Author Archives: Dan Lockshaw

About Dan Lockshaw

Dan is the owner and president of Optics4Birding. An avid nature lover and traveler he has ventured into some of the most remote regions on the planet. As author of the website he has spent years promoting the conservation of nature. In contrast he comes from a long career as a senior Program/Mfg engineer in Aerospace design and development.

Excursion to the Eastern Sierra Mountains

Long-eared Owl in the Eastern Sierra Mountains

Long-eared Owl in the Eastern Sierra Mountains

This last Memorial Day weekend (5/24-5/26) we decided to take a look in the Eastern Sierra Nevada for Broad-tailed Hummingbird. After much research on where to look… we found none. I had hoped, as we blog on the regular occurring California hummingbirds, this last one might be easier. On the other side of the coin we did find some interesting places and interesting birds in our Eastern Sierra exploration.

We left on Saturday after work and headed north. By the time we got up into the southern part of the Eastern Sierras it was late at night. Our first stop was to look for Long-eared Owl just south of Bishop. Searching for owls in unfamiliar areas is difficult enough. Adding the navigation on dirt roads on a moonless night. While trying to find proper habitat. Once out in the unfamiliar dark desert, I figured I may have underestimated the challenge.  All of this said I was very surprised when an owl found me. Continue reading

So Cal Hummingbird Migration III

My final post for the hummingbird migrating in Southern California includes the last two species that we see here, Black-chinned and Anna’s Hummingbirds. The Anna’s  is resident. It has limited movements (most of these probably do not move). The Black-chinned is highly migratory. The attraction for me to write these posts was the influx of species and general population increases here in Southern California. Even as a birdwatcher it surprises me as I take these photos how spectacular these little hummingbirds are.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna’s was the easiest  to find. This simply required me to walk out in front of our store and take a picture. We often take this species for granted here in Southern California because it is so common. The Anna’s Hummingbird is unique. You can only find these on the west coast. The mature male’s (photo) throat and head become flaming red and it is very striking. Although not overly noticeable in movements or population changes the Anna’s does have some migratory travels. Most of our local Anna’s seem to be resident here year round. The photo on the left is our “Optics4Birding binocular test” since he stays in front of our store and we show customers the differences in optic quality looking at him. He is very accommodating… except with the other hummingbirds who want to eat at his feeder! Continue reading

Hummingbirds Migrating in Southern California II

As the second post in our migrating hummingbird series I set my attention on Costa’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds. Only a portion of the Allen’s Hummingbird population actually migrates out of California during the winter. Although not totally gone the Costa’s is very uncommon in winter and can be difficult to find. At this time both of these species are very prevalent in the proper habitat.

Costa’s Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa’s Hummingbird

Costa’s Hummingbird has made the most dramatic changes in occurrence recently. The foothills and canyons along our coastal range have had large numbers of these hummingbirds passing through over the last few weeks with many staying to breed. Costa’s Hummingbird is a dry chaparral species that is mostly found here in Orange County in the lower areas of our Santa Ana Mountains. I took the photos of the bird on the left in Silverado Canyon. At creek crossings along the road the number of Costa’s Hummingbirds coming down to drink and bathe have been really impressive. I had also taken photos of Costa’s Hummingbird at Whiting Ranch but the frequency was not near as high.

In writing this post I took multiple trips into Silverado Canyon and had also run into both Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds (photo). These were the topics of the previous hummingbird post. I thought it was particularly interesting to have seen both a male (photo) and female Calliope Hummingbird (photo) drinking water at a stream crossing along the road.

Allen’s Hummingbirds

Allen's HummingbirdWhile in Silverado Canyon I also saw many Allen’s Hummingbirds. This hummingbird is much more consistent in frequency here in Orange County than the Costa’s Hummingbird is. Only one race of the Allen?s Hummingbird actually migrates south in the winter. A large portion of the population remains resident here year round. It is fairly widespread in occurrence throughout the county and along most of the California coastline during the spring and summer months. The green on the back of the Allen’s Hummingbirds readily distinguish it from the Rufous Hummingbirds. Immatures and females are very difficult to distinguish in the field.


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Blood Moon in Southern California

Blood Moon 4-2014

The moon becomes very reddish in color as the total eclipse progresses. Light refracted from our atmosphere dimly lights the “blood moon”.

