, 2016


When conjuring up the ultimate spring birding getaway, you might want to turn your imagination loose on this idea: Homer, Alaska in mid-May. Picture this: a quaint town nestled in rolling hills, on a sparkling bay lined with spectacular glaciers and mountains. Located on the southern edge of the Kenai Peninsula, Homer, besides being stunningly beautiful, is uniquely situated as a favorite stopover for over two hundred species of migrating shorebirds. Seems like a birder's paradise, don't you think? And the fabulous Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival awaits your visit during peak migration! There. Decision made.

Alaska is legendary for its rugged scenery, pristine waterways, and abundant wildlife. But it's also known for its friendly, down-home feel. The little town of Homer and the folks at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival exemplify this. It's a community festival. For 24 years now, the hard-working, dedicated festival volunteers continue to extend a warm welcome and keep attendees busy (and happy!) by offering educational activities, guided walks, and boat trips, speakers, artists, and a friendly competition or two, to boot. Check the entire schedule of events here.

Learn about bird and nature photography, shorebird and seabird ID, geology of the area, smart phone digiscoping, and try field drawing or birding by ear. You can bird by fat bike, kayak, or by stand-up paddleboard; take part in the festival's 5K run, or just stake out a spot with your binocular on one of the many viewing platforms along the Homer Spit.  Meet and talk with terrific local guides, and invited guests, Kevin Karlson, Dale Rosselet, and Sharon "Birdchick" Stiteler, whose evening keynotes you won't want to miss! Visit the beautiful Alaska Islands & Oceans Visitors Center, where you can see and bid on bird art for the Bird Art Auction fundraiser--you can also bid online.
Oystercatchers by 2016 Festival Artist, Ram Papish

The variety of things to do at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is impressive, and there are activities specifically designed for families, children, and junior birders, too. Some events are free! Registration is required, since some trips and workshops have a limited capacity, so register today. No matter what you choose to do, hey--you're in Alaska. Everything is an adventure.

Eagle Optics will once again be there, so if you come, please stop in the vendor area, say hello to Ben, and have him show you the latest in spotting scopestripods, and binoculars.

Do come to Homer.  You'll be charmed by the little city on Kachemak Bay. You'll marvel at the sights and sounds of shorebirds moving over mountains and across water to their Arctic nesting grounds. You'll make new friends, and you'll go home a better birder. And forever after, you'll have Alaska in your heart.

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

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Most Picturesque Birding Festival

Atop Cadillac Mountain, photo by Tom Kuenzli
If your ideal birding festival combines rugged ocean coastline, diverse habitats, small crowds of friendly folks, and fresh lobster for dinner, take note, friends: The Acadia Birding Festival, June 2-5, 2016 will most certainly fit the bill!

Festival Center, right up around Bar Harbor, is on Mount Desert Island, the largest of Maine's coastal islands. The area could very well be one of the most beautiful and alluring places on Earth for just about any visitor. For the birder, too? Yes, especially so! The outer islands, beaches, and rocky coastline, Cadillac Mountain and the inland lakes, aspen and broad leaf forests, maturing stands of red spruce,bogs, and marshes all present a perfect setting for this festival's field trips and learning opportunities. Throw in a restored puffin colony, and Acadia National Park (this year celebrating its 100th year in the National Park System), and, well, suffice it to say, you had better get registered, and soon.
Jen Brumfield's enthusiasm is contagious! You won't want to miss her Keynote on Thursday evening.

Acadia Birding Festival is humming along into its 12th year--and the lineup of keynotes, workshops/talks, trip leaders, and guides is impressive. Come learn, listen to, and walk alongside these industry specialists! festival schedule. Pre-and post-festival extension trips are also in the offering.

Leader and Keynote Speaker Sharon "Birdchick" Stiteler

Hone your photography skills, discover birding by ear, and learn (once and for all) which seabird is which. Get comfortable logging your daily sightings on eBird, and learn about phone apps that will help you in the field. Bird by canoe, or get in on the pelagic boat trip before it fills--an unforgettable experience! The array of choices is vast. Click this link to see the entire schedule of events.

Dr. Steve Kress will talk about Project Puffin at this year's festival
Eagle Optics Sales Manager Ben Lizdas will be on hand at Festival Center to show you the latest in binoculars, scopes, and tripods. So what are you waiting for? Register today, my friends, and get ready to delight in the scenery, the birds, and the sheer beauty of coastal Maine in early June, at the Acadia Birding Festival!

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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Warblers are Coming to Ohio!

Hey, birders: aching for a little migration action?  Right here in the Heartland, The Biggest Week in American Birding, May 6-15, gives major migration satisfaction!

