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. Be wary of mixes which include a majority of “fillers” like millet. 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.

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.