Barred Owl Scream

Back in 2007, I was recording elk bugling in Pennsylvania late at night. Often, the sounds of elk bugling cause other animals to vocalize, or otherwise be disturbed by all the ruckus. Often owls would vocalize in response to the bugles. This night, I managed to record a relatively rare, Barred Owl scream. The Barred Owl scream is not very well documented and is absent in recorded sounds of Barred Owls on the Internet. Over the years, I have heard many people get confused, and scared by this scream that most people have never heard. In this recording, the Barred Owl is directly responding to the elk bugling, and the elk seems to respond to the owl. The elk is primarily on the right, and the Barred Owl is on the left. Barred Owls generally have this scream response to things that might upset or startle them, or it is used in confrontation with a competing owl.

PA Elk Barred Owl 092307 Gilmore Trail f0211


Baby Raccoon Sounds

I recorded a displaced baby raccoon while out looking for opportunities for frog photos. This video show the little raccoon calling and searching for it’s mother. After the first clip, the mother found it and got it to climb a nearby tree.

The video was recorded with a Panasonic FZ-50 digital camera at the Tinker’s Creek Nature Preserve in Northeast Ohio. Not the best camera to shoot video with, but that is what I had in my hand at the time. I didn’t have time to get the video camera out of my backpack.


How to choose Binoculars

How to choose binoculars

Making a selection from the wide array of binoculars available can be daunting. There are a lot of manufactures and lots of models from each manufacturer. This article will help you make a binocular buying decision by explaining some terminology and features. Then, comparing models will be easier. Research the binocular features online from the manufacturer information. If you can, visit a larger hunting store, like Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops, or a specialized birding store to compare some different models and price ranges.

How much do you want or need to spend

Binoculars range in price from 10 to 1000’s of dollars. What is the big difference between them you may ask? There is quite a bit of difference in quality between the price ranges. More information about the features are below. The typical price range for decent quality binoculars is $100-$400. Anything lower than around $80 is more of a toy than something you will be happy with. Binoculars in the medium price range have sharp, quality optics. When you start getting above the $400 range, things get a little murky. The question is how good is good enough? Most people can’t discern the difference between a mid priced optics and super expensive optics, so why would you need them? Your best bet is to go to a store that carries a large selection and do an actual comparison for your eyes. Swarovski is a great name, but I have seen some where I can not discern any difference from a mid priced Eagle, Bushnell, or Vortex binocular. Another thing to think about is that you are carrying an expensive piece around your neck. If you drop or loose your binoculars, how much money are you going to be out to replace it?

Roof or Porro Prism binocular body types

There are two major body styles that are named after the prism they use inside the binocular. The porro prisms are larger, easier to manufacturer, and cause the weight of binocular to be heavier than a roof prism design. Porro prisms, being heavier, also tend to be knocked out of alignment easier than the more rugged roof prism design. There isn’t a real difference in quality between the two body types, either can be made of similar quality. It is more about weight and portability. Roof prism binoculars are more compact, lighter, and can be sealed better from dust and water.

How much binocular magnification

There are some balances to be made for your intended use, skills, and the power of the binocular you choose. Most binoculars range from 7 to 10 power. In general the lower the power, the greater the field of view and ease of holding them steady. A binocular with 7 power would be good if you have trouble following or finding your subject, like a bird flying from branch to branch, or if your hands are a little on the shaky side. An 8 power is a balance between a 7 and 10 power, while it will give better magnification, it will still have a reasonable field of view, and may be the limit for those who don’t have a steady hand. More experienced birdwatchers can use 10 power binoculars, since they are skilled in finding birds with binoculars, and need the greater magnification to discern fine details for bird identification. For glassing, a term often used describing a hunter scanning long distances for game, an 8 to 10 power binocular would be best for viewing long distances. I would stay away from “zoom” type binoculars, as the mechanisms to achieve the zooming degrades the overall quality of focusing and typically narrows the field of view greatly.

