Binoculars are the primary tool for bringing the world closer of all who observe nature. They are also are useful in military, law enforcement, sailing, spectator sports, sightseeing, and many other activities.
♫ 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 →
When the dog days of summer become the birding doldrums, some birders turn to other flying creatures. The most accessible of these are butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies, all of which require binoculars with excellent close focus. It was unusual recently that a birder birding San Timoteo Creek in Redlands, Riverside County, CA discovered a pair of Filigree Skimmer dragonflies (Pseudoleon superbus). As the species has only recorded twice before in California, we went to take a look. Continue reading →
Gray Thrasher is a non-migratory endemic to Baja California, so when Sunday afternoon on August 2, 2015 was interrupted with a report of the first US occurrence in San Diego, we had to make the 75 mile drive and take a look.
Finding the Gray Thrasher
The Gray Thrasher was found by John Bruin, Lisa Ruby, and Terry Hurst at the southwest end of Famosa Slough. This area has had its share of rarities, including Bar-tailed Godwit. Once we arrived and parked, we quickly found a couple of dozen birders standing around. Others were searching for the bird in other parts of the area. We learned where it had been seen (about 45 minutes before our arrival) and which way it went. Since it obviously wasn’t where everyone was standing, we decided to look around. Just after our fourth pass by a large lemonade berry bush, someone spotted the Gray Thrasher deep in the foliage. Birders surrounded the bush looking for a better angle. All of a sudden, the thrasher decided it was hungry and came out onto the slope to forage in the leaves and twigs only about 15 feet away from us. That was too close for my Kowa TSN-884, but just right for binoculars. 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)
Some of you may already have heard about the Victory SF binoculars, the new high-end binocular from Zeiss. Zeiss added a new binocular to the Victory line: the SF. Victory SF binoculars are a completely re-imagined roof prism design. Zeiss now says that Victory SFs will be available for purchase in January, 2015.
Conveniently, we have first-hand experience with this binocular. I participated in the official Zeiss Victory SF Experience press event in Europe in June, 2014 and got to bird with a pre-production Victory SF for a week (For a travelogue of the press event birding, see Zeiss Victory SF Experience Tour, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it, so I happily took one for the team! We also had a pre-production Victory SF model in the store for a week this past August. Even though we haven’t seen a production model Victory SF, we can tell you already that it’s a spectacular nature viewing binocular. Continue reading →
I recently took the fall pelagic birding trip out of Dana Point Harbor. Recent sightings of a Red-billed Tropicbird in the Santa Barbara Channel gave us hope. Hurricane systems south of us off the coast of Baja suggested that the fall pelagic might produce great birds. There had been greater than usual numbers of Craveri’s Murrelets in the channel. Many people were on the boat specifically looking for that species. Plus, September is the peak of Blue Whale occurrence in the channel. We knew beforehand that cetaceans rather than birds might dominate this trip. In the end, the trip met all of those expectations. Well, except for the tropicbird… Rats! Continue reading →
Hairstreaks high-jacked us on a recent birding trip to Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains! Hairstreak butterflies are found in a variety of habitats here in southern California.
Gray Hairstreak, nectaring
On this trip, we found two species: the common Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) and the rarer Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus). Gray Hairstreaks are one of the most widespread butterflies in North America, native to all lower 48 states, southern Canada and northern Mexico. Like most hairstreaks, the Gray tends to fold its wings when landing. Recognize this butterfly by the light gray coloration, prominent orange rectangle on the underside of the hind wing, and a line of dark spots on both fore and hind wings.
Little hair-like extensions of the hind wing rear margins form the “hairs” that give these butterflies their name. On Gray Hairstreaks, the hair is fairly prominent; it is much less so on some other members of the family, like the Elfins or the Hedgerow Hairstreak. Continue reading →
The Orange County chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (OC NABA) held its annual butterfly counts this weekend. Counts took place in Thomas Riley Regional Park and O’Neill Regional Park. It was my privilege to participate in the Riley count and to lead the O’Neill count. We had a pretty much ideal day for them, warm and clear without being beastly hot, though a little more moisture to bring on a bloom of more flowers would have been helpful.
As it was, the diversity of butterfly species was a bit on the low side, while the numbers of some species, notably Checkered Whites and Marine Blues were fairly impressive. We had 35 Marine Blues on the Holy Jim Canyon section of the O’Neill count alone, mostly clustering around wet mud puddles. They were difficult to count accurately since they were always moving, and you had to be careful that you didn’t miss something different hiding amongst them. We had a handful of duskywing butterflies, mostly Funereal Duskywings (photo). Many of these were freshly emergent, so the subtle markings in the upper wings and the white trailing edge of the hind wings were particularly bright and well-defined. Continue reading →
Our final day of the Zeiss Victory SF tour started on the bus at 4:30 am. We drove for over three hours to a site well south of Budapest, Hungary. The border stop provided us with our first good looks at Crested Larks. These attractive larks commonly inhabit the fields and roadside edges. There was little time to look at them though as we continued the long drive. Our first stop was a great one. We parked along a rural road just outside a tiny town. There we immediately found several Lesser Grey Shrikes. These birds look much like our Loggerhead Shrikes, except they are warmer grey tone in the back and crown. They also show a distinct pinkish wash (photo) to the belly and upper chest.
Also present there were a few European Rollers. These handsome birds are overall sky blue color, slightly darker than Bee-eaters with contrasting reddish-brown wings and back. Rollers are fairly large, being slightly bigger and rather stockier than a Western Scrub-Jay. They are named for their looping roller-coaster-like display flights, which we got to see briefly, sadly only at great distance. Also present at this site was a hunting Little Owl that kept popping up onto a distant fence post. A pair of lovely Stonechats flew about the margins of a rough field edge. Continue reading →
The next day’s Zeiss Victory SF tour activities started later in the morning. However, some of us were unwilling to let the best birding of the day slide by unused. So a few of us rose at 5:00 am to walk to reedy marshes that spread like fingers into the edge of town. What a great decision! Our first reward was a brief but definitive view of Savi’s Warbler on the marsh edge. Loudly singing its distinctive low-pitched hum of a song; easily overlooked if not focused upon.