Biggest Week in American Birding, May 6-15, 2014

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Hey, birders: aching for a little migration action?  Right here in the Heartland, The Biggest Week in American Birding 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 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.

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, 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 first annual Bird Tattoo contest (who says birders aren’t hip?)  See the full schedule here.

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. 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.” Last year, over $25,000 was raised for these 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.  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.

Potholes & Prairies Birding Festival, June 11-15, 2014

Locoweed and Prairie Smoke, photo by Julie Zickefoose

Locoweed and Prairie Smoke (Julie Zickefoose photo)

Ribbons of road undulating through vast, blooming prairie, glacial remnants of ridge and ancient rock, round, deep waterholes and shallow sloughs. If North Dakota hasn’t immediately come to mind as a birding destination, it only means you’ve not yet visited there in summer. This abundant beauty and variety which attracts such diversity in birds, also beckons the knowing birdwatcher. And right now, there is an open invitation to come discover, learn, and immerse yourself in all North Dakota offers–at the Potholes & Prairies Birding Festival.

Derruginous Hawk photo by Rick Bohn

Ferruginous Hawk (Rick Bohn photo)

This isn’t a festival where you’re just a face in the crowd–oh, no.  According to Julie Zickefoose, a long-time participant and trip leader: “Potholes & Prairies is a tremendously friendly and comfortably small festival, run with great attention to detail and the contentment of its participants.”  Last year, attendees from 26 states and 2 Canadian provinces came to fatten their life lists with the help and personal attention from experienced guides. You’ll be birding from the prairies to the Missouri Coteau, surveying roadside sloughs and big lakes, observing ducks trailed by ducklings in the pothole ponds, and learning to ID hawks and waterbirds. Participate in the Big Day or take a guided bus tour through Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts the largest population of white pelicans in North America.  There are so many wonderful choices!  Check the 2014 Festival Events here.

LeConte's Sparrow (photo Mike McDowell)

LeConte's Sparrow (Mike McDowell photo)

What makes North Dakota so unique, is in summer you’ll be seeing birds you’d be hard-pressed to find in one place anywhere else. During the 2013 festival, 148 species were spotted. See the checklist here. Perhaps you’re hoping to catch glimpses of the rare Big Five, listed below?  I’d say there’s a pretty darned good chance!

  • Baird’s sparrow
  • LeConte’s sparrow
  • Nelson’s Sharp-tailed sparrow
  • Sprague’s pipit
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur

Incidentally, this festival doesn’t stop when the sun starts to set. Informative evening seminars, dinner and garden birding at Pipestem Creek Lodge (followed by an an after-dinner jam session–so bring your instruments), and a special appearance by the funniest man in birding, Al Batt are all in the offing.  There will be vendors on site too–including our very own Adrian Lesak, to assist you with an upgrade on your binocular, scope or tripod.  Here’s the link to register for the 2014 Prairies and Potholes Festival.

Need any more convincing, dear reader?  Then, as Julie Zickefoose, who so dearly loves this festival, reminds us: “Look at your life list. See if there are some holes that need plugging. Think about the blooming prairie in June, the burbling songs of Western Meadowlarks and Bobolinks, the click and hiss of rare sparrows in thick grasses, and make the (12th) annual Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival an unusual–and unusually satisfying–destination.”

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

Bird Race for Conservation in Israel

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Champions of the Flyway Bird Race (CFBR) is actually a Big Day, held the first of April, during the peak of spring migration in southern Israel.  This inaugural event has attracted teams comprised of some of the most notable birders from all over the world, coming together to raise funds for bird conservation. This sort of competition isn’t that unusual–until you consider the stakes:  the funds raised by these teams will help BirdLife International tackle the illegal killing of birds in Southern and Eastern Europe.

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Birders in  the U.S. probably 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 will be instrumental in preserving the miracle of migration in one of the most critical flyways in Eurasia: the Batumi Bottleneck in Ajara Province, Georgia. Here, each autumn, more than one million migrating birds of prey are funneled through a narrow area between the Red Sea and the high mountains of the Lesser Caucasus. According to the CFBR website:batumi-bottleneck

Research has shown that around ten thousand birds of prey fall victim to illegal shooting here each autumn, as Honey and Steppe Buzzards, Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Eurasian and Levant Sparrowhawks and various eagles and other raptors pass low through the gorge, unwittingly presenting themselves as easy targets.

Therefore, funding is needed to continue efforts which have begun to be implemented by Bird Conservation Georgia. 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 migrants for decades. Understandably, this takes time. Yet, it’s a story of collaboration and awareness-raising that touches the heart: read about these efforts here.  These efforts involve mutually beneficial outcomes of increased ecotourism for these communities, and safety and preservation of birds who make the passage through this crucial flyway. Monies are critical for continuing these programs! Here’s how you can help.

