Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

Bird Photo Booth: Take pics as birds feast on seeds

December 2, 2013



Homeowners love the sound of birds chirping during the day. Some of them attract these winged creatures onto their front yards by putting up bird feeders. As much as you want to observe these birds up close, you know they just fly away if you get too near.

Let Bird Photo Booth solve that problem and even save those moments forever. It is a bird feeder with a slot inside where you put your old iPhone or GoPro camera. The camera is connected to a device inside the house via Bluetooth or WiFi, enabling you to snap photos of feeding birds yourself without disturbing them.

This weather-resistant contraption is made of sustainably harvested white oak hardwood and comes with a macro lens and circular polarizing lens that zooms in the birds automatically while providing finer details. It also has a lens cap protector, stainless steel perch and bowl for the seeds, and foam inserts for both iPhone and GoPro.

The iPhone foam insert also works with 4th and 5th-gen iPod Touch, while the GoPro protective foam insert fits all models, including the new GoPro Hero 3 editions. Android device owners will have to wait a bit, as usual.

The company even suggests you could also communicate with the birds using FaceTime, but that might just scare the birds away. They also recommend to turn off the device’s auto-lock functionality so you won’t miss a moment.

The Bird Photo Booth is available online for $150, plus shipping.


4 New Books

October 11, 2008

The New York Times Science section this week reviewed four new books which explore the intersections of art and ornithology.  Rather than wait for us to order them and review them ourselves, we thought you might like to see what the Times had to say.  Don’t miss the slide show.

How To Attract Orioles, a/k/a Grape Jelly

May 26, 2008

As we have mentioned before, the best way to attract an oriole is to put grape jelly directly in its flight path. The only stronger pull for an oriole is the migration urge. They will leave you when winter draws near. But that is about all that will make one leave its grape jelly supplier.

Here is a video about other things you can do to attract one to your backyard, including what kind of feeder to buy. As always, we encourage you to buy from a local bird store. Or us. Just not from the big box stores. They don’t need the business and small birding stores do.

Spotting Scope Review

February 26, 2008


Before Christmas we did two posts — here and here — on buying binoculars but have not yet done one about spotting scopes. In the meantime, the winter edition of Living Bird arrived in our mailbox. It has a good article with ratings of 36 spotting scopes. Better even than that, you can read the article for free here. The author does a fine job and there is no reason to think that any manufacturer is favored over any other. As we said in our posts about binoculars, there is a subjective component to optics that no one can quantify; the advice for scopes is the same as for binoculars: Look through as many brands and types as possible, price is a good indicator of quality, and buy the most expensive one you can comfortably afford.

Even though you can read the article for free, our unsolicited advice is to spring for a subscription to Living Bird. You’ll get a gorgeous magazine to hold in your hands and you’ll be helping that marvelous institution, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Charley Harper

January 6, 2008


You have to love a man who, after creating this crow in a snow field, says of it:

Crows are black birds and blackbirds are also, but a crow in the snow is so much the more so. If you’re pro-crow you proclaim his intellect, his resourcefulness, and the visual poetry of his somber silhouette on the calligraphy of the cornfield. But if it’s your cornfield, you have good caws to compose creative crowfanities when he arrives. Think of it as sharecropping: he gets the grasshoppers, you get the corn, and the few ears missed in the harvest are held in, well–escrow.

We sell his cards in our store and many of them have similar funny, punny descriptions.

Ready to send your Valentine’s Day cards? Here is “Vowlentine.”


Or how about “Herondipity?” On the back of this card we learn that male and female herons are almost identical which means it is easy to be “herroneous” when guessing their gender.


Here is his “Wings of the World.” If you are a birder, see how many you can identify. If you are not a birder, see how many you can count. Birder or not, you can revel in the art.


If you are interested, follow the instructions on this poster, “Visit Our Website.”visit-my-web-site-u.jpg

Mr. Harper was an artist of nature, most often birds. He died last year. Mr. Harper got his full quotient of years on the planet, dying at the age of 84 and leaving behind a large body of joyous, modernistic nature art.

He was John J. Audubon and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, updated. Calling himself a “minimal realist,” he reduced his subjects to the simplest visual terms he could. He said of himself that he counted only wings, not feathers when he drew. According to him, he was a lousy birdwatcher.

I found a bird guide by Don Eckelberry and realized that was all I needed–those birds didn’t move. I’m the world’s worst bird watcher. That’s my dirty little secret. I do all my bird watching in bird guides.