The first of four total eclipses of the moon was visible late in the evening of April 14, 2014. A blood moon is another name for a total lunar eclipse. The refracted light as it passes through our atmosphere is the only light that hits the moon. In essence, this has the effect of casting a red sunset onto the moon. Going forward, one of the remaining three total eclipses of the moon will occur each 6 months. This frequency of total eclipses has not occurred in over three hundred years. This is a pleasurable and easy event to enjoy with binoculars.

The events are also unique for multiple other reasons. The first reason is because all four eclipses will be visible from somewhere in North America. This first eclipse had the added attraction of also being on the same night as the closest approach of Mars to the earth since 2008.  Just below the red planet was the blood moon. A celestial event that will not happen again in our lifetimes. Continue reading

Hummingbirds Migrating in So California

Clearly, hummingbird migration has begun here in Southern California. We went to Sea Terrace Community Park this past weekend to look for reported Rufous and Calliope Hummingbird. I have never been to this small park right along Pacific Coast Highway and it was very interesting. As its name implies it is a small community park that is along the Coast Highway between Dana Point and Laguna Beach.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous HummingbirdThe majority of the park is just an open grassy area with small islands of well-manicured vegetation. Although not overly busy there were a few people flying remote gliders or planes and walking the paths. It seemed were the only one looking at the hummingbirds. The park is virtually on Pacific Coast Highway and just a stone throw from the beach.

The number of hummingbirds was quite a surprise. In most of the vegetated areas Flowering Pride of Madera was prevalent. The hummingbirds were abundant feeding on the blossoms. We see a fair number of Allen’s Hummingbird along the coast. It was particularly interesting to see such a good mix of Rufous Hummingbird here also.

Calliope Hummingbirds

Calliope HummingbirdSix species of hummingbirds can be found here in Orange County (Anna’s, Costa’s, Rufous, Black-chinned, Allen’s and rarely Calliope). People mostly see Calliope Hummingbird in the Santa Ana Mountains. It also showed up this year along the coastal lowlands in both Sea Terrace Community Park and Huntington Central Park. It was a real treat to see this hummingbird and especially unusual right on our coastline. The abundant Anna’s, Allen’s and Rufous Hummingbirds were also a treat that made for a quick morning of four of the six species of hummingbirds found in the county. Note: for those of you who might call me on this count… yes, in addition Broad-billed Hummingbird has rare, scattered records within the county.

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Bright or dark, close or far – ATX/STX spotting scope

It seems that the guys here have been writing quite a bit lately about the Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope using the 85mm objective. This scope performs remarkably well in comparison to most other 80mm class scopes. It makes sense to me they have had it in the field this much. The performance of the 85mm objective is really impressive but the scope also offers the advantage of simply switching out the objective to either a 65mm or 95mm objective for different conditions or preferences. What this means is that by simply changing the objective you have a completely new scope!

The ATX/STX Spotting Scope

I’ll have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when the new scope design was announced by Swarovski. Their design allowed switching objectives to different sizes. All the same, the different sizes offered interesting possibilities and some really impressive capabilities. The guys have written about digiscoping with the 85mm objective using both point and shoot and micro 4/3rds cameras.  I thought I would test the other modules using my Canon 7D DSLR camera.

As a note before I discuss these other two modules, at this time there is no other scope on the market that has digiscoping adapters that are as simple and complete. This means that you can easily take a photo of what you are looking at through your scope. You can do this with any of the aforementioned camera types. I won’t go into detail about that here as it is discussed in detail in the scope review.

The 65mm Objective

close-up photo taken with Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope

Close-up photo using Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope

When Swarovski originally brought in their new ATX/STX spotting scope to show us, they brought the 65mm objective and the straight STX eyepiece module in a binocular field bag! This combination is extremely compact and opens the possibilities of traveling with a spotting scope like never before. I took the photo at the left with the this combination. The intent of this picture was twofold. First is brightness, color, and sharpness. I’ll let the image speak for itself. Everything is even brighter and sharper when you look with your eyes.

Second is closeness. The Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope with the 65mm objective will close focus to 6.9 feet! That is closer than most binoculars. This means that the whole world of small is now possible at up to 60 times magnification. I could go on about this little scope but with the same camera I figured I’d see what the 95mm objective was capable of. Continue reading

Owling Oaxaca, Mexico

In late February we took a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to find the newly defined Oaxaca Screech-Owl. This was going to be a real challenge. There is very little information regarding this species. We figured since we were looking for difficult to find species we would add Fulvous Owl to our search too… since it has no confirmed Oaxaca range at all.

