Eagle Optics/Swarovski Costa Rica Trip!

Red-Legged Honeyvreeper photo by Clay Taylor

Red-Legged Honeycreeper photo by Clay Taylor

In early March, I spent a glorious week in Costa Rica, and I hardly know how to begin to tell you about it! Swarovski’s Clay Taylor and I led a group of 10 participants from literally every corner of the U.S.: California, Oregon, New York and Florida, with Clay and I claiming the center: Texas and Wisconsin, respectively. We even had a couple Costa Rica residents, plus our guide, Leo and driver, Enrique, to round out our most excellent, diverse, instant family-for-a-week.

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I’ve always known that one of the simple beauties of birding is that you can bird anywhere, and at any time; but this was so much more clear to me during our time in Costa Rica. No matter each person’s level of experience, we were on high-alert, our senses tuned in and ready to absorb all this fascinating country had to offer. For me, that included not only birds, but also the lush vegetation and bright flowers, the green, rolling mountains, and the mountain streams which danced over rocks and fell hundreds of feet in dramatic, heart-thumping waterfalls.

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The variety and scope of bird species was astonishing–but we knew it would be. Hiring a local bird guide is the only way to go. We were fortunate to have talented Leo Garrigues, who so impressed Ben and Kate, my coworkers who led the trip last year. With his expertise, we saw 274 species by week’s end, and heard another 25 that never came in to view.

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This barely 30-something had been birding since he was 6. And he took darned good care of us, attending to every detail.

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It just so happened that we ran into Leo’s dad, Richard, who wrote the field guide, The Birds of Costa Rica. Richard was leading another tour and was happy to sign our books after breakfast at Villa Lapas one morning. We could see how Leo had grown up with birding! It had come naturally–through his dad.

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There are so many special memories from the trip, but one was hiking 1/4 mile through a young teak plantation to a beautiful, large green tree with an over-reaching canopy. There, we stood looking through scopes at this pair of Black and White Owls. Magical. Leo knew all the secret places!

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Once, we walked out on a bridge to see what we could see. Dozens of Scarlet Macaws flew over in pairs, heading to their evening roosts; herons and shorebirds picked their way along the water’s edge, and crocs wallowed in the shallows. I assumed these cows knew and acted accordingly.

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Leo always gave us a chance to support the local economy. This hut was right at the end of the bridge. Kind of took our minds off the crocs.

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Rushing, tumbling water makes my heart sing, so La Paz Waterfall Gardens was my happy place. Hummingbird feeders attracted hummers by the dozens (we saw 23 species on the trip) including this Magnificent Hummingbird. We lunched in this inviting, open wood building that let all the bird sounds and sights come right to our tables.

Photo digiscoped by Clay Taylor

Photo digiscoped by Clay Taylor

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As we birded steadily down the trail, we could hear the sound of falling water and feel the moistness in the air. Deep green goodness.

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So many birds to enjoy, including this stunning Crimson-collared Tanager, which Clay digiscoped with his Swarovski STX and his Apple iPhone 6 as it peered at us through the dense foliage.

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And then we came to where the trail met the stream, and followed past two thrilling waterfalls! We stood and watched Swallow-tailed Kites as they made their appearance in the mist far above the falls; and an American Dipper explored the bank below.

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Here, I joined the ranks of photographers who take those cool vacation shots for couples. Hey, it was the perfect setting. No charge, Marty and Cathy!

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The next evening, we decided to hit the beach of the Pacific Ocean for sunset. And since we never went out without birding, Leo called in a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl before we turned in for the night. Perfect!

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Stay tuned for Costa Rica, Part 2–where we head to the mountains! To read more about the birding trips Eagle Optics offers, go to this link.

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

One May field trip: two of the rarest Wisconsin birds!

Photo by Dale Bonk

Photo by Dale Bonk

The Kirtland’s Warbler and the Whooping Crane will be the focus of this 2nd annual, mid-May event offered by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. It’s an opportunity to see both birds in one day, accompanied by the researchers that have been closely involved in these birds’ recovery in Wisconsin. Make a weekend of it in Central Wisconsin, near the breeding grounds of these two species–and enjoy educational presentations, camaraderie, and rare bird sightings too boot!

