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Biggest Week in American Birding 2019 Recap

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Old Friday 17th May 2019, 04:48   #1
Bear83
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Biggest Week in American Birding 2019 Recap

Good evening, since I didn't see any other postings I thought I would share a recap of several days spent at the Biggest Week in American Birding. For the past several years I'd pondered the idea of going, and with this being the 10th anniversary decided now would be as good of a time as ever. On a last minute whim my non-birding wife kindly agreed to come along and we shoved off for Ohio, leaving behind a late season snow storm in Minnesota on May 9. Below is a quick breakdown of some of the birding highlights with some optic related observations as well.

First thing that comes to mind is what a superbly well organized event this is. There is a wealth of information provided by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory providing excellent site locations, field trip offerings, and logistical support for out of town guests. I was blown away by how the local businesses embraced the event and rolled out the red carpet for birders. It's great to see the correlation between wildlife and natural area conservation tying into economic gains for the small businesses in the area.

Now onto the birding and highlights of the event itself. After a full day spent in the car to get to Ohio, I was more than eager Friday morning to hit the ground running and start tallying birds. With a cold wind blowing off Lake Erie and temps barely breaking 50 our first stop was Magee Marsh. Parking was ample as we arrived fairly early and we spent several hours slowly working our way along the famous boardwalk. While the bird numbers weren't very high, there was excellent diversity in the warbler species and I added several new life birds. At times the boardwalk would get congested and the telephoto lens crowd seemed daunting, but the enthusiasm of everyone made for a light and fun atmosphere. To round out the rest of the day stops were made at the BSBO headquarters where I spent a good deal of time at the Optics Alley tent.

For anyone even remotely interested in optics this was the greatest concentration of binoculars and spotting scopes one could possibly imagine all ready to be compared and evaluated side by side. There were several bins that I was excited to try as they are just difficult to access at most retail locations or sporting goods stores. Below are some rambling thoughts on my experiences. I've always had a strong interest in the Leica Ultravid HD+7x42. I took a pair outside and I can see the attraction. Industrial build in a compact size with a relaxed and easy view. Ditto regarding the best in the business diopter adjustment. However, across several Ultravid samples I was less than impressed with the eyecups. From a mechanical standpoint they all seemed incredibly stiff to adjust, seemed like an annoyance given the price point these still go for. Tried the Noctivid and as others have mentioned, nothing to find fault with, truly an alpha experience. Same with the traditional offerings from Swaro. Tried the 8x30 CL and while nice, I think the 8X30 Monarch is the better birding instrument with the wider field of view. Regarding Nikon, not too many offerings. Tried the 8X42 Monarch HG. I really have been looking at this model, and from a fit and finish standpoint, it is an incredibly well rounded model. However, the view just seems to be lacking a certain pop whether it's sharpness or micro-contrast. Onto the much praised Zeiss 8x25 Victory. I was really excited to try this model with all the recent praise on the forum. Well... I wasn't impressed at all, couldn't get along with the hinge design at all and the eye relief seemed much fussier than just about any bin I tried. The two binoculars which surprised me the most where the Kowa 8X33 Genesis and Zeiss 8X32 FL. From a form and function standpoint these two are incredible performers and I couldn't really find fault with either. After everything I looked at these two would be at the top of my list if I was in the market for another bin. After a brief talk with the Zeiss rep, he did mention that a x32 SF is in the works so that was interesting to hear they are committed to that size. I also asked the Leica rep if there was any news about the re-introduction of the updated Trinovid models. With a sigh he said the project was a dead end and that nothing was going to be released. Who knows at this point in other words.

Onto spotting scopes, every major manufacturer had setups outside the tent. The Harpia models are every bit as good as the reviews and matching prices would indicate. The variable speed focuser was seamless and in quick testing these are phenomenal scopes. Also of interest was the new Opticron MM4 77mm. Nice construction and decent views with smooth controls. The zoom eyepiece did seem to be a weak point, but after just viewing thru the top Zeiss and Kowa's my opinion may have been skewed. Of particular interest was the Kowa TSN-553. This little scope was amazingly brilliant and sharp and I can see why someone looking for the best quality in a lightweight package would gravitate towards this fine instrument. Finally the Swaro bino viewer was interesting to try. Didn't get along with trying to fine tune it so I didn't get too great of an impression.

