Bird of the Week: Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Briefly heard around Cheyenne’s lakes during spring migration, look for this all-yellow warbler in summer around higher elevation streams and beaver ponds as it busily gleans insects from leaves. The males have a loud, distinctive song, “sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.” It has a high success rate raising cowbirds, but can’t withstand cattle grazing heavily on willows, where it prefers to nest. Mid-August is the peak of its migration back to Mexico and Central America.

Published July 28, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Maven builds binoculars

Maven binoculars

Maven’s model B3 compact binoculars are perfect for birders: wide field of view and light weight. This pair has gotten a lot of use in the last six months. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 26, 2015, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “High-end binoculars, mid-level prices from Wyoming’s Maven.”

By Barb Gorges

There’s a new Wyoming company making binoculars.

You may have seen Maven binoculars mentioned in hunting and birding circles last fall when they came on the market. So far, reviews are good. I’ll add to that, six months after I bought a pair of my own.

The Maven Outdoor Equipment Company, located in Lander, offers three models, each in two sizes of magnification:

–There’s the B1: 8×42, 10×42 ($900);

–B2: 9×45, 11×45 ($1000);

–B3: 8×30, 10×30 ($500).

I went for the B3 8×30 not only because it is in my price range, but also because it only weighs 16 ounces (compared to the larger pairs at 26 ounces or more). Binoculars classified as compacts usually have a narrower field of view, but not these: you get a 430-foot view at 1,000 yards.

The B3s are making a hit with birdwatchers, as well as archers, who want to travel light, said Mike Lilygren, the one of the three co-owners.

Ironically, back in January, I was only sort of in the market for new binoculars as I was growing increasingly unhappy with my Bruntons binoculars.

Lilygren and the other Maven co-owners, Brendon Weaver and Cade Maestas, used to work for Brunton’s optic division before forming their own company. (Brunton is no longer in the optics business.)

Maven was mentioned to me by someone at a store that caters to birders–very generous, considering Maven binocs are not sold through retail outlets. They are only available online, unless you happen to actually be in Lander, or are at an outdoor or birding equipment show Maven is attending.

Without the middleman, consumers can pretty much double the quality of optics they can buy for their money.

Suddenly, $900 for the favorite of many birders, 8×42, looks like a bargain compared to the top of the line Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss models that cost over $2000.

But do the optics compare? For someone like me who has never paid more than $200, the B3 is a big improvement. I notice the difference in distinguishing details on birds, especially in low light situations. (If you want an extended technical discussion and comparison, check out www.BirdForum.com.)

Ergonomically, the B3 suits my short fingers and it doesn’t take much to change the focus from close to far—two quibbles I’ve had with other binoculars I’ve owned.

But the adjustable eye cups do have a tendency to collapse a bit after an hour. I bird without glasses and have the eyecups pulled all the way out. People with glasses leave them all the way down. Lilygren said they’ve noticed the problem in-house, but I’m the first customer to mention it. Possibly, most people use them with glasses or sunglasses.

Standard advice has always been not to order binoculars sight unseen, but Maven will mail you a demo that’s easy to return. So far, only one person has returned theirs—but not because of dissatisfaction, Lilygren said.

Ordering online, www.mavenbuilt.com, allows for customizing the look of the binoculars beyond standard black and gray. Try camo-print bodies and your choice of various pieces of orange, silver, red or pink trim, plus up to 30 characters of engraving—adding as little as $10 or as much as $250 to the price.

Pink trim? There were many requests, and purple may be coming soon.

Lilygren said 75 percent of online customers chose some customization, but the people buying at shows do not. Overall, half are buying custom.

While the glass is ground in Japan by the famed Kamakura Company, the binoculars are assembled in the U.S., then shipped to Lander where they have to pass inspection by the company owners. Lilygren said he was going through a stack of 25 pairs when I called.

A customized pair can take three weeks to arrive, but a stock pair, like mine, can arrive practically overnight with Wyoming’s typical one-day in-state postal delivery.

Besides adding purple, what’s next for Maven? Next year, it will offer a 10×56 and 15×56. Not something birders would tote around. But a spotting scope will also come out.

Maven logo

The Maven Outdoor Equipment Company is proud to be a Wyoming business. Photo by Barb Gorges.

So, what’s with the name “Maven”? The word means “trusted expert” or “one with knowledge based on accumulation of experience.” And that is their forte, compared to other outdoor gear companies, said Lilygren. He and Weaver and Maestas are passionate hunters. The company is based in Lander, the center of the outdoor recreation universe, because that’s where they want to live.

The three know what they want in optics, yet they were humble enough to ask Kamakura about the latest technology they had to offer.

And the three have so much faith in their products, they offer a lifetime warranty. They expect Maven binoculars to last a lifetime.

Bird of the Week: Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee. Photo by Pete Arnold.

The flycatcher species are notoriously difficult to tell apart by sight. Voice is easier: this one calls “Peee-er.” It hardly ever walks, but perches on a dead branch and sallies out after flying insects and returns. It is one of 57 species at risk as destruction of forests continues where it winters in the tropics of South America. Look for it in Wyoming’s shady neighborhoods and forests, but not in the lodgepole.

Published July 21, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Historically, this bird followed the buffalo, preying on insects they kicked up. It couldn’t afford time to stop and nest, so it learned to drop its eggs in other birds’ nests, with each female laying up to 40 eggs per season. Its eggs have been found in 220 different host species’ nests, but only 144 species have successfully raised cowbirds, often to the detriment of their own young. The cowbird’s one virtue is eating primarily weed seeds and grasshoppers.

Published July 14, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Mark Gorges.

Bird of the Week: Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk. Photo by Pete Arnold.

This species isn’t a hawk, nor does it fly at night. Instead, look for it at dawn and dusk in summer as it flies, catching insects with its large mouth, which is much larger than its small bill. It is a gravel-nesting bird that has adapted to flat gravel roofs in urban areas, but it won’t use smooth, membrane roofs. However, pads of gravel in the corners will attract it and keep it around on mosquito patrol.

Published July 7, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel. Photo by Pete Arnold.

The smallest North American falcon, 9 inches long, usually hunts from a perch, preying on insects, other arthropods, rodents and small birds in open areas. It will cache what it doesn’t eat, finding it again 77 percent of the time. It will use kestrel-sized nest boxes, even near people. The male has blue-gray wings and a rufous-colored tail. The female has rufous wings and a rufous tail with many black bars.

Published July 29, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican. Photo by Pete Arnold.

There are nesting colonies on islands in Wyoming’s big reservoirs, where the parents take turns incubating their two eggs by covering them with their feet. From within the eggshell the young squawk if they get too cold. In shallow water, sometimes in Cheyenne’s lakes, foraging flocks will organize in a line to push fish so they can easily be scooped up. Also look for high-soaring flocks in summer, south to Denver along I-25.

Published July 22, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.