Photo by Mike McDowell

Photo by Mike McDowell

Eagle Optics is a proud sponsor of this event, along with BirdWatching Magazine, International Crane Foundation, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Where: Meet at the AmericInn Lodge and Suites, Wisconsin Rapids (field trip participants can receive a discounted rate if room is reserved by April 15)

Cost: $400/person. The amount includes transportation and lunch during Saturday’s field trip and a tax-deductible donation of $300 to support the Whooping Crane and Kirtland’s Warbler projects. The fee does not include transportation to Wisconsin Rapids, evening meals, or lodging.

Group size: 24 people

Last year, this event filled up quickly! Don’t wait. Register here.

Plan to be part of this memorable weekend! You’ll be learning about the incredible recovery efforts for these two species, as well as the Trumpeter Swan Recovery Program, in Wisconsin. Experience the thrill of checking two rare birds off your Life List, while making an invaluable tax-deductable donation to ongoing crucial conservation initiatives.

Read about all the details here, and if you have questions, call the Natural Resources Foundation at (608) 266-1430.

Nina Cheneynrf-logo-reversed-white-on-green
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

New! American Birding Expo: Oct. 2-4, 2015

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When it comes to birding, as you may know, the British are a good bit ahead of us here in the U.S. The percentage of the population that considers themselves avid birders is significantly higher than here; and their long-standing yearly Birdfair is the largest and most well-known commercial event in the world celebrating the culture of birding. How large? Well, over 3 days, 20,000 people attended Birdfair in 2014. Uh huh! And with Birdfair’s added focus of raising funds for bird conservation, there’s hasn’t been anything quite like it anywhere else–until now.

Introducing the inaugural American Birding Expo (ABE), rolling out this fall in Columbus, Ohio! This exciting event on this side of the pond is being managed by the good folks at Bird Watcher’s Digest, who, in planning for this new event, consulted with one of the British Birdfair founders, Tim Appleton (I mean, why reinvent the wheel, right?) According to the ABE website, “Our goal is to produce an event that is commercial/sales-oriented in its design, aimed at consumers who have an interest in birds and nature, and who share our strong commitmentlagrange to conservation. We have designed the Expo to emulate the same spirit and sense of community created by the wonderfully successful British Birdwatching Fair.”

The weekend event is free and open to the public, and will take place at the beautiful Grange Insurance Audubon Center, just a 10-minute walk from downtown Columbus in Scioto Audubon Metro Park. Vendors representing all aspects of the birding and nature market will display their products, goods, and services at the Expo. While admission is free, it’s a good idea to pre-register–then you will be entered into a special VIP raffle!

Eagle Optics is proud to be a sponsor of ABE, and we’ll have a vendor presence there as well. What can you expect to see in the vendor area? According to the ABE website, “The 2015 American Birding Expo features vendors offering optics, bird feeders and food, outdoor gear, birding destinations, tours, books, apps and media, clothing, festivals and events, photography equipment, clubs and organizations, bird houses and baths, gift items, and artwork.”  At this writing, there is still room for more vendors–click here to find out how to get a table!

ABE offers a special incentive to bird clubs! Each club can register to win The World’s Greatest Fundraising Package. In an effort to boost attendance, the bird club that brings the most attendees wins! The package contains optics, travel coupons, gift items, bird feeders, and more—all of which clubs can take back home to use for their own fundraising. Bird clubs can register here.

As I mentioned, raising money for bird conservation will be one of the cornerstones of ABE. This first year, funds will be raised to support an international conservation cause, a North American conservation cause, and a local conservation cause. This will be achieved through donations, a raffle, a silent auction, on-site games, and other channels. Read about the conservation initiatives here.

There is so much to see, do, and experience at the new American Birding Expo! Mark your calendar and plan to attend on Oct. 2-4, 2015. See the schedule of hours here, and check back to the website for updates. While you’re in the area, the beautiful city of Columbus has much to offer for the whole family. Make it a fabulous fall weekend in one of the Midwest’s great cities. We’ll see you there!