Fulvous Owl

Fulvous OwlAlthough the  Fulvous Owl does not have a formal range listing showing it as occurring in Oaxaca, we knew there had been reports of sightings in recent years. We even had a fair idea of where to look or at least a general area. That was still weak information on a species that is only supposedly present. I had some previous experience with this owl from the mountains in Southern Chiapas. I knew he was normally resident above 7,000 feet in elevation. The habitat would be dense cloud forest with large trees. This owl is a fairly vocal one. Like its cousin, the Barred Owl, it is reasonably bold in behavior.

We underestimated the difficulty of searching such a vast area for one owl with the time and information we had. We spent four full night searching the mountains. Adding to the difficulty was “minor altercations” with the locals, the typical dangers of being on remote dirt roads in Southern Mexico at night, and being in unfamiliar locations. Yet our perseverance paid off when we found a beautiful pair of Fulvous Owls. That just saved us a difficult trip to Chiapas or Guatemala and what a beautiful owl this is!

Oaxaca Screech-Owl

Oaxaca Screech-Owl

We headed for the coast now that we had finished the easy part! Next was to search for Oaxaca Screech-Owl. The descriptions of this owl are definitely not consistent. We knew of no recordings and there were no photos available. The people who wrote the research we could find had done it using museum skins.  No researcher or guide we had contact with had ever seen this owl. So we first checked the locations where the research specimens had come from so long ago. There was no longer native habitat and only man-made sounds at night.

No sweat, all we needed to do was find a screech-owl along the south-eastern Pacific coast of Oaxaca (or at least within 50 miles of the coastline) with an unrecognizable vocalization. With a little inside info of where to look from Michael Carmody, a top guide here in the US, we finally located the Oaxaca Screech-Owl (or some owl with an unrecognizable call in the right area). The problem was that it stayed buried deep in thick thorn forests and was so timid that we spent five nights traveling every back road we could find to get a glimpse of this owl (and every day pre-scouting for proper habitat). Now I know why there are no pictures out there! With this experience behind me I am certainly going to have to come back here again and see if a different time of year makes seeing this owl a bit simpler.

Mottled Owl

Mottled OwlWe did come upon and take pictures and recordings of several other owl species that I should mention here. Mottled Owl was the first of these. This is a common owl species in Mexico. The surprise was to find the northern race this far south. The two races of Mottled Owl are readily distinguishable. The northern race is much lighter than the southern race. Photos of both races can be seen on I have seen the southern race to the north-east of the Oaxaca coast in Chiapas. We saw multiple Mottled Owls in our efforts to get one of those darn Oaxaca Screech-Owls to show itself. Mottled Owl is probably a predator of Oaxaca Screech-Owl. This one came in looking for dinner but found us instead!

Colima Pygmy-Owl

Colima Pygmy-OwlAnother owl we encountered was Colima Pygmy-Owl. Oaxaca is the southern range extent for this species. It is smaller than the Mountain Pygmy-Owl and found at lower elevation. This cute little owl is extremely unpopular with the other small birds because despite being the size of a large sparrow they are voracious predators that prey upon the other birds as their primary diet. There were quite a few of these that were vocal both day and night. Since he is primarily diurnal (active in the day) it was interesting that we heard them also in the night. In retrospect it might have been interesting to see if we could have called one in at night.

Whiskered Screech-Owl and Flammulated Owl

Whiskered Screech-OwlWe found two owl species in the mountains to the east of Oaxaca City that also deserve note here. Whiskered Screech-Owl (photo shown) was the first of these. It is resident and non-migratory throughout its range. In the northern extents of its range it is a resident owl species of south-east Arizona. It is a common resident  throughout most of Central Mexico and south into Oaxaca in proper habitat.

Flammulated Owl was the second of these owl species. This small owl migrates into the US in the spring and summer. This is probably the most migratory owl species in North America. Howell does not mention this owl being in these mountains. Finding this species surprised us. Furthermore they were abundant in the higher elevations. In the US during the winter months all Flammulated Owls migrate south out of the country. At this time of year (late February) they were very vocal in the mountains. It would be interesting to survey this area a few months later to see if the Flammulated Owls all migrate north.

Mountain Pygmy-Owl

Mountain Pygmy-OwlLast owl of mention here is the Mountain Pygmy-Owl, another very small diurnal owl, which is similar in habits and appearance to the Colima Pygmy-Owl. His primary diet is also the other small birds and is about as equally unpopular with them! He is vocally different from the Colima Pygmy-Owl and found at much higher elevation. Our primary interest with this species, in this location, was to have recordings to compare with the nearby Guatemalan Pygmy-Owl that we will look for in Chiapas on a future trip. The Mountain Pygmy-Owl is found as far north as Arizona and although accepted by most authors as unique from Northern Pygmy-Owl (vocally and genetically distinct), the AOU still combines this with Northern Pygmy-Owl. Expect that to change in the future.