Eagle Optics is proud to have an active role in Champions of the Flyway Bird Race: our sales manager, Ben Lizdas (a dang fine birder in his own right) is a member of the team dubbed the WAY-OFF COURSERS. The team is sponsored by Bird Watcher’s Digest, and consists of ace birders Bill Thompson III, Michael O’Brien, and George Armistead. Learn about these individuals and how to donate to our team here.  To say the competition is stiff would be an understatement–read about all the illustrious teams who will be gathering in Eilat, Israel on March 28 for a few days of scouting.  Then, the teams go head-to-head in the 24-hour count on April 1st!  To get an idea of birds in southern Israel, watch this stunning video:

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.

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.

EO’s New eBay Resale Program

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Customers are often asking us if we buy used optics. The answer is no, but over the years, we have recognized the need for people to sell their gently used, higher end optics as they consider upgrading to a better binocular or spotting scope. Therefore, we’re happy to introduce our new Eagle Optics eBay Resale Program. We do the selling for you–you get all the (store) credit!

This program is designed to assist Eagle Optics customers, or potential customers, by selling their unwanted optics on eBay. Our requirements are simple: we consider binoculars and spotting scopes that are well-cared for, have a potential resale value of $300 or more, and are in excellent working condition. Items that would NOT qualify for this program are astronomical telescopes, rangefinders, night vision and image-stabilized binoculars, and antique optics.

Here’s how it works: You call Eagle Optics and speak to Adrian, who manages the eBay Resale Program (he will register you by phone; this can’t be done online). We list your pre-approved optics on eBay either for a set price or as an auction. Once the item sells, we ship the item to the buyer and wait until the return period is over. If the item has not been returned, we issue a store credit (minus a 5% fee, or $40, whichever is less) in the form of either an Eagle Optics Gift Certificate or a refund on a recent Eagle Optics purchase.

So if you’re ready to upgrade, it’s quite possible your tried-and-true binocular or scope can help you get there. And so can Eagle Optics, with our new eBay Resale Program. Give us a call–let’s talk!

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

Gear Up at the 2014 Birding Optics & Gear Expo!

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This upcoming FREE event in Columbus, Ohio on April 4-6, 2014 could easily be nicknamed Optics Lover’s Paradise. Birders from all over the country will be, er, flocking to this expo to pick out a new binocular or scope, just in time for spring migration.

Sponsored by Bird Watcher’s Digest, Eagle Optics, and Time & Optics, this second annual Birding Optics & Gear Expo is actually designed for all nature enthusiasts who rely on sport optics to enhance their favorite outdoor activities. All the major sport optics manufacturers will be there for a Try Before You Buy experience like no other! Browse around, chat with the experts, and compare binoculars, spotting scopes, tripods, and other gear. Check out this video compilation from last year’s inaugural event.

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The expo will feature products from Eagle Optics, Vortex, Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, Leica Sport Optics, Swarovski Optik North America, Celestron, Minox, Vanguard, Kowa, Celestron, Manfrotto, Clintonville Outfitters, and Midwest Photo Exchange.

This free event will be held at The Grange Insurance Audubon Center, just south of downtown Columbus, Ohio. Hours have been expanded this year due to an overwhelming response in 2013: visit on Saturday, April 4 (from 5:00 to 8:00 pm); Saturday, April 5 (from 9:00 to 5:00 pm), or Sunday, April 6 (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm). Click here to register, get e-mail updates, and to be entered in the Expo Door Prize Giveaway. You can also register by calling 800-879-2473.

What a unique opportunity to get your hands on all the latest in sport optics. Before you plunk down your money for a new scope or binocular, try it out first at the Birding Optics & Gear Expo! Sound like fun? Then, make your way to central Ohio. We’ll see you there April 4-6!

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

Looking Back on My First Pelagic Trip

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L to R: Drew Weber, Robert Mortensen, Sharon Stiteler, Nina Cheney, Clay Taylor, Paul Riss, J.Drew Lanham

When I started working at Eagle Optics almost 4 years ago, I had no idea what a pelagic was. Moreover, I couldn’t pronounce it. Searching Wikipedia, I found that the word pelagic is derived from the Ancient Greek pélagos, meaning “open sea.”  Knowing my casual Saturday birding-by-kayak trips didn’t really qualify, I started to feel a pang for something bigger.  A pelagic, I read, means going out to sea, and being neither close to the bottom (!) nor near the shore.  The thought gave me goose bumps.  As a land-locked Midwesterner, a trip out on one of the Great Lakes would certainly count–and be a lot closer to home.  But as luck would have it, my first pelagic was handed to me as part of a Birding Blogger event hosted by Swarovski Optik–on the mighty Atlantic. Yes, I’ve come a long way, baby!  Though still a neophyte, I now have one fabulous pelagic trip under my belt.