Binocular objective lens sizing

The objective lens of a binocular is on the opposite end that you view through. In general the larger the size, the greater amount of light is gathered. A 50mm lens allows about 42% more light, than a 42mm lens, to reach your eye. This becomes important when viewing in overcast, dim, or night conditions. That being said, most of the roof prism body types use 42mm lenses, but they will out perform a cheaper 50mm lens due to quality coatings, and better prism material. So, you can not judge by size alone. Common power/objective lens sizes are 7×35, 7×50, 8×42, 10×42, 10×50. Anything under 35mm should be considered only for pocket binoculars. In my opinion, pocket-type binoculars usually don’t work much better than your eyes and have poor light gathering.

Binocular prism glass and coatings

First, there are two grades of glass used for binocular prisms, Bk7 and Bak4. Only inexpensive binoculars will use Bk7 prisms, as it is a less expensive material. Good quality binoculars use Bak4 glass, as it is a higher grade of glass that produces better light transmission and better images. If the manufacturer doesn’t mention which type of glass used, it should be assumed it is Bk7. Better quality binoculars apply a coating to color phase correct the prisms to enhance the accuracy of color alignment that reaches the eye, called PC or Phase Correction. I have noticed binoculars with phase corrected prisms to have better contrast and perceived image crispness. Some manufacturers will even coat the prisms with silver for better light reflection, but compare them with others before buying into marketing.

Binocular lens coatings

Manufacturers have many names for coatings and you have to be careful with the exact wording to know what you are getting. Lens coatings increase the amount of light that is transmitted through the glass by reducing light reflections. There can be single coatings or multiple coatings. Fully Coated (FC) means only one coating is applied to often only one side of the objective lens. This is the least expensive coating. Next, there is Multi-Coated (MC) which amounts to more than one layer of coatings applied to usually only the objective lens. Most good quality binoculars are Fully Multi-Coated (FMC), meaning all the lens are coated with a number of layers of anti-reflection coatings, thereby increasing the amount of light to your eyes. Coatings can make a significant difference in how brilliant the binoculars are able to pull in a subject under dim conditions and overall make viewing much better. Many manufacturers have developed their own coatings to enhance the light transmission of their binoculars. Some manufacturers are also using better quality lens glass, like Extra Low Dispersion (ED) and Fluoride containing glass, which allows for thinner glass, better light transmission, and lighter weight. But, you will have to compare those expensive lenses to a mid-priced binocular to see if they make a difference to your eyes.

Minimum Focus

Expensive binoculars make a big deal out of focusing within 4 feet, but how often can’t you see something 4 feet away? Maybe if you are studying insects, that is important, but a reasonable good minimum focus would be around 10-14 feet for most subjects. Any further than around 15 foot minimum focus starts to become a problem, especially when trying to view/identify hummingbirds and warblers.

Low Light Optics

Astronomical binoculars are in a special category. These binoculars are optimized to gather as much light as possible by having large objective lenses for their magnification compared to general birdwatching or hunting binoculars. Common combinations are 7×50, 8×50, 10×63, 20×80, 25×100. Look for the specification of exit pupil size. For daylight viewing, the exit pupil can be 2.5mm to 4mm. For best night viewing, the exit pupil should be 5mm to 7mm. Anything over 7mm is no better, since the human pupil doesn’t dilate any more, and therefore it wouldn’t be useful. All the information above on lens coatings and prism glass types are also relevant to low light optics.

Other Features

Other features found on binoculars add to the value. Rubber coating the outer shell is nice to provide grip, comfort, and shock resistance. Another valuable feature is being waterproof and filled with inert gas like nitrogen or argon. This is not only useful for keeping water out of the binoculars, but it keeps them from fogging on the inside, and keeps dust from getting inside the optics. Some binoculars are promoted for birdwatching or hunting, but they are really very similar. The only difference with hunting versions are that they are camouflage in color. Speaking of color, it would be best to keep the shiny material off any binoculars for wildlife viewing. Anything shinny, may spook animals. You may paint over any shiny material, if needed.

Quality binocular manufacturers

Here is a list of manufacturers who make quality models of binoculars. Please note that some of these manufacturers also make inexpensive binoculars that aren’t very good, such as Bushnell and Barska. Alpen, Barska, Brunton, Burris, Bushnell, Celestron, Eagle Optics, Fujinon, Kowa, Leica, Leoupold, Meade, Minox, Nikon, Pentax, Steiner, Swarovski, Swift, Vortex, Zeiss, and Zhumell. Some brand names I consider with having a high value for the price are Swift, Bushnell, Zhumell, and Nikon.