Which is better than shooting them, like Audubon did, you have to admit.

Born on a farm in West Virginia, he spent most of his life in Cincinnati. His publishing career started in the 1950’s when his illustrations appeared in Ford Times. His writing started at that magazine as well when he took over the job of captioning the little magazine from E.B. White.

He put his art in the service of nature. Here is a poster he did for the National Park Service.

Here is “We Think the World of Birds” a work he did for the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.


Of this piece he said,

It occurred to me that I could make the world the shape of an egg, and then make the trees upside-down eggs–a visual pun. After that, there was just the matter of putting in the birds.

According to an interview at the Cornell site, this was one of the works of his life that most pleased him.

You can find examples of his work on our web site, on the web and in Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper, 1994, Flower Valley Press, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

We were blessed to have him. Here is his 1982 serigraph Tern, Stones, and Turnstones
Terns and Turnstones

Here is what he said about it:

If you’re terned off–I mean, “turned” off–by puns, don’t go away. The ol’ punster has terned (make that “turned”) over a new leaf. I promise not to punctuate this paragraph with such punishments as no stone unterned, no U-terns–no more awful puns. Just the facts: a Roseate Tern and some Ruddy Turnstones share a pebbly beach along the ? WAIT! I CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER! Ternabout’s fair play. No terning back now. The ol’ punster has passed the point of no retern.

He has indeed. For the rest of us, his death was a tern for the worse.


Update:  Febuary 3, 2008.  CBS did a story about Charley Harper and Todd Oldham this morning.  We posted the link here.


December 27, 2007

Christmas in our house is a time for books. This year brought many and it will be many months before all are read and digested. Several are for the birds.

We’ve already read the first of those and it is a fine little book. Sightings. By Sam Keen. With lovely, not-to-be-missed illustrations by Mary Woodin. It is a little book about a large subject. Mr. Keen measures his life by numinous encounters with birds. Not “numerous”; “Numinous.”


Born into a family of Calvinists which, “shaped my psyche to be always anxious and striving, an easy grace descended on me whenever I escaped the embrace of my loving family.” His escapes were to eastern woods near his home and his first sacred sighting was on May 29, 1942. It was an Indigo Bunting. That sighting was followed by a Cardinal and a school teacher who also was a mentor and a birder. Since then Turkey vultures, Wild Turkeys, Mourning doves, and many other birds have opened for Mr. Keen vistas beyond birds. Birders, he asserts, are like other mystics, “. . .blessed with a special kind of vision of the world — the capacity to see eternity in a grain of sand or the presence of the sacred in the precision flying of a flock of blackbirds.” Birders are, “unusually susceptible to the emotion of awe.”

The book is a search for wisdom. Mr. Keen notes, “According to tradition the owl — the symbol of Athena, the goddess of wisdom — spreads its wings only with the arrival of dusk. Wisdom is the paradoxical art of seeing in the dark.”

His descriptions are precise. Here he is on the Wood Thrush. “You can identify the species by its eloquent dress. Think of a well-turned out English gentleman of the old school. The bird’s crown is tawny, passing into cinnamon brown on its back and shoulders, giving way to an olive-gray tail. It wears a contrasting polka-dot vest the color of clotted cream sprinkled liberally with blueberries.”


The best known member of the Thrush family is probably the American Robin but there are several more including all three Bluebird species found in North America. The Wood Thrush is a resident of the United States east of the Mississippi. At the end of the Wood Thrush’s chapter he writes, “Over the years, the Thrush’s shaman song has gradually transformed me into an enchanted agnostic. Unknowing. Amazed.” You can listen here (If you are taken to the main search page, type in “wood thrush.”)

Mr. Keen appears; however, not to be agnostic at all. Instead he seems religious. He efers frequently to the sacred, the numinous and, in an annoying affectation, to “G —” when he means God. Unless he is using the language carelessly, which seems unlikely given that he has been a professor of philosophy and religion, birds are for him a means to the sacred. An agnostic might accept “wondrous” or “awe” but not “sacred” nor “numinous.”

But this is quibbling. Mr. Keen did not write a book engaging in the great debate between Spinoza and Leibniz; he wrote a book about the wonder of birds, and he succeeded. It is a wondrous little book about wondrous birds and the joy they can bring to those attuned to them. We recommend it heartily. We’ll reread ourselves before our next birding trip.

