Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System

Friday's Field Trip for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) was to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Santa Ana has been described as "a jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System". I visited Santa Ana back on my very first visit to the Rio Grande Valley more than 20 years ago. It seems like fewer and fewer birders are going there now and I think my own visits bear that out. I think its been at least 5 years since I've personally been back to Santa Ana.

Maybe one reason is I don't think the birding has been as good there as it used to be. Like most of the RGV Santa Ana is getting drier and the ebony and cedar elm trees that used to make the birding so good there are giving way to a more xeric or drier landscape dominated by mesquite trees. Heavier use of the water in the Rio Grande, less rain and a more managed flow of water in the river just mean the annual seasonal flooding doesn't happen anymore, only occasional catastrophic flooding happens now.

Couple that with tighter and tighter budgets  and the Fish and Wildlife Service has trouble maintaining the wetlands there. You may have the water rights to fill the wetlands, but if you don't have the budget to operate the equipment and the pumps then they can't be maintained.

A jewel is dying a death of a thousand cuts, but don't count it out, there are still plenty of good birds here.

Our RGVBF group was large do we divided into two groups. Actually I divided them by the handy way they stood in the parking lot with the crosswalk dividing them. Try to get consensus with forty plus people and your just creating a time sink. These people are here to see birds and I wanted to get them on the trail to do that.

Off we went. It was foggy and quiet, just the sound of Great Kiskadees calling and the occasional contact call of an Olive Sparrow. We weren't getting on anything. Finally as we got to a  currently mostly empty impoundment we got a few things. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green Jays, Long-billed Thrasher. At the impoundment we got the scopes on a pair of Harris Hawks that were calling.

At the second overlook we started down the trail. One of the trip participants point out a bird soaring over. I got on it and of course it was tail on to me at first. Then I saw the wide banded tail, the barred pattern of the paddle-shaped primaries and I got excited, then the pinched look of the wings to at the body clinched it. Hook-billed Kite was Year Bird 472! Whew I was sweating that one, Hook-billed Kite is getting hard to get in the RGV these days. Unfortunately no picture because I wasn't carrying a camera. I personally don't like to carry a camera when leading a trip because it distracts me from my primary job of helping everyone have a good trip.

What I was carrying was a pair of Mavan B.1 8x42 binoculars that Mavan loaned me to try out. From the start my impression of them was very positive. They were crisp edge to edge of the field of view. I wear eyeglasses and the eye relief was good for me. I figured 18-19 mm using them and the specs turned out to be 18.6 mm. At 29.125 oz. in weight they compare well with something like the Swarovski 8x42 EL series (28 oz.)

They just felt good in my hands too. They feel sturdy. The rubber armor feels thick. the focus knob is big and is deeply knurled metal. That field good in my hands too.

I kept asking myself what was different feeling about these than one of the major brand high end binoculars and I hand to say nothing. Nothing felt off, nothing seems like it was missing. In the end I can't say wanted a pair or Swarovski, Lieca, Zeiss. etc more. I felt like I was using one of those elite brands. Now for the best part, at $900 list these come in at about half the price of those elite brands.

I can see myself using these as my primary binocular easily. Mavan is a new company, but the quality impression these optics gave me do allow me to recommend giving these optics a look. If I were to meet you on the trail and I were to give you the birder binocular eye dip to check out what you were carrying I would think you were a serious birder for carrying these.


  1. What is the close focus on Mavans? That is critical to me. What would you say the best close focus binos are?

  2. Carolyn I just looked at the specs on the Maven B1, 6.6 feet it said. Teri

  3. What is their warranty? That's an important issue, too. Waterproof, I assume?!

  4. The warranty is unconditional lifetime. I never asked and it doesn't say any where on the the website that they are waterproof, but since they are nitrogen purged I would assume so. I carried them in some light rain with no issues.