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

Golden Eagle Odyssey in the Midwest

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Part of learning about Golden Eagles on your first guided trip is, well–unlearning. You know, throwing away what you thought you knew about Golden Eagles in exchange for real facts. That’s what happened to many of the participants (myself included) on this recent National Eagle Center bus tour. Gather ’round. I’ll fill you in.

Our bus pulled away from the National Eagle Center, crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River, followed alongside the bottom land, then turned and steadily headed east–our first clue. Golden Eagles do not prefer habitat near water, as we know Bald Eagles do. It’s the bluffs in this area, some of which have undergone managed burns to eliminate pervasive Red Cedars, that the Golden Eagles like. Bluffs with these clearings near (but not at) the top, called “goat prairies” or “dry prairies” are the ones we were told to scan with our binoculars.

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As we traveled, we learned. How do we tell a juvenile Bald Eagle from a Golden Eagle? This is probably the easiest ID at which to fail. Case in point: last March in Nebraska, my birding partner snapped this documentary shot (below) of what I thought was a Golden Eagle. Upon what was I basing my ID? Sheer size. True, it was very close before we could scramble to set up the camera. But just because this eagle was big, didn’t mean it was a Golden. In truth, the size of both species is comparable. There are some key clues to help you distinguish one from the other.

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Tough to see details–but now I know the white wingpit on this bird confirms it as a juvie Bald Eagle. If I knew then what I know now, I could have asked myself: “Does the tail project further behind than the head sticks out in front?” And as it flew off, I would have looked for a slight dihedral in the wings while it soared. Great tips to remember to ID a Golden Eagle.

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The bus stopped periodically so we could get out and test our scanning skills. We saw a few Bald Eagles, deer, a Pileated Woodpecker, and nice views of a dark morph Rough-Legged Hawk. Horned Larks flew from the road’s edge as the bus rolled by. We kept our eyes on the bluffs.

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Around the next turn, we saw a few horses and riders. Not the sighting we expected! The bus driver was planning to stop here anyway, so we piled out. Then came more horses, and more. It was the Saturday birders vs. the local Saturday trail riders.

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The riders thought we were stopping to gawk at them, so some circled back to chat with us. They told us they hadn’t missed a Saturday ride all winter.

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You don’t often see someone riding a big draft horse. This one was a beauty. Meet Royal.

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The last of the horses and riders trotted off to join the group heading down the road. There must have been 30-40 of them.

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Then our trip leader, Scott Mehus, shouted, “Golden Eagle!” and we turned our attention back to our day’s objective. I trained my scope on the distant soaring raptor, and let my comrades have a closer look. We were pretty excited.

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Our trip naturalist, my friend Sharon Birdchick Stiteler, echoes the group’s enthusiasm in this pic. The eagle was too far away to photograph, but we enjoyed watching it soar for several minutes before we moved on to the next stop.

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By now we were retracing our route; we knew that there was little time left before we were out of the territory where these eagles would be found. At least for today. But somehow, Scott and Sharon found a perching Golden Eagle on this wooded bluff (below). The light was beginning to wane, so we couldn’t clearly see the bird’s golden blonde nape, but it was thrilling nonetheless.

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No doubt the eagle was (*fact alert*) checking the area for its favorite western Wisconsin menu items: Eastern Cottontail rabbit, Fox squirrel, and Eastern Grey squirrel.

The sun dipped behind the rolling hills, and our bus followed back along the Mississippi River floodplain, and over the bridge to the Eagle Center, which you can see in the far right, below.

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The National Eagle Center, in the charming city of Wabasha, Minnesota, is so impressive: it’s a beautiful, well-designed 15,000 square foot interpretive center right on the banks of the Mississippi River. Once inside, I met Donald, the center’s Golden Eagle Ambassador–one of several eagles housed there for educational purposes. These magnificent birds were rehabbed but are unable to be returned to the wild. Programs are available daily, giving visitors an up-close experience with these fascinating raptors.

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When you’re in the Midwest, I highly recommend a visit to this wonderful facility. And if you’re there in winter, get out into the bluffs with your binoculars. You might be fortunate enough to see an elusive, majestic Golden Eagle yourself.

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

Goodbye and Good Luck!

