Monday, February 8, 2016

Champions of the Flyway Bird Race: March 29, 2016

Bird Race for Conservation in Israel

champions_logov41

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 11 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 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 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. Did we like it? Yes! Yes, we did! 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.






Friday, December 4, 2015

Product testing with Leica: In Honduras!

Leica's new Trinovid HD binocular--better than ever!
I find myself in an enviable position: I've been selected to do a little product testing. Of course, as part of the Eagle Optics sales team, we do that just about every day with the optics we sell. But this will be different. Instead of looking through binoculars at a resolution chart or at the humble feeders outside our store, I'll be testing the redesigned Leica Trinovid HD in Honduras!

Leica is reintroducing the Trinovid, and it's a whole new binocular! More lightweight, with a wider field of view, better close focus, and better eye relief for eyeglass wearers, too. Sharp, bright image--all the better to see the tropical birds! And that's a new Adventure Strap--which I've heard, is nothing like a zip line!

Thanks to Leica, I'll be part of a group of birders, journalists, writers, and bloggers from the U.S., the U.K., and Israel--a couple of them are old friends, but mostly I'll be making new friendships during the six days of birding planned for us in the rain forests of northern Honduras.

Our friend Jeff Bouton, Manager of Birding Markets for Leica Sport Optics, assembled this diverse and talented group of participants just weeks ago. As he mentions in the Leica Birding Blog, it didn't take him long to fill the trip. I mean, who wouldn't want to go birding in Honduras while staying at the beautiful and gracious accommodations of the Lodge at Pico Bonito?

Entrance to the lounge: Lodge at Pico Bonito
In the 5.5 years I've worked at Eagle Optics, I have met and birded with some wonderful folks in the birding community. I'm not an ace birder, but I have been watching birds all my life. Still, no matter where I'm birding or with whom, I'm always made to feel welcome. Like family. Birders are generous people: generous with their time and knowledge, each bringing their unique experience to the table. They also care deeply about conservation. 


I'm proud of the fact that Eagle Optics supports so many conservation initiatives, and being the author of this blog, I've learned (and written) much about what is happening with conservation efforts in the U.S. and abroad.  In fact, James Adams,our host at Pico Bonito, has created one of the most ambitious conservation tours ever: The Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour, which will take place in November, 2016. I wrote about it in this blog not so long ago. Then, a few days later, I found out that I was going on this trip to Honduras

I'll be there in just a few days, and I'll be sure to give you updates here. It will be my second visit to Central America. Dreams do come true!

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reader Rendezvous: Fabulous small group birding trips for 2016!


The good folks at Bird Watcher's Digest (BWD) came up with great idea a couple years back. They wanted to offer intimate, weekend-long, small-group birding opportunities for their readers. Smart, right? Many of us attend birding festivals, where we are part of the hustle and bustle of field trips, workshops, and a whirlwind of talks and classes with birding experts. And that's all well and good--though sometimes we may feel overwhelmed with all the choices, and with all the crowds. Reader Rendezvous serves up something different--something utterly appealing.

Owls With Al guides Sparky Stensaas (L) and Erik Bruhnke (R). Photo by Bill Thompson III.
The team at BWD plans everything for its participants from scouting and choosing bird-rich locations and hot spots to arranging transportation, meals, special rates for lodging, and fun evening activities. Looking for new birding areas to explore? The experienced birders on the BWD staff carefully select from some of their favorite places: environments and habitats you may never have thought to explore. Previous Reader Rendezvous events include Owls With Al in northern Minnesota, Birding Valhalla, and Warblers & Woodpeckers in West Virginia; Birding Basics & Beyond in Florida, and Optics Opstravaganza (proudly hosted by Eagle Optics) in Wisconsin. You can view the photo scrapbooks for each of those events here. And by the way, no birding experience is required. Many of the rave reviews and words of praise for these Reader Rendezvous events have come from beginning birders!
Green Jay photo by Erik Bruhnke
Now approaching its third year, Reader Rendezvous just keeps getting better! Three exciting events are planned for 2016. First up is March 11-13, the Texas Bird'em Tour: McAllen, Texas. Ah, yes--South Texas! As the event's webpage states, "There are few, if any, birding regions in the United States that can rival the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for the sheer diversity of bird life and the dizzying allure of unusual bird species." While this Reader Rendezvous offers a chock-full itinerary, the region has so much to offer, that specialized pre- and post-trip extensions are available to add on. Read about costs, meal plan, detailed schedule, and other helpful planning tips here.
Haven't birded in south Texas yet? You're in for a real treat--but more than that, you'll be astounded at the birds and other wildlife you'll experience there. And if you have been to the Rio Grande Valley, you know: it's worth going back, and often!
Black-necked Stilt photo by Mike McDowell
Register soon (but don't wait too long!) for this tremendous opportunity to bird with the experts, fatten your life list, meet new friends, and taste some of that good, down-home, South Texas cuisine. Most of all, you'll get a taste for a wonderful small-group birding adventure at the Texas Bird'em Reader Rendezvous!