Discount Binocular Online Retailers

Here are a few bargain online retailers with a good selection of binoculars.

I hope this article helped you make your binocular decision. May you enjoy birdwatching, wildlife viewing, or hunting for many years with your new binoculars. If you find this article helpful, please let your friends know of it or otherwise link to it across the Internet. View my website article for an enhanced version of this article about how to select binoculars.


Does a tree make a sound when it falls?

We all heard the question before. Does a tree in the woods make a sound if no one is there to hear it? The answer is yes, the tree indeed makes a sound when it falls. Just because a person isn’t there to hear it, doesn’t mean the sound goes unnoticed by the creatures in the woods. Even the trees can feel the impact of the tree fall, from the impact it makes contacting another tree to break limbs, to the light that is now available for the young trees and plants to grow which were underneath the tree. Everything is heard and everything makes an impact.

Now, consider this– does anyone hear my yell if no one is there to hear it? Ah, so you think no one is around to hear you? Making noise, or carrying on loudly anywhere is heard. Even in a “remote” area, there could be people nearby. Those other people may be there to find peace and quiet and may be upset to hear the noise someone is making. Not only that, but the forest creatures will be irritated by noise, which will disrupt their patterns, and maybe even force a bird to leave a nest long enough to kill their young. The moral is that if you want to make noise and yell, consider others around you, and maybe you are better off screaming at a rock concert or game where your sounds will be more welcomed.

I often notice when people go to parks, forests, backpacking, and so forth, they feel they can be loud and no one will notice or complain. In actuality, the quieter the environment, the further sounds carry, and you maybe upsetting more people and creatures than you know are there. I think people should be more respectful, when in a quieter environment, that is actually the time to be quieter. There is no need to yell when someone is next to you. Try to be quieter next time and start enjoying the sounds of nature.

Enjoy the sounds of birds, creeks, insects, frogs, coyote, deer, elk, and more. The sounds of life are beautiful, enjoy them.


Best time to hear Coyotes, Wolves, and Owls?

Animals and birds are typically quiet except around their breeding season, within family groups, or in defense of their nest or territory. More social animals, like wolves, can often be heard as they use calling to keep in touch and communicate with others in the pack throughout the year. But the peak time to hear wolves howling is still in the breeding season.

The breeding season for coyotes, wolves, and owls is generally in the time frame of January through February, although I have often heard them starting from November. At this time they will vocalize more freely. As far as I know, the breeding season is the same time no mater if you are in the southern or northern states. If you know differently, please leave a comment. At this time, these animals will be very responsive to call broadcasting, and thus, this is the time frame that population censuses are conducted on these animals. Typically, a researcher will broadcast the common call of the bird or animal with loudspeakers, and listens for the number of responses throughout a planned course of travel, calling about every quarter mile or so. You can try to imitate the calls with your own voice and many times get a response. Be aware, that coyotes and wolves may run to you location to fend off a potential intruder in their territory. The best time to hear these animals vocalize naturally is after sunset, since there are nocturnal. I found the most common time to hear them are starting about a half hour after sunset until a few hours after sunset.

The next time, of the year, it is common to hear coyotes, wolves, and owls is when the young start to move about, during the months of May through July for owls, and April through August for coyotes and wolves. At this time, the young accompany the parents to learn hunting. Young owls often screech more than use the typical call for many months.

I should note, that with coyotes, there is a distinct difference between the Western and Eastern states in the way they vocalize. In the Western states it is much more common to hear coyotes throughout the year. Coyotes in the Eastern states are much less vocal. The theory is that the higher density of people, and domestic dogs in the Eastern states have caused the coyotes living there to be less vocal.

Go out and take some walks during the darkness and experience the calls of coyotes, wolves, and owls. It can be spine tingling spooky to hear a pack of coyotes or wolves, but an almost friendly reminder that others roam the darkness. My favorite owl is the Barred Owl, which is known for a vast repertoire of vocalizations from hoots, screams, whistles, and cackles.