This 10-day Ohio festival has it all, folks. Located near the southwest shore of Lake Erie and surrounded by prime birding habitat, Biggest Week provides the ultimate remedy for winter-weary birders. Birding sites include Crane Creek, Maumee Bay State Park, Magee Marsh, and Ottawa National Wildlife Area, which provide an amazing variety of warblers, water birds, shorebirds, songbirds, and resident species. In fact, the Magee Marsh Boardwalk is famous in May and was dubbed “Warbler Capital of the World” by Kenn Kaufman.
Why is this unique area teeming with so many warblers and others birds? Well, the southern edge of Lake Erie presents an obstacle that birds are hesitant to cross during migration. Until they are ready to make the crossing, birds will rest and refuel in several birding hotspots on the lake's southern edge, providing birders the opportunity to see warblers at eye level and water birds close up. These experiences, along with the sheer number of birds you can expect to encounter during this event, are bound to amaze bird lovers of all ages.
Kelly Riccetti's workshop teaches techniques for taking field notes and sketching birds

The beautiful Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center will serve as the festival headquarters and place to be for receptions, silent auction, evening keynote speakers, and vendors. The Biggest Week in American Birding is brimming with guided activities, field trips, travel talks, and workshops. Inhabit the famous boardwalk, participate in a Big Sit, get photography and digiscoping tips, help with bird banding, sharpen your bird ID skills, and so much more. Enter your bird-related tattoo in the fourth annual Bird Tattoo contest (who says birders aren't hip?), and view a special screening of the documentary, The Messenger.  See the full schedule here.

J. Drew Lanham at the Leopold Shack, near Baraboo, Wisconsin
Co-hosted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), Destination Toledo, and Lake Erie Shores and Islands, proceeds from a number of the festival activities will benefit vital bird conservation and education programs. Because conservation is the cornerstone of this festival, new for 2016 is The Biggest Week Conservation Fund. According to the festival website, "We believe that connecting people to the joys of birding is the first step in building support for conservation; people care more about the things they love."  You'll find many ways to learn about these human + nature connections at The Biggest Week, but a very good one is at J. Drew Lanham's talk on May 12 entitled, Looking Through Leopold's Binoculars: How Birds Inspire Conservation.  Last year, The Biggest Week raised over $25,000 for important conservation initiatives. Your visit to the festival will assist this effort: it is eco-tourism at its best.

So, register now for one of the most exciting birding festivals anywhere. and bring the family! Or, just come for the birding--you don't have to be part of the festival to enjoy the birds. Check out the free activities! The region offers plenty to do for the non-birders in your group, too.

Eagle Optics is proud to be a sponsor and vendor for The Biggest Week In American Birding. Stop by our booth in Optics Alley for individualized advice on selecting optics and first-hand experience with the many binoculars, spotting scopes, and tripods we will have on hand. See you in Ohio!

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Warbler Heaven: West Virginia, May 2-7, 2016

West Virginia's legendary beauty (Almost Heaven, as the John Denver song goes) attracts people AND birds--especially warblers, come springtime.  If you're inclined to indulge in said beauty and birds, you can treat yourself to West Virginia's best during the New River Birding & Nature Festival, May 2-7, 2016.

Now in its 14th year, this festival boasts trips, leaders, and speakers that will help you make the most of the wonderfully varied habitat in and around the New River Gorge National River. Did I mention warblers are this festival's calling card? Each year so far, at least 30 warbler species have been logged in during the week-long event. According to the festival website:

"This area is the heart of the upland hardwood forests that Cornell Lab of Ornithology has identified as a crucial stopover habitat for the continued survival of species such as Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Swainson's Warbler, as well as the Scarlet Tanager."

Scarlet Tanager photo by Mike McDowell
So the birds will be fabulous--of that we can be sure. But there's also a decidedly friendly, back-porch feel about this festival that makes it refreshingly unique. Good people, tasty food, stunning places to explore. And, shhh--gather closer now--New River Birding & Nature Festival boasts the best guide-to-guest ratio on the festival circuit. That means the many trips offered WILL begin to fill up. Soon. A couple trips have already filled.

Eagle Optics is honored to be attending again in 2016. Look for Ben in the charming and scenic Optics Gazebo, situated on the festival grounds: the perfect place to stop and try the latest in binocularsspotting scopes, and tripods. As always, we are happy to bring along specific products at your request. Please contact us here at Eagle Optics at least two weeks before this or any festival where we have a vendor presence.


The time is now, friend, to get registered! Picture yourself there for a day, or two or three, or for the entire week! There are packages available which include lodging at some of the finer lodges, inns, cabins, and motels near the festival site. I'm telling you, these West Virginia folks know about hospitality.  There are just a few spots left. You can register online now, study up on warblers for a few weeks, and then be New River-bound first thing in May. How's that for a plan?