Bird Calls, Bird Songs and Animals for Free

December 20, 2007

There is good news this week from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell operates the incomparable Birds of North America website but one has to pay for it. We do but not everyone would use it enough to justify the cost. (Although, if you still need a Christmas present for someone it is a fine gift AND you can sign up online and not worry about whether it will arrive in time for Christmas. A one-year subscription is $40.00.)

But the good news is that the Cornell Macauley Library of sounds and videos of birds and other animals is now online and free. It is on the blog roll but here is the full cite again:

The search function seems to work well although we had trouble viewing the sonograms because the Raven Viewer would not load on our computer. No matter. We don’t understand the sonograms anyway. We just listen to the bird song or bird call and try to remember it.

One word of warning. Each search for a bird species will result in many recordings, sometimes hundreds. On the right hand side of the search results page you’ll see little icons. If it is a video, you’ll see a video camera icon. However, you may have to scroll through more than one page to find a video. It is easier — although still awkward — to go to the “advanced search,” type in the species name and then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the video button. That way you will get only videos. (Which also have sound)

Not sure if that was a Great Horned Owl you heard last night? Here is an easy way to find out. But the site is not limited to birds. You can listen to about anything you want. Never heard an elk bugle? Here is your chance. Want to get a reaction out of your dog? Play a gray wolf howl. Not sure what a pack of coyotes really sounds like? Here is your chance to learn.

Buying Binoculars, Part II — By the Numbers

December 1, 2007

A lot of numbers are involved in buying binoculars. Most important are the numbers after the dollar sign. But there are some others that you should know just a little about before going off to invest in a pair of binoculars. You won’t have to be a physicist to understand them, although they all come from the laws of physics.ab_equinoxhp_8x42_200.jpg

First is the “magnification” number. That is the first number in the “8 x 42″ or “7 x 50″ or “10 x 42″ or any of the others you’ll see when looking at binoculars. For birding, the ones you buy should be in the 7 times to 10 times magnification range. Binoculars that magnify more than ten times cannot be held steady by a normal human. Anything above 10x needs a tripod to hold them steady and often there is not time to get a tripod set up before the bird is gone.We recommend you choose either a 7x or an 8x magnification. And there are two more numbers/reasons not to buy anything over 10x magnification: depth of field and field of view. We’ll get to those numbers in a minute.


The second number is the size of the lens in millimeters at the front of the binoculars. The size of the lens determines how much light is admitted to the binoculars. Up to a point, the more light the better. However, there are trade-offs. Any lens larger than 50 millimeters is likely to make the binoculars weigh more than they should to be comfortable to hold. Moreover, there is no appreciable gain in color or resolution above that size.


A third number is derived from the first two. You get it by dividing the second by the first. For instance, if you have a pair of “8 x 42″ binoculars in your hand you divide 42 by 8 to learn what something called “the exit pupil” is. For a pair of 8 x 42s the exit pupil will always, must always be precisely 5.25 millimeters. For a pair of 10 x 42 binoculars, that number is 4.2 millimeters.

Why do we care? Because that is the size of the hole through which the light that gets to your eyes must come. In other words, it determines how bright the image will be. The human eye cannot open much wider than 5 millimeters so an exit pupil somewhere in that range is as good as it gets. On the other hand, an exit of 2 millimeters is much smaller than the pupil of your eye so will not admit as much light and will be experienced by you as dimmer than it should be.

For birding, what that means is that you should look for binoculars with magnifications of 7x or 8x and objective lenses between 40 and 50 millimeters. (With  one exception which is coming below.)


The fourth number you may see is one for the “field of view.” For example, you may see something like 446 feet at a 1000 yards. Or, if the manufacturer wants to confuse the issue you may see something like “Field of View = 8.5 degrees” which is the same thing at 446 feet at a thousand yards. Your naked eye sees about 165 degrees, so binoculars reduce it greatly.

Field of view simply means how much the binoculars will allow you to see when you hold them up to your eyes. The numbers are determined by the magnification and by the design of the eyepiece. Anything less than about 5 degrees will make it hard to find in the binoculars what you are looking at with the naked eye; anything more than 8.5 degrees is carrying coals to Newcastle. Get something with a field of view between 242 feet and 446 feet at a 1,000 yards and you’ll be fine.

What’s that I hear you say? You won’t be looking at birds much from that far away? I know. So do the manufacturers of the binoculars but the math is the math and that’s how they do it.