It was just after dawn as we motored from our hotel in Cranston, Rhode Island and up around Boston toward Gloucester, MA. I must admit, I was a little nervous. What had been sunny and warm weather the day before, had turned to grey, pea-soup conditions, complete with wind and rain. We were socked in. I imagined the 7 of us bobbing in a little boat on the angry surf, me with barf-bag in hand, too seasick to raise my binoculars.  Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.  By the time we arrived at the dock, the rain had abated. We were all smiles and anticipation as we boarded (to my relief and delight) the large, very seaworthy-looking whale watch charter boat dubbed Privateer IV.

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We grabbed coffee and sandwiches at the snack bar belowdecks and stowed our gear. While the other passengers settled in for the 45-minute cruise out to the whales, we positioned ourselves up top, where we could start seeing birds. Charming Gloucester Harbor was just shaking off the morning mist as we made our way toward the open sea.

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Sharon (Bird Chick) Stiteler had cautioned us in an e-mail to pack plenty of layers for the pelagic trip. It had seemed odd to bring a fleece jacket, Smart Wool socks, and silk long underwear to the East Coast in late July, but my oh my, I’m glad I did (let that be ingrained in your brains, too, in case you’re planning such an expedition). We experienced just about every kind of weather on that boat except snow.  Below, Sharon takes her own advice as we get hit with a cold, windy mist.

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We saw 14 bird species during the trip (which we documented on eBird) and many of us picked up several lifers. I was amazed at the resilience of these birds living at sea, and impressed that my cohorts could spot and identify what were seemingly dots on the horizon or specks sitting on floating algae. Looking through my binocular, I marveled at the size of Northern Gannets, and how their whiteness positively glowed in the sun. A favorite sighting for me was an Atlantic Puffin fly-by; the lone Sooty Shearwater seemed to get the biggest rise out of my birding companions, judging by the whoops and high-fives exchanged. Oh, and by the way, we saw whales: Minke, Fin, and Humpback. What a thrill!

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After the last whale finished its cameo appearance, most of the regular folks were satisfied and sat back as the boat turned to head back to Gloucester. The 7 of us successfully took over the bow of the boat, which stuck way out over the water, to log in as many more bird sightings as possible. By this time, we all had our sea legs, and the rest of the passengers just smiled and gave us a wide berth.

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Blue sky and bright sunshine greeted us as we cruised in past the lighthouse on the rocky island that guards Gloucester Harbor. It was hard to miss seeing the many lobster boats–and we realized what an appetite we had worked up that morning. I guess the sea will do that to you. Our host, Clay Taylor, led us to the Gloucester House Restaurant, right on the dock. It had colorful vintage buoys for decor and a lunch special I’ve since dreamt about: Twin Lobsters for $19.95. All 7 of us ordered the same thing. The perfect end to a perfect morning, and a first pelagic trip to remember!

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

ABA Summer Young Birder Camps!

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The American Birding Association (ABA) announces its two week-long camps for young birders: Camp Colorado in Estes Park, CO, and Camp Avocet in Lewes, Delaware!

One of the key objectives of the ABA is to foster the next generation of birders. These experiences offer campers ages 13-18 the guidance of expert mentors, fabulous and varied bird habitats, and the chance to meet and work with other young people with the same interests. Oh, what a week to remember for lucky young birders!

Sam Brunson, who attended Camp Colorado in 2013 writes, “I knew before going that the trip was going to be amazing; however, it turned it out to be more than just amazing. Camp Colorado was the experience of a lifetime.”

Allow me to tempt you with an excerpt of the Camp Colorado description from the ABA website:
“From the shortgrass prairie of northeastern Colorado to the aspen groves and alpine tundra
of the Rocky Mountain National Park, Camp Colorado 2014 has it all! For our third year in a
row based out of Estes Park, our home away from home will be the YMCA of the Rockies,
bordering the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park.”

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“Campers will find plenty of opportunities to take their birding skills to the next level, meet other young people with similar interests, explore careers in birding and ornithology, and, of course, learn about the bird life and natural history of northern Colorado. An amazing diversity of ecosystems lie within a few hours drive, giving each camper the opportunity to experience many of Colorado’s varied life zones and associated birds.”

trhe_j9m1392-copyCamp Colorado dates are July 8-13, and registrations are now being accepted! Click here to find out more. Here is link to the registration form.