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One of the fun parts of my job is to represent Eagle Optics at Eagle Watching Days in Sauk City, Wisconsin in mid-January. I get to set up a table of binoculars at the observation area overlooking the Wisconsin River. The point of having binoculars there is to help people get a closer look at the Bald Eagles. Many folks come without binoculars of their own, so I loan them ours. Snow, cold, whatever January dishes out, it’s Bino Nina to the rescue!

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Last year it snowed so hard, I pulled the binocs into the back of my car, flipped up the tailgate, and handed out binoculars to bewildered but grateful passers-by. In doing so, we have a chance to share a smile, chat about optics, and enjoy the eagles together.

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Youngsters also appreciate using binoculars of an appropriate size for their small faces. Some have never looked through binoculars before! It’s an Aha! moment I never tire of witnessing.

In the afternoon, it’s good to head over to Veteran’s Memorial Park for one of the highlights of the weekend: when the staff members of Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI) release rehabbed Bald Eagles. This year, 3 eagles were launched from human arms to freedom in their new habitat along the Wisconsin River.

Below, Marge Gibson, co-founder (in 1990 with her husband Don) of REGI, holds an immature eagle ready to be released. Eagles are brought to REGI to receive medical attention and a safe place to recover from a number of injuries–including bone breaks, gunshot, and lead poisoning.

Photo by Tom Ashford

Photo by Tom Andrews

I remember when I was a little girl, it was extremely rare to see Bald Eagles in southern Wisconsin. Once it was determined that DDT was one of the culprits in eagles’ population decline, Wisconsin was the first state to ban DDT in 1969. It took many years of federal protection for their numbers to sufficiently recover, and in 1997, the Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered Species list. Now, we can expect to see eagles almost any time we go looking. I love that.

Today, REGI handles at least 100 injured or sick eagles a year. The work they do is truly miraculous. Below, Marge releases the eagle in front of a crowd of onlookers.

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We watched each eagle fly off over the river to its new life of freedom–and I thought about the caring citizens that found these injured and sick birds in the wild, and how important that person’s initial awareness was. Their initiative to help a Bald Eagle led to contact with REGI–and to that bird receiving the help it needed to live.

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How lucky we are to have such a facility in Wisconsin. Before they loaded up for the 3-hour drive back home to Antigo, I snapped a photo of the talented and dedicated REGI staff.

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You can follow the work these people do daily on REGI’s Facebook page. It’s fascinating stuff–the everyday tasks of enabling sick and injured birds to regain health and independence. It’s not only eagles that are rehabilitated. According to the REGI website, “While specializing in large raptors and swans, all avian species are accepted for rehabilitation at the center.”

It’s a monumental job. You can help by becoming a member, by making a tax-deductable donation, or by checking the Wish List for needed items. Educational programs and volunteer opportunities are available, too.  Thank you!

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

Duluth’s Hawk Ridge: Migration Headquarters!

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I’ve never lived very far from a great body of water (the Great Salt Lake, Lake Champlain, and the Great Lakes, including a short stint near the Pacific Ocean. The Caribbean Sea too, while I was a cruise ship entertainer some decades ago).  But magnificent Lake Superior, which contains 10% of the world’s fresh surface water, remains a favorite. I’ve camped on its shores and kayaked past its sea caves, marveled at its Apostle Islands, and toured its lighthouses and waterfalls along the North Shore.wirock2 One summer night while walking on a beach in Grand Marais, I chanced to find this stone (right)–which bears a striking resemblance to Wisconsin’s shape.

So a few weeks ago in late September, I drove 6 hours from home, straight north through the middle of Wisconsin–for a brand new Lake Superior experience. This time, I’d be there during the fabled raptor migration.

As a birder, you can’t do much better on a fall weekend in the Midwest than to stand overlooking the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes while migrating raptors stream overhead. If you have been to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota, you know exactly what I mean. From where you stand, the grandeur of Lake Superior is laid out far below in all its radiant blue glory. In between, lie the hilly neighborhoods of Duluth: land which radiates the sun’s mid-day heat to create thermals: columns of warmed air that lift and carry the raptors in slow, effortlessly rising spirals. It is mesmerizing.

One of the first things Susan, Ed and I check out when arriving at Hawk Ridge is the score board, which is constantly updated throughout the day, every day–as monitoring takes place from early August to mid-November.

