Monday, June 27, 2005

Master fliers of the bird kingdom

The hovering hummingbird is halfway between insects and birds when it comes to flight, aerodynamic research published in Nature magazine reveals.

"What led us to this study was the long-held view that hummingbirds fly like big insects," says Douglas Warrick, of Oregon State University in Corvallis. Many experts had argued that hummingbirds' skill at hovering, of which insects are the undisputed masters, means that the two groups may stay aloft in the same way: by generating lift from a wing's upstroke as well as the down.

Link: Article from BBC News

Link: Nature Magazine Article

Anna's Hummingbird image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Friday, June 24, 2005

Chickadees Sing Complex Warnings

June 24, 2005— U.S. researchers have discovered one of the most sophisticated signaling systems among animals for warning of danger — alarm calls that can describe the kind of predator and even its size.

Writing in the current issue of Science, lead author Chris Templeton of the University of Washington in Seattle reported that black-capped chickadees warn birds of the same feather with information-packed calls.

Link: Full Article

Link: All about the Black-capped Chickadee from Cornell Labs

Black-capped Chickadee image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

New Radian Digiscoping Adapters

Take a look at the new digiscoping adapters by Radian. I had an opportunity to tinker around with both adapter sizes and they should greatly simplify "the digiscoping dilemma" for a lot of people. For a bracket-based adapter, they are very small and lightweight. Best of all, they are relatively inexpensive compared to a lot of other “universal” digiscoping solutions out there. One of my co-workers took the time to test the adapters out of different spotting scopes, so we’ve even got a list of scopes that they’ll work with. Just remember, your digital camera has to have the standard tripod thread in order to attach it to the adapter. Still, I prefer the filter thread-based adapters, but if your camera cannot be converted to one of the conventional filter thread sizes, then this is probably the best way to go!

Small Adapter fits:

Audubon Lightwave 60mm
Bushnell Spacemaster 15-45x60
Eagle Optics Raven 78mm
Eagle Optics Triumph 50mm
Eagle Optics Denali 60mm
Fujinon Super 80
Fujinon Super 60
Leupold Sequoia
Nikon Sky and Earth 60mm
Nikon Sky and Earth 80mm
Nikon Fieldscope 60/82 with 20-45x/25-56x Zoom

Large Adapter fits:

Bushnell Elite 60mm
Bushnell Elite 70mm
Bushnell Elite 80mm
Bushnell Natureview 60mm
Kowa 60mm with 20-60x Zoom
Kowa 66mm with 20-60x Zoom
Kowa 82mm with 20-60x Zoom
Leica Televid 62mm
Leica Televid 77mm
Nikon Fieldscope 60/82mm with 20-60x/25-75x Zoom
Pentax PF-60 ED

Pentax PF-80 ED
Swarovski ATS/STS 65mm
Swarovski ATS/STS 80mm
Zeiss Diascope 65mm
Zeiss Diascope 85mm

Monday, June 20, 2005

March of the Penguins - coming soon!

This looks so amazing! You have to watch the trailer for this...

"Each winter, alone in the pitiless ice deserts of Antarctica, deep in the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, a truly remarkable journey takes place as it has done for millennia. Emperor penguins in their thousands abandon the deep blue security of their ocean home and clamber onto the frozen ice to begin their long journey into a region so bleak, so extreme, it supports no other wildlife at this time of year. In single file, the penguins march blinded by blizzards, buffeted by gale force winds. Resolute, indomitable, driven by the overpowering urge to reproduce, to assure the survival of the species..."

Link: March of the Penguins Trailer (requires QuickTime)

(Other trailer formats are available on the Warner Bros. website.)

© 2005 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Deming Way Digiscoping

Last evening after work I stopped along Deming Way in Middleton to digiscope grassland bird species. While this has been a great location for viewing Bobolinks, Dickcissels, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows and more, I know that the land is slated for industrial park development. Almost worse than the impending development is the field mowing that usually takes place before the birds have a chance to finish raising their young. Upon arrival, it didn’t take long to find some singing birds in the late afternoon light. Dickcissels were singing all around me and a few Eastern Meadowlarks chimed into the chorus. On my way back to my car, a curious Eastern Kingbird perched on a twig atop a tree right above me. I had to back away because it was too close for my spotting scope!

Grassland bird populations are declining faster than any other group of avian species in North America. Recent decades have seen declines of from 25% to 65% in both migrant and resident bird species of the grassland: Henslow’s sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Dickcissels, Grasshopper Sparrows, and even the Eastern Meadowlark are losing ground fast.

I know of at least one great way to help them out!