Leading participants in a wide range of habitats will be some of the industry's very best birding guides. See a complete list of local and national trip leaders here. If you have a free afternoon, catch one of their informative Popcorn Presentations around 3:00. 

At each day's end, gather for a delightful evening meal and entertaining keynote presentation with your newfound friends. As is tradition, Friday night will feature a presentation by beloved naturalist, illustrator, and author Julie Zickefoose (photo below). This one is extra special--as Julie will be officially launching her new book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest. Besides having the chance to snag one of the first autographed copies, Julie's talk, weaved with stories and imagery in her signature style, will leave you wide-eyed, smiling, and totally absorbed.

Photo by McKenzie Fleeman
So, come to West Virginia. Bird the Appalachian mountains and valleys of Fayette County. Be one of the lucky ones to experience the New River Birding & Nature Festival where each day, you'll be surrounded by the magic of migration. Gather at day's end to compare notes and life lists and learn from some of the best. Then go off under an endlessly starry sky to get rested and ready for another day of  discovery in--yes, heavenly--West Virginia.

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

Monday, February 8, 2016

Champions of the Flyway Bird Race: March 29, 2016

Bird Race for Conservation in Israel


Champions of the Flyway Bird Race (CFBR), staged during the Eilat (Israel) Birds Festival, is an extraordinary and unique annual event that has attracted teams of birders from all over the world since its inception in 2014. Coming together to raise funds for bird conservation, these teams, comprised of some of the most notable birders around, vie for top honors in this Big Day type of competition. The stakes: funds raised by these teams will help BirdLife International tackle the widespread illegal killing of birds in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Eurasian Wryneck photo by Jonathan Meyrav
In the U.S., we often think of conservation funding as money that will create, restore, or protect bird habitat, or to fund education and research. In the case of (CFBR), funding is instrumental in preserving the miracle of migration in critical flyways in Eurasia. 
Photo of soaring raptors by Christian Gelpke
In 2014, Eagle Optics Sales Manager, Ben Lizdas, competed as a member of The Way Off Coursers team. That year, the Society for Nature Protection in Georgia (SABUKO) was the designated recipient of $30K (!) raised from the race. Its mission, which seems almost insurmountable, is to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds of prey as they migrate through the Batumi Bottleneck each autumn. This type of conservation involves strategies which are perhaps much more delicate and less tangible: changing the hearts, minds and traditions of those people who have been hunting these migrating raptors for decades. As a result of that funding, SABUKO has begun a successful collaboration with the hunters and falconers in that areaRead more about this incredible ongoing effort here.

2014 Bird Race, Way Off Coursers team

By 2015, Champions of the Flyway's fundraising prowess strengthened, and race donations increased to $35K. That year, Bird Life Cypress was the recipient. In Cypress, widespread trapping of birds is fueled by demand for a local dish of small passerines made in restaurants and considered a delicacy. One example of the effort to raise public awareness is this video, made by Bird Life Cypress to reach out to Cypress school children:

In 2016, at the end of March, the Way Off Coursers team returns, sponsored by Zeiss and Bird Watcher's Digest. The 2016 team is comprised of two Americans (Ben Lizdas and Bill Thompson, III), one Englishman (Mark Cocker), and one Canadian-Chilean-American (Alvaro Jaramillo). 

To say that Ben is excited to be going back to Israel for the race is an understatement!  "It's a chance to collectively take a stance against the illegal hunting of migratory birds in the Mediterranean flyway," Ben shares. "Teams have the opportunity to bird together, build community, raise essential resources, and awareness to ensure that birds and bird habitat will be there for future generations to enjoy. Participating in the Champions of the Flyway is hard work, it’s fun, and it’s an essential project for the future of birds."  Eagle Optics is proud to have an active role in Champions of the Flyway Bird Race!
Turtle Dove photo by Jonathan Meyrav
As I mentioned, the objective of the race is to raise funds for a selected Conservation Action. So what cause will our donations be funding this year? According to the Champions of the Flyway website,"This year, the spotlight is on Greece, where more than one million songbirds are illegally killed every year."  In Greece, there is a desperate challenge to save Turtle Doves from widespread trapping and poaching. In fact, they are being killed in such great numbers, that it's possible the Turtle Dove could become extinct in our lifetime. In addition, hundreds of thousands of songbirds are being illegally captured and sold on the caged bird black market. This initiative is so pressing, and so important. Let's all pitch in and help Champions of the Flyway set a new record for donations this year!  
White-eared Bulbul, photo property of HOS
There will be funds raised, and a winning team chosen--but in the spirit of doing the most good, the race rules are akin to all for one and one for all. Because according to the organizers, the ultimate goal of this competition is to celebrate the extraordinary miracle of bird migration.