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The expert birders up on the Count Platform were fascinating to watch: eyes on the sky, each facing their appointed direction, and at a constant state of focused attention. I wondered how they could keep such an accurate account of what was flying by, especially at times when kettles of 300 of more mixed species made their way through.

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Moving closer, I noticed the click-counters attached to the platform railing. No doubt each counter had its designation for Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Bald Eagle, and so on. Brilliant!

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We sat in on a Raptor ID class held in an open-air classroom to sharpen our knowledge of wing and tail shapes, flight characteristics, and learn other clues to recognize the variety of birds sailing by. It felt like being at camp! Wooden benches accommodated individuals, couples, and eager families, and loaner binoculars were handed out to anyone who needed them.

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The Hawk Ridge staff member Gail Johnejack did an excellent job with a quick Binocular 101 for the multi-age group, and the flyover raptors themselves provided the opportunity to test our new skills. At one point during the class, a guy on the Count Platform shouted, “Golden Eagle!”, and we all followed its majestic form overhead with hearts racing. What a thrill!

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A popular part of this day (besides the delicious food procured from vendors’ trailers parked along the road) was the bird banding demonstration. Here, holding a Cedar Waxwing, certified bander Margie Menzies explains the importance of capturing and banding migrating birds, and what information is gathered and recorded in the short time the bird is in hand.

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When the bird was ready to be released, a lucky volunteer from the audience was chosen to do the honors.

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And the chosen volunteer wasn’t always a child. Even a passing motorist pauses to take in the magic.

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Below, if you look closely, you’ll see a released young Sharp-shinned Hawk, which flew over the crowd and toward my camera before veering off to continue its journey south.

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This young man (below, center), Count Interpreter Cliff Nienhaus, had the crowd’s collective ear as he adeptly alerted us of approaching birds, pointed out species by their identifying traits, and spotted kettles starting to form.

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There was something for everyone: if there wasn’t a kettle of raptors floating over, there might be a freighter moving silently along through sparkling water far below.

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Before leaving, I posed with staff members Gail Johnajeck (left) and Katie Swanson (right), thanked them for their good work, and vowed to return to Hawk Ridge. It rates as one of my favorite Lake Superior experiences. If you have a chance to visit during spring or fall migrations, do! You can also donate to keep Hawk Ridge, its research, and its education programs going strong.

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

The ABA’s Birders’ Exchange: Optics for a Cause

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As our migrating birds make their journey to their wintering grounds to the south, I wonder: how many of us know where they go, and who will appreciate them when they get there? A large percentage of the songbirds we love are heading for Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. And while most of us can’t accompany our feathered friends on their journey south or meet them at their destination, we can be assured people at those locations, right this very minute, are eagerly anticipating their return.

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Birders Exchange binoculars in use at the summer camp in the Botanical garden in Santo Domingo, 2012

So, who can claim these birds as family? Who keeps track of them? Who studies, monitors, and helps protect them? People on both ends of the itinerary: you and I, of course, but also conservationists, researchers, and educators. In many Latin American countries, these groups lack the resources for the most basic equipment, optics and otherwise, with which to do their good work. That’s where Birders’ Exchange comes in!

Birders’ Exchange supplies optics, books, digital cameras and sound recording equipment, laptops, and other new and used donated tools to researchers, educators, university students, and children‘s programs throughout the Neotropics.

Recipients are people who are conserving both migratory and resident birds, protecting some of the most ecologically important habitats, discovering new species to science, and teaching children about the value of birds, one of the earth’s most precious resources. Recipients have immense pride in their environment and understand its importance and value.

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What began as a small, optics “recycling” program at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in 1990, Birders’ Exchange has become the major conservation initiative of the American Birding Association. Eagle Optics is one of the many proud supporters of this project, and you can be, too.

You may send in donations of aforementioned items, or act as a courier to deliver equipment if your travel plans include destinations where recipients are waiting.

If you are part of a birding club, consider organizing an equipment drive! The Birders’ Exchange page on the ABA

Collared Aracari photo by Ben Lizdas

Collared Aracari photo by Ben Lizdas

website tells you how.  There is a 7-minute video, an excellent overview of the Birders’ Exchange program, which is available to you to show to your bird club, or to any other appropriate gathering. Contact Birders’ Exchange for information, questions, and comments.