Eastern Meadowlark image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Vortex Stokes DLS versus Leupold Golden Ring

Here’s an addendum to my “~$900.00 price-point binocular” review from a few months ago that I posted on As the Leupold Golden Ring 8x42 wasn’t in stock at the time, I spent a few hours at work this morning comparing it to the Vortex Stokes DLS 8x42.

The Binoculars were tripod mounted on Bogen 3021BN legs and 3130 heads with linear resolution charts placed at 25 feet (indoors) and 75 yards (outdoors [sunny day with slight shimmer]). Lowlight tests were conducted in a room with the lights off and stray light entering through an open doorway. I am not including the Bushnell Elite 8x43 this time, as I can confidently categorize it as second place to both the Leupold GR and the Vortex DLS.

I'm employing a standard “A - F” letter-grading system. Try to think of this scoring not only as a comparison relative to each binocular, but also against all other binoculars. I know this isn’t very scientific, but it’s the best context I can offer.

Ergonomic Feel score: Vortex DLS: B+ / Leupold GR: C-

COMMENTS: The first thing you will notice about the Leupold GR when taking it out of the box is its 33.7 oz weight. Most birders do not want binoculars this heavy. You may have briefly seen a weight of 29 oz on Leupold and their dealer literature/catalogs, but I verified it on two shipping scales and got 32.8 and 33.2 ounces. Leupold is showing the “33.7 oz” weight on their website. If Leupold built this binocular specifically for birding I would give them a D- grade. However, I know their core users are hunters. Though there are lower grades on other aspects of the Leupold GR, this is the most critical point I experienced with it. The Vortex DLS weighs in at a friendly 26.4 oz.

Build Quality score: Vortex DLS: A / Leupold GR: A

COMMENTS: These two binoculars are very well constructed to withstand extreme use in the field. Since I can’t actually test their durability without potentially damaging them, this is a subjective guess. Both binoculars are waterproof and nitrogen purged. The Leupold has texturing on the rubber armoring for a sure-grip, whereas the Vortex armoring is smooth and has a softer feel in the hand, but still excellent grip quality. The barrels are quite a bit wider on the Leupold. I guess I’m digressing to ergonomic feel here, so it will suffice to say both binoculars are durably constructed.

Eyepiece/Eyecup score: Vortex DLS: A / Leupold GR: B

COMMENTS: Both are multi-position twist-up. Both offer eye-relief click-stops and have plenty of eye-relief for eyeglass wearers (DLS: 18mm / LGR: 17mm). Nice wide ocular openings for both binoculars. On the downside, the Leupold GR’s eyecups are very large. It doesn’t matter so much for me because I’m an eyeglass wearer. However, when I took my glasses off, I couldn’t comfortably rest the eyecups into my eye sockets. Two of my colleagues offered the same criticism of the Leupold GR’s eyecups.

Diopter score: Vortex DLS: C / Leupold GR: D

COMMENTS: I personally favor focus-knob pull-out/push-in diopters, so I’m not a fan of right-side barrel ones, so neither binocular has totally me won over on this point. The Leupold’s diopter has one raised and grooved area 1mm high by 8mm long by 4mm wide along the ring that made it difficult to adjust with my fingertips – it’s not high enough and/or large enough to get a firm grip on it for me. The entire circumference on the Vortex diopter is raised and grooved making it much easier to adjust. Hopefully, you won’t be making frequent adjustments. Leupold could have done a lot better here.

Strap eyelets score: Vortex DLS: B / Leupold GR: A+

COMMENTS: Leupold does not want you to lose your binocular – the eyelets to thread the strap through are structurally superior to most binoculars I’ve used. They are thick, metal, set out from the body and very wide so just about any binocular strap ought to thread through it regardless of its width.

Tripod Adapter-ready score: Vortex DLS: C / Leupold GR: D-

COMMENTS: Where is the tripod adapter thread on the Leupold? I haven’t figured it out yet. Instead, in place of the thumbscrew that normally reveals the adapter thread, Leupold offers users locking IPD (inter pupillary distance) -- this is probably useful for hunters crawling around on the woodland floor.

Maybe this isn’t as important of a feature as I’m making it out to be, but when I go to Thomson Prairie to scan for Upland Sandpipers, I very much enjoy tripod-mounting my binoculars (I use Swarovski’s quick-release binocular tripod adapter, and it rules).

For test purposes, I was able to use Cardoza Creation’s “Sure-loc” tripod mount for the Leupold - it is sort of wobbly, but at least you’re not out of options for tripod use. Even with binoculars that have a thread, you still need an “L” bracket adapter, so either way there is something extra you have to purchase. This is a minor point, but something I thought others might like to know.

