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Testing the 8x42 Opticron Nature ED binoculars at The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
Opticron Natura ED 8x42
By Cin-Ty Lee (cintylee.org)
Fall migration has almost passed. Last week, I took the Opticron Natura ED binoculars out for a test drive at the famous Smith Point Hawkwatch, a southward trending strip of land that juts into Galveston Bay, here on the Upper Texas Coast. At times, we have some of the greatest congregations of southbound migrating raptors in the country. Many of the migrating raptors tend to hug the coast as they head south to Mexico or even South America. Large coastal inlets, like Galveston Bay, interrupt their migration routine. What makes Smith Point so ideal for hawkwatching is that it is bound to the northwest and northeast by water, with the land narrowing to a point. This has the effect of focusing all the hawks down to the tip of the point, where they often tend to stall out as they gather up enough energy (or courage!) to go across the bay.
The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory has built a large shaded tower for visitors to scan for hawks. You can even sit in the comfort of picnic chairs and drink your coffee or have lunch. The great thing, for those who have trouble getting up early in the morning, is that you don’t really start to see large numbers of hawks until about 9 or even 10 in the morning. That is because the hawks take advantage of the hot upwelling air currents, called thermals, which only develop after it gets warm enough.
Our day turned out to be one of the best, at least in my experience. At 10 AM, large kettles of Broad-winged Hawks were circling overhead. We estimated a couple hundred Broad-winged Hawks, along with scores of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, vultures and a few Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Swainson’s Hawks. We even had several Northern Harriers circling overhead, which one doesn’t usually see except during migration. Most of the time, harriers fly low to the ground, so it always causes you to look twice when you see a soaring harrier high above!
Now, to the Opticrons. Hawkwatching is a great way to test drive your binoculars. Hawkwatching requires one to be able to scan great distances and still make out general silhouettes and behavior. The Opticrons served me well. The image was clear with no perceptible distortion. I was also happy with the field of view. I personally prefer 8x42mm over 10x42mm because, even though the latter has higher magnification, the field of view in the former allows me to scan much faster, which is essential when searching for hawks. As long as the image is clear, which they are in the Opticrons, the 8x magnification works out well. I was able to distinguish Sharp-shinneds from Cooper’s way out on the horizon, and as they flew over, I could even see the difference in chest streaking on the immatures! The Opticron also has quick focus, which allowed me to switch rapidly from hawk scanning to checking out the songbirds in the thickets below the hawk tower and the dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zipping by, so the Opticron also works well in the forest. One other aspect I liked of the Opticron is that it is light and fits easily in my hands. You definitely want a light pair of bins when you’re scanning for hawks. Once again, this is why I prefer 8x42s (if there is good clarity) – they are easy on your neck!
I find the Opticrons to be a very nice pair of binoculars, particularly for their price. If you are looking for a lifelong pair of binoculars, but not willing to spend a thousand dollars for the highest end optics, the Opticrons will do you well. They are rugged and light, making them good for travel. They also work well for people with glasses. Ideal for beginners, but also perfect for experts, especially if you want a second pair to go along with your high-end binoculars (think, you could have a second pair just sitting in your office for those times when a rare warbler flits across your office window or for guests whom you take out birding).
All in all, I had a great day on Smith Point with my Opticrons. Our half day total of hawks was up in the thousands. The best time for hawkwatching is from early September through the third week of October. It’s a great place to experience one of nature’s great spectacles, whether you are a beginner or an expert. The hawktower is wheelchair accessible, safe for kids (we brought our three year old toddler) and only a little over an hour’s drive from downtown Houston.
Swallow-tailed, Mississippi and White-tailed Kite. Painting by Cin-Ty Lee for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s Hawkwatch Anniversary (www.gcbo.org)