Follow the race on its Facebook page or Twitter--but most of all, just get in on the action, however you can. Choose a team, make a donation, then cheer your team on! And please watch this official video for the 2016 Champions of the Flyway, which features stunning footage from these migration flyways, and an original song by written by Bill Thompson III and performed by The Rain Crows:

Here at home, a half-world away, we learn, we understand, and we support this effort. Will you?  Please give today, as generously as you can. No amount is too small. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The new Leica Trinovid HD debuts in Honduras!

With an invitation to test a new Leica Trinovid HD binocular at The Lodge at Pico Bonito in Honduras, there wasn't any doubt that it would be a fantastic trip--and it was, without exception. The country and its birds, the company of amazing, knowledgeable colleagues, and the gracious accommodations were more than I could have hoped for. And the binocular--well, it was a willing and welcome companion, showing us all the color and detail we hoped for.

The new Leica Trinovid HD lives up to Leica's reputation of quality and craftsmanship--no doubt about that. Each of the 10 participants tested it for 6 days through tough tropical conditions: deep rain forest and cloud forest trails, lush lagoons and mangroves, hot, dry forest habitat, and ocean shoreline. In doing so, we were afforded crisp views of over 260 species of birds and a stunning variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

Photo by Jonathan Meyrev

The Lodge at Pico Bonito is truly a naturalist's paradise--400 acres of tropical wilderness bordering the Pico Bonito National Park. When you're at the lodge, you're minutes from the mountains, the rain forest, two raging rivers, and the Caribbean coast. One could spend an entire vacation on the lodge's property without a feeling of having missed anything--but our host and guides made sure there were plenty of side trips to satisfy our wildest birding imaginations. With the impressive new Trinovid HD and our sharp-eyed crew, we made the most of every opportunity. Nothing crawling, flying, slithering, perching, or singing escaped our view!
Photo by Jeff Bouton
Leica calls this new Trinovid HD its first premium entry level binocular, with a price tag starting under $1,000. The Trinovid name is one many will recognize, but this new version has been redesigned with the intent to make even more of us Leica customers--and I predict it will do just that. Lighter in weight, better close focus with a wider field of view, and even more well-suited for eyeglass-wearers, this new Trinovid will surely excel at its new price point. It is well-balanced in the hand, with a pleasingly smooth focus wheel and eyecups with 4 click-stop settings that twist up and hold their position. And the view? I found it to have very fine resolution, color rendition, and contrast. All the better to see you with, my dear (birdies)!

Photo by David LaPuma
After a 3-hour van ride from the airport at San Pedro Sula, we received a warm greeting by friendly lodge staff in Pico's lobby. Servers stood ready with drinks served in coconut shells and spa personnel offered our choice of foot massage or neck rubs. A welcome worth waiting for, for weary travelers--two who had come from the U.K., and one all the way from Israel. Yours truly had endured a red-eye from Los Angeles, and the rest had early flights from Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, and New York. It didn't matter, as all 11 of us were filled with adrenaline in anticipation of the adventure that awaited us.

My home sweet home during my stay.

Making our way along winding stone paths to our lovely, well-appointed cabins, we quickly got settled and headed to the open-air dining room to enjoy the first of many delightful meals. Our long, candle lit table became a favorite place to unwind, relax, and recount the adventures of the day. The smiling, attentive waiters became our friends. And by the way, there are no buffet lines at Pico Bonito Lodge: every entree is made-to-order from the menu, and in 6 days, we weren't able to sample every amazing offering. Though we surely tried.

Photo by Jeff Bouton
The following morning, our first full day of birding, we tried out the Trinovid HD's Adventure Strap, which is designed to serve as both a neck strap, harness strap, and a soft field case. Ingenious idea. It got mixed reviews from the men in the group, but I found it to be comfortable to wear, and for women, possibly less interfering than a conventional harness strap when raising and lowering the binoculars for viewing. It holds the binocular comfortably and securely against the body while you're walking. It's a bit fussy to clip in each time--maybe Leica will tweak the design a bit. Other than that, I was quite happy with it. Check this link to get a better look at how the Adventure Strap works.

After breakfast, we walked up the road from our cabins to discover Pico's marvelous tower, which gave us an over-reaching view of the forest canopy, the river below, and the Caribbean Ocean in the distance. Through our Trinovids, Lovely Cotingas, Keel-billed Toucans, Brown-hooded Parrots, and so many hummingbirds were among our first sightings.
And so our week began--with much ahead to discover. Stay tuned here so I can share more of our adventure!

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