Sunday, November 22, 2009

Balancing Time, Money & A Love Of Nature

I spent the morning at the Cromwell Meadows WMA today. It was one of those mornings when the birds seemed to be so bright and colorful.
I like the way the wings are positioned on this Red-tailed Hawk as it patrols the skies above the meadows.
I took this photo at Hammonasset a few weeks ago. Who do you think the carving is supposed to represent? Father time? Poseidon? I'm not sure but whoever did it has some talent. I wonder how long it took?
Time is something that I haven't had lately. In spirit I'm living the simple life in some cabin out in the wilderness but in reality I'm living in Connecticut, which is an expensive state to live in. We've managed to survive the bad economy by tightening the family budget. There are things that need be replaced, bills that need to be paid and a few extras that I'd like to purchase. I started working a second job at nights this week. There is seems a connection between time and money. Usually, if you want more of one you have to give up some of the other. I'm trying to find that balance now between time, money, and my love of nature. I'll have less time for nature but hopefully I will make the most of what I do have. I plan to continue blogging but there may be times when I need to take a break (waxwings photo from last winter).
I had an exciting moment while birding at a place called Northwest Park in Windsor on Saturday. I heard a bird making a chattering sound in the woods. It reminded me of the sounded like a wrens but I could tell it was from a larger bird. It turned out to be a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker which was a great find for me. They are an endangered species in Connecticut and a fairly rare bird. It was exciting to come across a bird like that on my own for a change. The photos and video I took didn't come out well so I didn't bother posting them. The bird stayed right in the sun the whole time.
click to play
Here is a video that I took of a Northern Flicker making its wicka wicka sounds while searching for a snack.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meopta 8x32 Binoculars Are Top-Notch

I recently received Meostar B1 8x32 binoculars from Meopta. They are looking for feedback from birders about their new 32mm series. I used them for birding during the past two weekends which gave me a unique opportunity to put them to the test under various conditions.

When I first received the Meostars, I gave them a quick try by out in my backyard. I was amazed at how wide the field of view was. My Swift binoculars have a 341' field of view but the Meopta's offer an impressive 420 feet at 1000 yards. Not only do they have a wide field of view but the image is very flat and sharp from edge to edge.

I took them out for a field trial at Wangunk Meadows the next morning. It was a grey, overcast day and their was a light mist in the air. These are not ideal viewing conditions but the binoculars performed very well under these conditions. I watched as Song Sparrows popped up on top of some tall weeds and was impressed by the detail I could see around the edge of one Song Sparrow's eye. I was able to get very close since the close focus for the 32's is only 5.7 feet .

These binoculars have a very solid, compact design. They are only 20 ounces but the feel very balanced and they fit very comfortably in my hands. They have some raised texture and thumb indentations which improve the grip.

I found that these binoculars provided the best viewing experience when I was zeroed in on a bird that was out in the open. The wide field of view in this compact binocular made it so easy to follow a bird that was moving around in a tree or flying overhead. I also noticed nice color and contrast while viewing Mallards in the Connecticut River.
I have heard that 32mm binoculars don't work as well in low light conditions as 42mm binoculars do but I didn't have any problems seeing when I used them at dusk.
-I've read about chromatic aberrations and color fringing in binoculars but didn't notice anything like that. I figure why bother looking for it if it isn't a problem. I'd rather watch birds.
The only shortcoming of these binoculars was their depth of field. When I watched birds that were set back in the woods it was noticeable. I could focus on individual birds but you didn't get that nice 3d effect that you are able to get when looking through 42mm binoculars. A few other details to add: the diopter is located near the center focus. It was easy to adjust and did not move out of focus. The eyecups are adjustable twist and click type that work well. The neck strap had extra cushion and was very comfortable. I didn't like the felt carry bag but I understand that they have already changed it to a new style.
My final test came when I compared the Meopta 8x32 binoculars to other top brand 8x32 binoculars including Swarovski. I found the image from the Meoptas to be be just as good as the other top brands but at $800 they are about half the price.

There are a lot of excellent binoculars available these days in the $300-$1,000 dollar range. I have tried several of them and have found some that would be an upgrade from my $300 Swift Ultralite but the Meoptas are the only ones I tried in this price range that seemed to be right up there with the best of them. I am looking forward to trying the 8x42 models soon.

*Never buy binoculars based solely on someone else's opinion. Always try them yourself and form your own opinions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shade Grown Coffee From Golden Valley Farms

I was recently contacted by Golden Valley Farms of West Chester Pennsylvania. They are a family owned coffee roasting company that specializes in organic shade grown coffee . They have been working with Robert Rice at the Smithsonian Institution since July 3, 2008 to market and help bring awareness to the many benefits of the Bird-Friendly® Coffees. They are now the official coffee roaster for all coffee served to visitors at the National Zoo.

I received a coffee sampler which contained individual packets of shade grown coffee from Mexico, Columbia, Peru, and El Salvador. Each sample had its own unique flavor. The beans are carefully selected and hand roasted in small batches to ensure that the quality stays consistent. I'm not a coffee critic so I won't bother telling you how one coffee has a nutty flavor while another seems to have a hint of chocolate. The Colombian had a bold flavor, the Peruvian was smooth and mellow. All of the coffee was fresh and flavorful. The only one I didn't try yet was the decaf seen in the photo ( I don't bother with decaf). Most importantly, beans used to produce this coffee from plants that were grown using shade grown and organic methods. This means more preserved forests for migratory birds and less pesticides.
Let's continue to get the word about shade grown coffee. Maybe give it as gifts during the holidays instead of one of those fruitcakes or brew a pot at work to share with your co-workers. Every little bit helps!