But there is still at least one more number you should know about: “eye relief.” When you put the binoculars up to your eyeballs, your eyeball has to be a precise distance away from the exit pupil to see all the light coming out of the binoculars. This distance varies from person to person, especially if that person wears glasses. If you don’t wear glasses that number is probably about 10 millimeters. If you do, the number is about 20 millimeters, although something in the range of 15 millimeters will work pretty well. Almost all binoculars come with some kind of adjustable eye cup which can be folded down or twisted away for people wearing glasses.


That is about it for the numbers. Except for 4%. That is the percentage of light that would get bounced around inside the binoculars if the glass of the lenses were not coated. Which would mean you would lose that much sharpness reaching your retinas. All but the cheapest binoculars have coated lenses. If the lenses are not coated, don’t buy them. Period. I don’t care how little they cost.


We’re just about there now. Remember the exception I talked about. You could buy little compact binoculars which are known as “porro prism” binoculars. Because of their small size, the glass inside them has to be arranged far differently than in regular full size binoculars. We recommend that you not buy the compacts for birding EXCEPT if price is an issue. You can get perfectly good porro prism binoculars for less than $100.00 and you can’t get good regular binoculars for that. The drawbacks to compact binoculars are many: they are harder to use because their field of view is quite limited so it is more difficult to find that bird you can see with your naked eye and they are lighter which makes them, ironically, harder to hold steady. However; a few years ago we bought compacts for two women in their eighties and they loved them. They found regular binoculars too heavy to hold.

If your budget is less than $100, buy compacts.


When we started these posts about how to buy binoculars we told you we would give you our personal recommendations. Here they are:

Compacts: Nikon Travelites. They come with a magnification factors of 8x,9x, and 10x. Any of those is fine, even the 10x since these binoculars are so lightweight, but we prefer the 8x.

Regular size: When we bought our current birding binoculars we chose the Nikon Monarch series and remain quite happy with them. They cost slightly less than $300 in most places, work fine and have endured a lot of birding successfully. At the time we bought them we did not feel that the Nikon Premier line, which then cost about $1000 per pair, were enough better to justify the additional $700 per pair. Since that time; however, Nikon has improved — and raised the price — of their Premier line and some reviews rate them as highly as Zeiss or Leica or Swarovski binoculars, all of which cost more than $1700. Nikon Premiers sell for about $1300.

Remember our advice: buy the best you can afford. If you can afford the best, we recommend either the Swarovski 8x50B SLCNew (or the older 8.5×42 SLC) or the new Zeiss Victory 8×42 T*FL. You should be able to find the Zeiss binoculars for about $1750.00 and the Swarovski’s for about $1700.00.

Finally, remember what we said in our first post about buying binoculars: Try them out. No matter how many numbers or physics are involved, there is something subjective about binoculars. If you have a chance, go on a local bird walk and ask the other participants to allow you to look through theirs. When you go to the store to buy some, insist on taking them outside and looking around for as long as possible. Then buy the ones you like best that are within your price range.

Buying Binoculars and Spotting Scopes, Part I

November 28, 2007

We poor humans, born into an immense universe full of reality but with only five piffling, paltry senses with which to explore it. The dog asleep at my feet can smell exponentially better than I; a two-inch Elf Owl hears magnitudes more and the smallest raptor sees thousands of times better. I would need two ten-pound eyes and a visual cortex to go with them in order to see as well as a Peregrine Falcon. eyes-1.jpg

Fortunately, humans have figured out ways to magnify the few senses we do have. And if there is someone on your Christmas list who needs binoculars or a spotting scope to magnify sight to look at birds, this post and the next provide the basics of what you need to know.

By the way, we don’t have a dog in this fight. Our online store does not sell binoculars or spotting scopes. The manufacturers of optics control tightly the minimum prices at which their products can be sold. If a retailer sells below those prices that retailer can no longer buy from that manufacturer. The other thing to know about optics is that the mark up for retailers is fairly small, except for low end optics. Moreover, retailers have to buy an inventory of binoculars and spotting scopes and then wait for customers to come along and buy them. This means a substantial capital investment which can sit around gathering dust for many months and then must be sold for a small profit margin.

What that means for you the consumer is straightforward. You can search around the Web for the binoculars you have selected, find the lowest price, then go to your local retailer and get just about the same price. That means that optics are a good thing to buy locally. You not only help out the retailer, you avoid shipping charges. Just remember that no retailer can sell you a pair of binoculars for less than the minimum price the manufacturer requires.