Camp Avocet, Aug. 10-16, will be held at the University of Delaware’s Virden Conference Center in Lewes, Delaware, only minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean beaches, two major National Wildlife Refuges and a short ride to six unique ecologically-based birding regions!. Migrating shorebirds will be a main study and focus for this camp but due to the grand diversity of southern Delaware’s bird-rich habitats, over 150 species of birds will be seen and studied during this seven-day birding-at-the-beach camp extravaganza!

Leading digiscoping photographer, Bill Schmoker, was a counselor at Camp Avocet in 2013 and filed  this profile.  Bill’s photos and video capture the excitement, beauty and fabulous learning environment Camp Avocet provided the young birders. Click here to register for Camp Avocet.600px-leica_camera_logo_svg483284_4236723286318_307691281_nxx

According to the ABA website, limited scholarships are available to help young people who are interested in birds to attend our summer camps. To apply, please visit Young Birder Scholarships.

The ABA wishes to thank its generous sponsors, and Leica Sport Optics, for helping to make these camps possible.  If you’d like to donate, or have other questions, please contact Bill Stewart at bstewart@aba.org.

What better time than winter to think about summer? Start planning now. It could be an experience of a lifetime!

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

Big Window (finally!) Made Safe for Birds

My historic stone house probably has fewer windows than most houses. Back in the mid-1800’s when it was built, conserving heat was no doubt more important than grand, sweeping views. Tucked against a hill and facing south, the builders knew what they were doing (don’t ask me how the heck they moved, cut and placed all those big stones)!

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Fast-forward to 1989, when the addition was built, complete with a large picture window. I figured with modern heating, I could go for that grand, sweeping view of my restored prairie and the fields and wooded hill beyond. But with the big window, came more and more window strikes. I was losing birds. Problem was, the windows perfectly reflected the trees and sky–and birds couldn’t tell the difference, no matter what I tried. My beloved male Eastern Bluebird (below, the saddest photo ever) was one such casualty early last summer. This winter, we finally did something about it.

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My research to find the best solution led me to an article in Bird Watcher’s Digest, written by naturalist, birder, and author Julie Zickefoose. She and her husband Bill had experimented with one thing after another to eliminate bird strikes on the large windows in their southern Ohio home. Then they found the perfect thing, and shared it with readers. I said to myself, Why look further? I printed out the article and laid it on the kitchen table in front of my birding and digiscoping partner, Dale. Before I knew it, he had gathered up the materials and the project was underway.

After some careful measuring, Dale primed, painted, and sealed the PVC poles to make them as invisible as possible against the house. Once the paint was dry, he cut them to the 4 sections needed to span the window.

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Then Dale formed the cut poles in to a frame with PVC elbow joints.  He drilled holes every 6 inches, set screws in each, and stretched the nylon crop netting taut, using the screws as anchors. He attached the L-brackets to the house, and we lifted the finished frame and set it neatly on the brackets, securing them with zip-ties. Voila!

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There hasn’t been one fatality since we installed it, and we are evaluating expanding the project to include the half-round window above it–though it may not be necessary.  I was truly surprised at how nearly invisible the netting is from the inside. Click here to see Julie Zickefoose’s blog post, with fabulous photos of fall migrating birds taken right through her net-protected window.

This gray morning we had freezing fog, and suddenly the netting was decorated with delicate ice crystals!  This is how it looked:

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We couldn’t be happier with our Do-It-Yourself project. We call it our ZickNet.  Thanks for doing my homework, Julie Zickefoose! Long live our yard birds, and those we’re lucky enough to host as they pass through.

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

Binocs: check. Field Guide: check. Duck Stamp? Yes! Check!

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2013-2014 Winning Artist: Robert Steiner

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!

Learn more about the Federal Duck Stamp Prgram here. Then purchase one for yourself, and one for a friend.  It’s a wonderful way to support wetland conservation and migratory bird habitat for years to come.

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

Donate to the ABA, get a chance to win an Eagle Optics binocular!

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In the market for some new birding optics this holiday season? Help the ABA, and maybe we can help you out too!

Thanks to a generous donation from our friends at Eagle Optics, the ABA is hosting two raffles as part of our year-end fundraising appeal. Donate to the ABA by December 20th, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a pair of Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8×32 binoculars!1390663_10202764202849603_507659172_n

Once we give that pair away, we’ll host another drawing for those who donate between December 21st and December 31st. That’s two chances to win!

Don’t worry if you’ve already donated (thank you, by the way!), you are automatically entered into the first drawing. And because we’re a 501 (c)(3) organization, your donations are 100% tax deductible.

So in addition to all the free online content, in addition to the great support for young birders, in addition to the community building and the advocacy and publications, we’re now helping you get a chance to get great piece of glass from Eagle Optics in your hands for the cost of one donation to the ABA.

At the ABA we’re proud of the fact that we make birding better, let us help make the experience better for two lucky birders. Make a gift today!

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