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

There are few, if any, birding regions in the United States that can rival the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for the sheer diversity of birdlife and the dizzying allure of unusual bird species. - See more at: https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/ReaderRendezvous/events/mcallen-texas/#sthash.2rocnkpE.dpuf

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour: November 4 – 13, 2016

Have binocular, will travel: that's the M.O. of lucky birders who have the time and budget for birding trips and tours in exotic locations around the world. More and more, these birders look for tours that contribute to bird conservation in these destinations. Ideally, this sort of eco-tourism benefits both the host country's economy and its ability to preserve and set aside bird habitat. It's a win-win. If you're looking for an opportunity like this, along with a bit of friendly competition, you'll definitely want to consider the Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour.


Keel-billed Toucan photo by James Adams

The Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour is an exciting endeavor, and the first of its kind. Besides reveling in the amazing diversity of bird life in Honduras, participants will be joining one of 5 teams--each led by a well-known leader in the birding industry. A grand prize of $20,000 will be awarded for conservation initiatives in the name of the team who records the highest number of species! Other tremendous prizes will be awarded, too--thanks to generous sponsors of this unique event. Eagle Optics is proud to be one of these sponsors! See the list of prizes and the conservation projects that will benefit from them here.

Crested Bobwhite photo by Alex Alvarado
As the tour website states, "The concepts of birding and conservation in Honduras are relatively new; having arisen in large part from growing avi-tourism and a number of national and local bird watching clubs that have developed over the past decade.  Today despite all our successes, there are still countless areas, habitats, species that are in need of further research and protection.  In addition, there is a greater need than ever to join Hondurans in embracing their natural world, and to further education."  The size and scope of the Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour can and will have a far-reaching impact on the country's 5 selected conservation initiatives. What an opportunity for participants to make a real difference! No special birding knowledge is required. Find out how to reserve your spot here.

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird photo by James Adams
The list of tour leaders, one for each of the 5 teams, reads like a Who's Who of the birding world: Richard Crossley, Jeff Gordon, Bill Thompson III, Tim Appleton, and Adam Riley. Registered participants will be assigned to a team, though individual requests to be on a desired leader's team will be considered. And then--what is a tour without an expert local guide? This tour provides the best and most knowledgeable local guides available.

To say the least, you'll be in good hands, folks. All you have to do is register, pull out the map, dream about the thrilling itinerary and gracious accommodations, and get yourself there next November. Here is your chance to be a part of the most ambitious eco-birding tour ever!

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






Thursday, September 17, 2015

Light and dependable: Swarovski's CT Travel Carbon Tripod with DH 101 Head

When planning an outdoor adventure, we concern ourselves with variables: timing, destination, equipment, and everything in between. We scour the weather forecast. Make a checklist. Add this sweet  to your list's optics column, and there will be one less uncertainty; one less worry.

This tripod kit could easily be nicknamed Ready, Set, Go, considering how simple it is to pack along, carry, set up, and use. Carbon fiber and basalt construction makes the CT Travel Carbon Tripod so lightweight, sturdy and dependable, you won't dream of leaving your scope at home or in the car. Hand-friendly lever locks allow you to quickly extend and close the 4 sections. It folds down to a tidy package under 20" in length (when you remove the center column), small enough to pack in your trunk or hand luggage, yet will extend to a viewing height of 71.6", taller than you'd expect for a "travel-sized" tripod.

The DH 101 Tripod Head has a pleasing smooth and fluid-moving mechanism. The tilt and pan movements can be adjusted and set individually, and there is an integrated leveler for ease in setting the tripod on uneven terrain. You can attach your scope one-handed, no problem; the positional stability prevents even the smallest movements and is perfect for observing or digiscoping.

Comfort, ease of use, and impeccable construction details typify Swarovski's thoughtful workmanship. Swarovski makes outdoor adventure easy. You will need to pack your own lunch, though!

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

The New Family of EL Binoculars from Swarovski

We didn't think the Swarovision EL Binocular could get any better. But, this just out: our friends at Swarovski have made some wonderful improvements to the EL family of binoculars! Read the press release below to see what's new:

Cranston, Rhode Island – SWAROVSKI OPTIK announces the release of the improved EL binocular family with SWAROVISION technology. With the inclusion of the new FieldPro Package and other features, users will enjoy the best EL's yet. In the U.S. and Canada, the new EL Family will be available in November 2015.

Features of the EL Family are to include the new FieldPro package that has enabled SWAROVSKI OPTIK to enhance the binoculars in terms of comfort and functionality. The new rotating strap connector with a cord adapts perfectly to any movement. The bayonet catch enables you to fit and switch the carrying strap and accessories very quickly. With a simple turn of its quick catch button you can rapidly and silently adjust the carrying strap to the right length.

The objective lens covers now fit into the overall design securely attaching to the body of the EL. A softer and more slip resistant designed focusing wheel can be used more easily by the user with the same accuracy even in the toughest conditions. The new diopter adjustment lock function ensures that your personal settings cannot be changed accidentally.

SWAROVSKI OPTIK NORTH AMERICA Regional Sales Director, Greg Enos, said of the new EL Family, "The improvements to the already amazing EL Family will surpass any expectations of new and previous users of SWAROVSKI OPTIK optics."

-Dean J. Capuano, Communications Manager
SWAROVSKI OPTIK NORTH AMERICA LTD
2 Slater Road, Cranston, Rhode Island 02920

This video shows these ingenious binocular enhancements in action:



Our contacts at Swarovski tell us we can expect these new, improved EL binoculars in late November, 2015. If you have any questions, be sure to contact us at Eagle Optics!

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