There are two exceptions to this rule. Sometimes you can find “gray” market binoculars for sale. “Gray” market simply means that somehow or the other, the seller got his hands on those binoculars from a source other than the manufacturer. Frequently those binoculars are identical to the ones you buy at a store BUT do not come with a warranty and the warranties on optics tend to be quite good, usually life-time warranties with full replacement for broken or scratched binoculars. The other exception is for low-end products. The cheapest optics — both in price and quality — usually can be sold at whatever price the retailer wants, so you may find a better deal on-line for those. A good rule of thumb is that binoculars which retail for less than $100.00 are not price controlled by the manufacturer.

The main thing to remember about both binoculars and spotting scopes is that price correlates well to quality. The more you pay, the better the product. A $1800.00 pair of Swarovski binoculars is better than a $800.00 Zeiss. A Leica spotting scope retailing for $2000.00 is better than a $600 Nikon.

What do we mean by “better?” Basically we mean sharpness and brightness. Go to a store that sells a wide range of binoculars and look through them. As you go up the price scale you’ll probably find that the higher priced ones seem better. This is not entirely subjective either. The glass in those high-priced binoculars is better glass. It lets in more light and focuses it better than less expensive glass.

So today’s message about optics is: You get what you pay for. Which, when you think about it, is comforting. For many consumer products that is not true, but it is for binoculars and spotting scopes. Buy the most expensive optics you can afford.

In our next post we’ll discuss magnification, field-of-view, weight and the rest of the basics of purchasing optics for birders. We’ll also tell you what we use and why we selected them.

Birders’ Christmas Shopping List

November 24, 2007

We are traditionalists here at The Fat Finch when it comes to Christmas and Christmas shopping. Jarred by Christmas displays which now appear long before Halloween, we remember the days when they did not arrive until after Thanksgiving. That is why we’ve waited until today to post our first Christmas shopping list for birders. Here are some ideas for you if there is a birder on your Christmas list or if someone is asking you to produce a list of what you might like. Nothing here is expensive. Click on the Thumbnails to see a larger version.

All of these items are available from us and we unabashedly hope you shop with us because it helps keep the birdseed in the birdfeeders in our backyard. (A Cooper’s Hawk stopped by yesterday but all the little birds lit out for the territories before the hawk arrived. It sat on a fencepost long enough to be identified and photographed and left. We assume it was migrating.)

1. Bird Songs from Around the World by Les Beletsky – This is a great book for kids or adults. The bird songs are right in the book, available for playing as the pages are turned.


2. The Little Big Book of Birds – This is one of our favorites. In addition to basic birding information it has literature, poetry, and beautiful full color illustrations of beautiful birds.


3. Journals – Birders keep lists. It’s just what we do. A nice journal for the purpose is a good inexpensive gift. Here is a photo of the one we sell.


4. Backyard Birds of the Eastern United States -We are proud of our web page which was designed for us by the same artist who did a marvelous tee shirt of backyard birds of the eastern United States. She lives in the West but has yet to do a tee shirt of Western backyard birds but we are on her case about it. We’ll do a separate post about her and her art one day soon.


5. Hummingbird brushes – Not for the birds, they take care of that themselves; but for keeping the openings in your feeders clean. Great stocking stuffer for $2.50, plus shipping. (Which is FREE from The Fat Finch with all orders of $100.00 or more.)


6. A bird house – We carry one that is made entirely from recycled milk cartons so is “green” both in color and ecology. Will last, as plastic does, about forever which is why this is a great use for empty milk cartons.


7. Calendars – Calendars too numerous to mention are on the market. Our favorite is the annual Audubon Calendar. (By the way, Sibley has a 12 month calender out this year with which we are not much impressed. It appears to be low quality reproductions of a few pages from his field guide. Far better just to own the field guide.)


8. Candles – Non-toxic, non-allergenic, “green” candles not made from petroleum and its by-products, which is to say natural bees’ wax candles. Fatfinch sells them in glasses with bird designs. By the way, bees’ wax candles burn longer than most and emit light with a spectrum quite close to that of the sun. Perfect for long winter nights.


9. Matches – Yes, matches. If you are going to have bird-theme candles, shouldn’t you have bird-theme matches to light them? Of course, you should. Where can you get such things? That’s right. At the Fatfinch.


10. Optics – If you want to spend more money on someone — or want to have them spend more on you — binoculars and spotting scopes are wonderful gifts. We are not selling them this year but we will be doing a post next week on how to buy them. So, if you are thinking of such a gift, wait to buy it until next week after our post. There will be plenty of time before Christmas.

PS: If you would rather “win” a gift than just buy one, check out our EBay store.

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