Field-of-View score: Vortex DLS: A / Leupold GR: A

COMMENTS: Both offer a fairly wide 7.4 degree field-of-view – can’t complain about anything here.

Brightness score: Vortex DLS: A / Leupold GR: B-

COMMENTS: The DLS was brighter in every test I conducted. In low-light tests, the DLS was discernibly brighter, and on the indoor 25ft resolution chart test it was like turning on a light switch compared to the Leupold.

Contrast score: Vortex DLS: B / Leupold GR: B+

COMMENTS: I liked the contrast better in the Leupold. Especially on the indoor 25ft resolution chart test - black bars, lines and numbers looked bolder to my eye.

Color score: Vortex DLS: B+ / Leupold GR: B-

COMMENTS: Whites on the Leupold had a greenish color cast where the DLS rendered neutrally. The Leupold also had slightly more greenish color fringing (chromatic aberration) on terminating contrast edges, evident on resolution chart blocks and lines. Maybe this is a tradeoff for the slightly better contrast.

Resolution score: Vortex DLS @ 25 feet: B / Leupold GR: B

Resolution score: Vortex DLS @ 75 yards: B / Leupold GR: C+

COMMENTS: Resolution-wise, these two binoculars are very similar. The Leupold only lost a slight edge against the DLS when glassing at greater distances.

Edge Sharpness Score: Vortex DLS: B / Leupold GR: A

By my judgment, when viewing the 25-foot resolution chart, the Leupold held sharpness farther across the field versus the DLS. Both binoculars are pretty decent in this respect when compared to mid-ranged priced binoculars, but the sharpness held across a larger area relative to the entire field on the Leupold.

Close focus score: Vortex DLS: A+ (4.5 feet) / Leupold GR: A (6 feet)

COMMENTS: Either binocular works well for close-focus applications.

Focus-travel score: Vortex DLS: B (1.25 turns) / Leupold GR: A (1.5 turns)

COMMENTS: The Vortex DLS has a very fast focus and I recognize not everyone is going to like this feature. I found the Leupold’s focus offers slightly more forgiveness when fine focusing versus the DLS.

Focus Feel score: Vortex DLS: A / Leupold GR: A

COMMENTS: Focus travel is comfortable with no stiction or differential direction tension on both binoculars.

IPD (inter-pupillary distance) score: Vortex DLS: A (56mm – 75mm) / Leupold GR: A (56mm to 75mm)

COMMENTS: Both work fine for me! If you are aware of an IPD issue when using binoculars, have your ophthalmologist measure your IPD for compatibility with your eyes.

A few comments about accessories:

Both binoculars round out the package with a nice case, strap and covers for the objective lenses and a rainguard. The objective lens cover for the Leupold GR is a one-piece non-thethered cover that seems very fragile at the connection point between the two caps, and it does not stay attached very well.


I think birders will benefit from the ergonomically friendlier, brighter image, color neutrality on the Vortex Stokes DLS 8x42. The fact is, the Leupold Golden Ring is very heavy. The hunting fandom that Leupold owns will ensure many Golden Ring binoculars enter the field, and they seem solidly built for rugged use.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Weird Warbler!

Allen Chartier made observations, recorded data and banded this interesting hybrid warbler on May 14, 2005 at Metro Beach Metropark, Macomb County, Michigan.

Allen writes:

"There seems to be general agreement that one parent is Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), while opinions on the other parent are mainly split between Chestnut-sided (Dendroica pensylvanica) and Golden-winged (Vermivora chrysoptera), with "Brewster's" running a distant third. Other possibilities suggested have included Black-throated Green (Dendroica virens) and Black-throated Blue (Dendroica caerulescens), and one suggestion was that this may be a pure Black-and-white Warbler showing some leucism and/or xanthochroism."

Link: More images and information about the warbler.

Hybrid Warbler image used with permission © 2005 Allen Chartier

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Birding and Biking

Ye old reliable Geo Prism conked out and is in the shop for a few days, so I decided to ride my bicycle to work today. Madison naturalist Dave Fallow coined the term ‘birking’ (birding and bicycling) and is a staunch advocate for “doing something now rather than waiting for the powers that be” when it comes to environmentally friendly methods of commuting around town. Though I doubt I could ride my bike every day from Waunakee to Middleton, it certainly is a great way to hear and see birds. I have to admit I was pretty surprised to find 46 species during my 45-minute bicycling commute. Hey, that’s just about a different bird every minute!

Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Mallard, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, Barred Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Sedge Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, House Finch, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow.

During the ride home I added: Sandhill Crane, Blue-winged Teal, Barn Swallow, Chimney Swift and Eastern Wood-Pewee.