So after spending a great deal of time looking and comparing a multitude of different products, the often repeated advice of go with what works best for you rings true. I was somewhat surprised by how much sample variation seems to exists, even at the high end. From focusers being too stiff, too loose, wobbly eyecups, hinge tension, you name it. I think in the end that's why the Kowa Genesis and Zeiss FL felt right, they had perfect function in every respect and exemplary optics to boot.

Back to the rest of the trip. Birding stops were made to the Ottawa NWR, Howard Marsh, Metzger Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, and Pearson Metropark. Each site offered unique habitats and variety and I continued to add a few new birds. Although the weather was less than ideal for the couple of days we were there, we made the most of things and had a great time exploring. I always like to see what others birders are using for gear and as I expected, Swaro was probably the highest represented brand. Next would be Nikon Monarch's, followed by Zeiss Conquests / Vortex Vipers. Porro's were harder to come across, I did run into one other birder rocking Nikon 8x32 SE's, along with myself I think we were the only two with premium porro's. Not surprisingly, although they are talked about greatly on the forum, I don't recall seeing one single Maven, Tract, GPO, Minox, or Sightron. Noticeably absent were any Nikon EDG's or Meopta's and very few Leupold's.

Although it was a quick trip with lots of driving I had a blast and really enjoyed the overall experience and quality of the birding locations. New life birds for the trip included Least Bittern, Virginia Rail, Cape May Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Canada Warbler. If you've ever considered going to this event I would highly recommend it and was thoroughly impressed with how well everything was organized and executed. Although I didn't leave with any new bins, I did bring home one item from the Optics Tent….there was a smoking good deal on a Tamron 100-400mm lens. Below are a couple of pictures from the event.
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Old Friday 17th May 2019, 06:40   #2
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Originally Posted by Bear83 View Post
After a brief talk with the Zeiss rep, he did mention that a x32 SF is in the works so that was interesting to hear they are committed to that size.
For me, this is the main headine, time for a new topic!

ps: I enjoyed reading the rest of your story. I have never really birded more than some days in the US but have been introduced to US warblers last winter in Cuba, and I would like to see them where they are territorial and singing!
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Old Saturday 18th May 2019, 02:28   #3
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Thanks Bear for the report! I really hated not being able to go this year. I love it up there! It's a lot of fun with all the birds you'll see and the optics you can look over!
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Old Sunday 26th May 2019, 16:34   #4
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Originally Posted by Bear83 View Post
... Onto the much praised Zeiss 8x25 Victory. I was really excited to try this model with all the recent praise on the forum. Well... I wasn't impressed at all, couldn't get along with the hinge design at all and the eye relief seemed much fussier than just about any bin I tried.
... After a brief talk with the Zeiss rep, he did mention that a x32 SF is in the works so that was interesting to hear they are committed to that size. I also asked the Leica rep if there was any news about the re-introduction of the updated Trinovid models. With a sigh he said the project was a dead end and that nothing was going to be released.
... Not surprisingly, although they are talked about greatly on the forum, I don't recall seeing one single Maven, Tract, GPO, Minox, or Sightron. Noticeably absent were any Nikon EDG's or Meopta's and very few Leupold's.
Thanks for all the great info about (and from) Biggest Week. Do you use eyeglasses with binos? People who do rave about the Zeiss 8x25, others (like me) not so much. The eyecups and placement get fiddly. Otherwise I think it's an outstanding, even surprising bino, and I'd want one myself.

Of course Zeiss needs to make 32mm SFs. A recent poll here indicates that 8x32 is by far the most preferred configuration.

No surprise that the retro Trinovids are dead. It was a boutique concept for an already boutique (or nearly so) manufacturer now, tiny market share squared. I just hope Leica manages to hang on.

Re: Maven et al, how would you explain the absence? One could jump to the conclusion that the demographics of Biggest Week differ from those of this forum, but I'm not sure that's it. You left with a Tamron lens yourself, not a Canon L. Is it durability in heavy use? Something else?
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