It benefits us all when we strengthen the connection with our birding partners in the Neotropics.  In the coming weeks, they will be welcoming the birds that we’ve been enjoying here since spring. By supporting Birders’ Exchange, together we can empower grassroots research, conservation, and environmental education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Please consider a donation of money or equipment to this worthy endeavor.

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

Space Coast : The Place to Be Jan. 21-26, 2015

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What began as a friendly birding competition in 1997, Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival has evolved into one of the best-known birding festivals in the U.S. Combining an ideal location with excellent facilities, world-class educators, and an impressive array of opportunities for birders and photographers, this festival needs to be on your calendar, tout de suite!

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Photo by Roy Halpin

For many of us, late January is a perfect time to be in a place other than our own wintery environs. And yes, that includes our feathered friends. You just get yourselves down to Florida–the birds will be waiting for you! Space Coast has field trips, boat tours, classroom presentations, and speakers aplenty to help you immerse yourself in all this unique area has to offer. You’ll be walking alongside, listening to, and learning from some of the most knowledgeable people in the birding industry. Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience, doesn’t it? Yet once you go, you’ll want to return year after year. This festival is habit forming!

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USFWS photo

There are diverse habitats in the Titusville/Merritt Island area: estuaries, islands, creeks, mangrove canals, and rivers are legendary for birds (Space Coast boasted 200 species spotted in 2011), but also wildlife study and observation. Therefore, you could well be treated to viewings of Bottle-Nosed Dolphin, manatees, alligators, and other mammals and reptiles. The nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is not to be missed; it’s an important sanctuary, and home to the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay, a species found only in this region. Bring your binocular, spotting scope, and camera and prepare to take your birding to the next level. Meet new friends from far and wide who have come for the same reasons. That’s what Space Coast is all about!

According to the festival website, “The featured bird of the 2015 festival is the Red-cockcaded Woodpecker – an endangered species that makes its home in mature pine forests. The Red-cockcaded Woodpecker is best seen in Brevard County at the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park and nearby Orange County at Hal Scott Regional Preserve & Park. Classroom presentations and field trips will introduce you to these interesting birds that have an ecological niche in the life of our pine forests.”

A proud, long time sponsor of the festival, Eagle Optics will be there again this year, ready to show you optics from almost every major manufacturer. Stop by our booth in the vendor area, try out a spotting scope, and treat yourself to the astonishing details scopes can provide. Need a binocular upgrade? We have what you need, along with the expert advice and friendly service you deserve.

You know, the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival might just be the highlight of your winter. Check out the festival website and make plans to attend this January. We’d love to see you in Florida!

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

Wisconsin Reader Rendezvous Success!

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Earlier this year I told you about a series of small-group birding adventures dreamed up by our friends at Bird Watcher’s Digest (BWD). In its inaugural year, these Reader Rendezvous events have been enormously popular–starting in February in Minnesota with Owls With Al, then August in West Virginia: Birding Valhalla with Julie Zickefoose, and last weekend’s Optics Opstravaganza, right here at Eagle Optics!  It was a thrill for us to host the participants, talking optics and showing them some of the natural treasures in our neck of the woods–beautiful south central Wisconsin–during fall’s peak color.

Beginning with a Wisconsin cookout at our shop on Friday evening, the Rendezvouzers mingled and shopped, sampled some of our state’s best beer and bratwurst, and had their optics cleaned and checked by the experts in anticipation of the full weekend of activity. BWD Editor Bill Thompson III adeptly serenaded us, and BWD’s talented sales director, Wendy Clark, jumped in for a duet, to everyone’s delight.

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

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Blue Crane photo by Diane Porter

(Blue Crane photo by Diane Porter)

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Whooping Crane pair (photo Ben Lizdas)

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

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

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

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

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Sandhill Crane flyover from the Drumlin overlook

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

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

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

See more photos from the Optics Opstravaganza here.

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

For the best beer and bratwurst though, well, you’ll need to come to Wisconsin!

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

One Weekend, Two Bird Fests, and a Great Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Check back for Part 2: Hawk Ridge!

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