Venezuela Lightning Phenomenon

The Catatumbo region in Venezuela has the world’s most lighting storms. The lightning storms occur an amazing 140-160 nights per year, may last up to 10 hours at a time, and have up to 280 strikes per hour. Almost all the lightning is cloud to cloud lightning, is reported as having almost no sound of thunder, and can be seen for hundreds of miles away.

The reason for the lightning storms is thought to be from methane gases rising from the swampy area and strong upper level winds from the Andes Mountains, causing storm clouds. What is neat about this phenomenon is that it maybe the world’s greatest ozone generator that replenishes the earth’s ozone layer. It is reported that the storms produce  1,176,000 kW of atmospheric electricity per year.

The region is trying to get UN protection and attention to this rare phenomenon to help bring in tourism to the area. It must be an amazing sight, but the almost no sound part puts the dampers on it being an awesome audio recording location.

For more information:


Beautiful lunar eclipse light show

On February 20th, 2008 I was out taking some photos of the total lunar eclipse. About 1/4 to full eclipse, I started noticing a red vertical light beam coming from the eastern horizon. At first I thought it was a jet contrail, but the light strength increased, and I noticed many more vertical light beams along the southern horizon. These beams were faint, and were red and green in color. I used a night vision viewer and saw what looked like vertical banding along the southern horizon. I took the zoom lens off my camera and took a one minute exposure looking south. Here is the photo.

Vertical light beams
Vertical light beams

I am not sure what the reason for this light show since I can’t find any reference material citing the light beaming phenomenon. I suspect it has something to do with refractive light reflection between the celestial objects. I was only able to snap one photo. Cloud cover came in and a snow squall followed on that 15 degree night. I waited to see if any light banding would show up after the full eclipse, but it didn’t. I have never seen this phenomenon during any other lunar eclipse. If someone out there could give me a scientific reason for the lunar eclipse causing a vertical light beaming around the horizon, I would like to hear about it. One thing is for sure, the light show was one of the most beautiful things I had ever experienced.

After hearing Kat’s description below, I think the effect was due to a few city lights reflecting on ice crystals in the air, which were in the atmosphere before a snow squall came in. It was still a beautiful sight. One of the first times I would consider city lights beautiful. 😉  

Here are some other photos from that night, including a not so good photo of the light beam I saw in the eastern sky (jet contrail also seen, and the moon for reference)

Strong vertical beam
Strong vertical beam
Begining lunar eclipse
Begining lunar eclipse
Near full lunar eclipse
Near full lunar eclipse



Global warming delays Fall

The Fall of 2007 was the most unusual Fall I have ever seen. The Fall in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area was exceptionally warm, especially at night due to high dew points. My family has always marked our mother’s birthday, November 9th, as being the time that all the leaves have fallen from all the trees. In 2007, a 100 year record warmth, in October and November, left trees with green leaves during the second week of November. December came and there were still fruit trees and shrubs with green leaves. The snows started and the green leaves started to fall. This was one of the weirdest Falls ever seen in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area.

Global warming? I would say so. It was also a record year of ice melt in the northern Arctic, with exceptional 20 degree above average temperatures. 2007 also marked a change in theory where scientists now estimate all the Summer Arctic ice will be gone by the year 2015. That is a huge change in thinking, and is in line what I believe, that world change due to Global Warming will be far sooner than anyone has calculated.

I have seen changes during my lifetime where I live. Summers have been not only hotter, but much more humid. I need to only look into the sky to know why. I see a ever increasing tanish cast to the blue skies, and the stars at night have become difficult to see even in the most remote, dark places in the county. Relentless pollution spews into the air. I am left many times with a tickle in my lungs after my biking workouts due to the high ozone levels and I live in the “country”. I think back to the mid 80’s and wonder what happened to the cars that got a true 60MPG, like the Chevy Sprint and Honda Civic?

Our need for change and to do with less is ever more critical. I hope for radical changes, but feel people and political change will be too slow. Global warming has serious implications to migrating birds who time their migration to the peak of insects. That timing has been faltering as the insects are peaking sooner and bird nesting is failing.

The year 2008 bounced back and had a longer and more severe Winter.

Sorry to sound bleak. 🙁