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Local Owls with Optics4Birding

Great-Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

Great-Horned Owl

Bruce Aird had birding clients in from Eastern Tennessee. He asked if I would guide them for an evening of local owling. Participants David Johnson and Jean Alexander had a list of four local owls they wanted to see. Great Horned Owl, though common nationwide, happened to be one of their owls of choice. This is our largest owl in Southern California and a very beautiful bird. They are fairly common in the city suburbs. Bruce spotted one very close to Optics4Birding sitting on a light post. I’ll bet a hundred people drove by that owl and no one even noticed it sitting there. Great Horned Owls are probably more often noticed in the city at night because of their typical owl “hoot”. Most people associate the hoot with an owl. It also tends to be fairly bold and is more commonly seen on an exposed day perch.

Barn Owls

Barn Owls

Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is certainly our most prevalent Southern California “city owl”. We had driven right down the road from here (the Optics4Birding Store), along Irvine Blvd, and immediately spotted a Barn Owl sitting on the perimeter fence of the El Toro MCAS (the “Orange County Great Park”). Getting out of the car and squeaking a little bit brought in two more individuals.

Barn Owls are not common in Tennessee so it was an appropriate target owl while here in So Cal. They are probably more frequent here in CA than any other state. If you watch the vineyards along the Central Valley they frequently have Barn Owl boxes in the fields for rodent control. We see and hear them here in the city all the time. Since they screech rather than hoot, their calls are often not recognized as sounds made by an owl. Barn Owls have a distinctive ghostly white appearance in flight and a unique heart-shaped white facial disk.

Western Screech-Owls

Northern Saw-whet Owls

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The next two target owls would take us into Silverado Canyon to get into forested habitat. The first of these was Western Screech-Owl. In oak woodlands from lowland to mid elevations, this is certainly the most common owl in the west. We had three or four individuals calling at the first location we stopped. Eventually we got great looks at one individual.  The owl was within 20 feet of us. The highly territorial Western Screech Owl is very vocal so it is relatively easy to hear. Yet this owl may not be so easy to see without some practice. I have posted on Western Screech-Owl in this blog previously so did not take pictures of this one. We had one final target we hoped to show our visitors, and that bird, shown in the picture at the left was one that I would never depend on finding in mid September.


Northern Saw-whet Owls

Northern Saw-whet Owls

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a permanent resident in some of the Orange County canyons. Yet it is totally quiet at this time of year. They are small (blackbird size), uncommon, strictly nocturnal, and live in a thick habitat. This makes them almost invisible at this time of year. Even when you can locate them by sound during their vocal/breading period, they are still shy. Most often you only see some small owl whizzing by in the night and never get a good sighting.

Add a dark moonless evening in our owling equation and this bird was going to be a difficult find. I had warned the group that there was not much chance of finding this owl. Never-the-less, in a very short period of looking, we found a beautiful little Saw-whet Owl. This one was less than 20 feet away just sitting on an exposed branch for us to admire. The owl is just too cute and certainly a favorite amongst our local owls! It made for a stupendous ending to our night of owling.


Owling Costa Rica



Friend and expert photographer David Nelson and I traveled to Costa Rica to do some research on Vermiculated Screech-Owl. While there, we also photographed several other owls including two species that I had never seen before. We flew into San Jose and then headed west to the Carara Biologica Reserva area (1). This area had the first new owl for me: Striped Owl. I have missed this species on previous trips to southern Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica. It is a really beautiful bird. We found four Striped Owls and multiple birds of four other owl species this first night and the next morning.

Our second day we went back across to the Caribbean lowlands to stay for two nights in Veragua (2). This is a developing ecotourism and educational reserve in eastern Costa Rica. Not yet developed for anything beyond a day visit, it was one of the most interesting places we went. The reserve is about a 45-minute drive off the main highway and then another hour on rough dirt roads. We stayed in very basic quarters, setup for the construction crew that had built the reserve’s educational center. At 6:00 each night, everyone left the reserve and we were alone, locked-in and far from anyone. It was quite an experience to be in such a remote Caribbean jungle all alone. The staff turned off the generators at night. Subsequently there were no lights, fans or even water, and no phones or cell phone coverage.

