Dan is the owner and president of Optics4Birding. An avid nature lover and traveler he has ventured into some of the most remote regions on the planet. As author of the Owling.com website he has spent years promoting the conservation of nature. In contrast he comes from a long career as a senior Program/Mfg engineer in Aerospace design and development.
NASA Captures “EPIC” Earth Image (click on photos to enlarge)
Has mankind really driven the planet to the edge of a catastrophic crash of life? Is greed blinding us to what is right in front of our faces? Some would say maybe these claims are a little too reactionary. Okay, so a bit of Florida gets wet, and maybe some people will have to move inland. Can’t science just come up with new technologies to solve the dilemmas we face? Does industry just need to develop a practical and economical electric car? What would happen if we just did “business as usual”? The claims of doom are a bit extreme and, if we accept them at face value, they are really inconvenient to living our lives. What is science telling us about what is happening right now, what we face in the very near future, and what can be done to avoid it?
Earth really is exceptional. From our naturalist point of view, this planet’s life is unimaginably beautiful and breath-takingly diverse. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that Earth’s abundance and diversity is disappearing. There is a point at which this decline becomes mass extinction, and that point is much closer than you may think. Our own survival is indeed inextricably tied to the health of our world. If we expect science to save us, then we need to listen to what science is telling us. Continue reading →
Today the buzz is the solar eclipse. Although here in Southern California we did not get the full solar eclipse, it was still a pleasure to see the partial occlusion. Of course, having a store full of spotting scopes and a solar filter for a spotting scope we snuck out briefly from our work to take a couple quick photos at the peak of the event, out in the parking lot.
The Optics4Birding store is located about 45 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The peak of the eclipse happened at about 10:20 AM. It really was quite interesting. Although without filters to look through you would never know it was happening. The sun is so bright that from our vantage point and even with about 60% of the sun being eclipsed, with the naked eye you didn’t notice any difference. Contrary to this, wearing solar filter glasses it was quite interesting. Looking at this through a spotting scope was really interesting.
On the Kowa 88mm TSN 884 we used a Panasonic Lumix G-6 Micro 4/3 camera with an Olympus 14-42 zoom lens. We attached this using the Kowa TSN-DA10 digiscoping adapter. Both setups are very simple to take pictures with. Normally we would be taking nature photos. Of course, this was a natural event! Typically, though, most of us are photographing birds or animals with our spotting scopes.
It did make for a fun morning and a nice break from work. The weather cooperated and we had nice clear skies. Certainly, many people will have gone out to see this today. Having the right stuff to enjoy these type of events is always a pleasure.
The highly sought after Unspotted Saw-whet Owl inhabits the cloud forest mostly above 8,000 feet in elevation. In this photo, light dew is visible on the owls head from the mist in the forest. In this photo, light dew is visible on the owls head from the mist in the forest.
After 15 years, I finally got brave enough to go back in search of the Chiapas owls. Chiapas is the southernmost state of Mexico that borders Guatemala. This was pretty much a mandatory destination to complete our sister owling.com website. There is no other state in Mexico with as many owl species as Chiapas. This area is also crucial to our current understanding of owl taxonomy. New divisions and more accurate classification of the owls are slowly becoming known and being clarified by science.
Chiapas is spectacular for wildlife and has an extraordinary history, but suffers from terrible pollution and horrific habitat destruction. While the natural wealth is immense, the population is poor, and traveling there can be dangerous. Having done this before, my plan was to mitigate risk, so I invited a friend and hired a guide. We documented nine species of owls in nine nights (video, recording, photograph, etc.) along with over a hundred eighty species of birds and mammals in the daytime. I will cover more of this in an upcoming article. Continue reading →
Eastern Screech-Owl is about the same size as an European Starling (same length and 2/3 the weight)
Southern Florida and the Everglades is home to five different species of owls. We decided to take a trip to Sothern Florida and search for the owls in the Everglades and upper Keys. North America has twenty species of owls. The Eastern Screech-Owl is the only owl species that is resident only east of the Rockies. It would be the primary owl of our searches. Barred Owl, rare in the west, would be our second target. With a new upcoming release of our sister Owling.com website, Optics4Birding sent me off to the east coast to document the owls in the Everglades. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it! Continue reading →
♫ and a partridge in a pear tree ♪ … oops no pear trees.
I took a very brief trip (5 days) to see the winter birds of Calgary Canada. I did this at the end of January and beginning of February. My primary reason for traveling to this area was to look for Snowy and Hawk Owls. In the continental United States these two owls are not very common. Small numbers usually do show up though most years in the northern states. Hawk Owl would be the most uncommon of these two species. Along with the owls, the mammals and winter birding this far north promised to offer other interesting species. These would include several that I would not find in Southern California. There would also be some that may not be very common in the lower 48 states at all.
The Grey Partridges are a pleasure to find. There were several coveys in the area. These were new to me. They are fairly common this far north although I had never seen one. I have been singing 🎼 “and a partridge in a pear tree” ♫ every Christmas since I was a kid. It was a pleasure to actually have a picture in my mind of what they look like. Seeing them in action was a pleasure. They seemed quite similar to our quail being in groups running around on the ground (missed any in pear trees!). I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to bring a pair of Zeiss Victory SF 10×42 Binoculars with me for review. For now, all I will say is “WOW, The views through these binoculars are incredible”. Continue reading →
An adult Flammulated Owl near Lake Davis in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California.
Flammulated Owl is a spring and summer resident throughout the California Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is the second smallest owl in North America, and smallest of the eared owls. Only the Elf Owl is smaller. It is also the most migratory owl in North America. This owl completely leaves the US every year for its winter haunts in Southern Mexico and Guatemala.
Flammulated Owl – Size and Habits
The Flammulated Owl is just slightly larger in size than a House Sparrow. Quite often it is 30 to 40 feet high in thick pines. Being dark brown in color and having a very ventriloquial call it is difficult to locate. The strictly nocturnal Flammulated Owl can be extremely difficult to get good looks at in the darkness of night. This is further complicated by the fact that it is almost completely mute outside of its breeding season. That time is not now. It is vocal for about a month between mid-May and mid-June. Continue reading →
This year we stayed close to home to watch the 4th of July 2015 fireworks. Walking to the top of the hill that is next to our local high school we were able to see several fireworks displays from one place. The beauty of our local 2015 firework shows were quite impressive and certainly worth an attempt at taking nice photos of. Since I had tried taking photos of the fireworks last year I figured my 2015 firework photos might be a bit better. As it turns out they are!
How to Take Fireworks Photos
So for you guys out there that want to take photos of the fireworks here is what I did. Last year I shot the fireworks at ISO 200. This year I brought that down to ISO 100. Last year I shot the photos at f/8. This year I shot my photos at f/11 to get better depth of field. Both years I shot using a bulb setting so I could vary the shutter time. Last year the photos we taken mostly from about 3 to 6 seconds exposure time. This year most of my shots were taken with a 6-10 second exposure time.
Our 4th of July Greeting
Hope you enjoy the pictures and that this year will continue to bring many outdoor viewing opportunities. A good pair of binoculars and or spotting scope from Optics4Birding makes the viewing experiences of life more enjoyable. Happy 4th of July to you from all the Optics4Birding staff.
Happy birthday United States. We at Optics4Birding have great hopes for both our people and nature. Both are tied together. In order for us to stay healthy, the world of nature also need to stay healthy. Getting outdoors to see the fireworks is a good start for the remainder of the year.
Click on the photo to enlarge it and to page through other firework photos.
2015 fireworks in Southern California (click image to enlarge)
Mid-April we took a trip to Puerto Rico to see the Puerto Rican birds and wildlife. As expected, the weather was warm and humid. Luckily we did not run into any rain at all, which made for a very productive nature watching adventure. The birdlife was abundant. The coastline and rainforests were absolutely beautiful. There are 18 endemic species of Puerto Rican birds and 30 endemic reptiles and amphibians. Our main interest was the birds. We did, though, run across some of the of the other endemics too. I am sorry to say that there are also 13 wildlife species that have gone extinct. One of these was a Puerto Rican Barn Owl that I would have really liked to have seen. Several threatened species are in jeopardy. Continue reading →
We took a very brief trip (2 nights) during mid-May to see the Yosemite owls. We principally timid our trip to correspond with the peak calling period of the Flammulated Owl. Also by planning a trip before end of May you can avoid masses of people that arrive for Memorial Day. What we did not plan for was the moon phase and rising. As it turned out there was no moon and overcast skies. Managing to photograph this sparrow sized owl on a pitch-black night, in a dense forest is almost impossible. We spent several hours on our first evening trying to locate this very small owl. Modifying our search, we decided to look for some of the other Yosemite owls.
Great Gray Owl – A Miss
Great Gray Owl in Yosemite Wawona Meadow
On our way into the park we had heard Great Gray Owls calling in the Wawona meadow. We headed back to this location to see what we could find. Two Great Gray Owls were calling in the forest across the meadow. WE spent about a half hour trying to entice the owls out of the forest. Finally one of the owls flew over to the tree that we were standing under. The problem was that he was about 40 feet up and there was no clear view to the owl. After another half hour of trying to get him to fly over to the next set of trees, that we had walked over to, he flew back across the meadow into the forest. At this point we decided to try another location just outside the northwest side of the park. Continue reading →
The Gray Jay ranges from east to west across the northern boreal forests of America. “Camp robbers” are what they are popularly know as. They may even fly onto someones hand or head for food.
Description and Family
Gray Jay is unique in appearance, relative to the other crow, jay, and magpie members of the Corvidae family. Its small black bill is the most notable difference. This gives it the appearance of an over-sized chickadee.
The Gray Jay is medium size and fluffy. It is a pale gray jay with a light underside and no crest. All races have black eyes, feet, legs, and bill. In North America there are three readily distinguishable populations of Gray Jay. The photos here show the Rocky Mountain version or color pattern. Pacific birds have a darker head and brownish tinged backs. Taiga (northern) populations are grayer above and have a slight grayish belly. There are eleven races within these three color forms. Continue reading →