It was a really amazing place to be at night with incredible nocturnal wildlife from jaguars to vipers. The diurnal wildlife was equally impressive. We saw many types of interesting birds, mammals, and two species of poison dart frogs. Owls we found there included Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Crested Owl and Central American Pygmy-Owl, the other owl species new to me. The main reasons for visiting Veragua was first to record Vermiculated Screech-Owl. This would be for a tentative research article on systematics of the Vermiculated Screech-Owl complex. Second, to photograph Central American Pygmy-Owl. We photographed both red and brown phase (morphs) of Vermiculated Screech-Owls. The Central American Pygmy-Owl we also found and photographed. We also recorded the voices of both of the preceding species along with Crested Owl. Our short exploratory venture here was both fascinating and breathtaking.

After Veragua, we went north to La Selva Biological Reserve (3) to get additional recordings and photos of Vermiculated Screech-Owl there. La Selva is a popular destination in Costa Rica. We spent the fourth and fifth nights at this location. Although we got what we went there for, we struggled with rain. In both Veragua and La Selva, we had multiple rain storms that made it difficult to achieve our goals – cameras and recording equipment do not do well in rain! Despite the weather trouble, we got done everything we went there for. La Selva is a beautiful place and a popular birding destination. A large NBC crew (200+) arrived to shoot some new reality show the day we left. They wouldn’t tell us what it was about. We were glad not to be not around for that.

The sixth day found us south again, this time in the San Geraldo de Dota area, a lush, secluded canyon region in the mountains below San Jose (4). We were hoping to photograph a rare red phase of the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl that I knew was nesting in this canyon. Our stay was very pleasant and we saw lots of new species of birds and wildlife. We found the pygmy-owl we went for, but it stayed very high up in the canopy so our photos were poor. I have photographed and recorded this species before but have to try to get pictures of this color morph another time in the future. It was still nice to get out of the lowlands into the cooler mountains and an interesting change of birds, wildlife and habitat.

On our seventh day we moved to the volcano Irazu to the east of San Jose (5) to look for Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, a very rare species in Costa Rica. It was a long shot and access into the forests along the side of the volcano proved to be just too difficult without more time to explore the area. We did find and photograph Bare-shanked Screech Owl, another mountain species, while searching the area. Late that night we decided to return to the Carara (6) area on the west coast where we began our trip. That way, we could try for better photos of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in the early morning before catching our flight home the next afternoon.

Our last morning in Costa Rica went just as planned. We found at least four different Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl individuals and got better photos than we had previously. Even with the unseasonable amounts of rain at this time of year, it was a productive trip and we saw lots of wildlife. Costa Rica is a very beautiful country and always a pleasure to visit.

Enjoy the photos,
Dan Lockshaw




Digiscoping – Is it worth the trouble?

A photo showing a Ferruginous Hawk without digiscoping advantage

Ferruginous Hawk photographed without a spotting scope

Sunday, I drove by El Toro Marine Base – now “Orange County Great Park” and found a Ferruginous Hawk perched out on one of the trees. I decided to try and take a photo of the bird despite the fact that just about everything was against getting a good photo of it. The day was mostly cloudy with intermittent rain and the lighting was very poor. Since this portion of the “Great Park” is not open to the public, the closest I could get to this bird was off Irvine Ave. Also to make things worse, the area is enclosed by an 8-foot chain link fence that would mar any picture taken through it. A range-finder confirmed the perch of the hawk to be 218 yards away. So this was going to be a challenge to get a nice photo. Luckily I had all the right stuff to make an attempt.

Digiscoping a Ferruginous Hawk with a Leica spotting scope

Same Ferruginous Hawk Digiscoped through the Leica spotting scope

I had to climb through my sunroof of my car. Standing on the center console got me an unobstructed view over the fence. Fully extending one leg of the tripod and setting it on the seat gave some support. I now had an unobstructed view over the fence.  This was a very unsteady position. Trying to take a picture from this position in poor lighting was going to be interesting! I wondered what the drivers of the cars whizzing by on Irvine Ave thought. Did they understand that I was just another crazy bird watcher taking a picture? At least the Irvine police who patrol the base didn’t find me! These sorts of things can be difficult to explain in the post-911 era…

The Leica D-Lux4 camera and digiscoping adapter is very simple. Just slip over the eyepiece of the Apo-Televid 82 spotting scope and start taking quality pictures. I am no digiscoping pro, nor am I expert at photography with a pocket camera. So, the Leica digiscoping outfit is simple, fast and yields impressive pictures..

Is it worth the trouble?? What trouble?