D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e   May 2006


Wage War
The fight to raise the minimum wage moves to the local level.

Birth of the Blues
Behind the scenes of the Silver City Blues Festival.

Inside Stories
Voices from the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.

Going with the Flow
Get your feet wet at the Gila River Festival.

Magic Flute
Las Cruces musician Randy Granger plays his way to the top.

Getaways: Strip Tease
Can you have fun in Las Vegas without gambling? You bet.

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Celestial Cycles
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40 Days & 40 Nights
Celebration of Spring
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Tour of the Gila
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Continental Divide

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New Gear for Bird Watchers

One man's quest for the best binoculars.


For more than six months now, a peculiar and evasive bird has come to the backyard feeder and I couldn't identify it no matter how stealthy I was. Three months back I even asked readers of another column I was then writing to lend me a hand.

The bird is all black with an underlying iridescent greenish-purple hue at times, depending on the light. The bird has a crest on its head, has black feet and beak, and is highly skittish, flying off into the trees as soon as I exit the door.

From my fleeting glances I compiled what info I could, then consulted my Sibley's bird guide, but the closest ID that I could come to was a melanistic-phase Titmouse, and that didn't satisfy me.

Then last week the bird appeared in the yard over and over, but as soon as I tried to get a glimpse, it would fly into the nearby oak scrubs and hide. I was frustrated!

That's when I grabbed a pair of brand new 8X32 binoculars that I've been reviewing, and eyeballed the critter from afar. Bright, clear and sharp, these binos allowed me to see features that hitherto had been unnoticed, especially the weird crest upon the bird's head.

Not just any crest, but a spiked-punk-rocker-crest! I noticed it also had very brown, piercing eyes.

Armed with this new info, I again opened the Sibley's and soon identified the critter as a Phainopepla, a bird common to oak and mistletoe scrub, whose northernmost year-round range happens to be our Gila! Eureka!

Most birders need four pieces of gear to make a successful outing: a good pair of footgear, a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun out of your eyes and off of your neck, a good bird guide, and a great pair of binoculars that won't give you eyestrain and that are sharp, clear and bright.

For the past several months I've been reviewing such optics made by a company named Alpen Outdoor Corp., based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. I have binoculars from their top lines in eight and 10 power, to the number of six pieces. I became interested because this company is probably the fastest-rising optic firm in the country in the last year.

For my identification of the aforementioned bird, I used a pair of Apex 8X32s with the ability to close-focus down to a phenomenal four feet! I also have several other Apex models and some Shasta lines for review.

There are several features that bird-watching binoculars need to please their users: The binoculars must be light, compact, bright, clear and allow the user to see sharp features. I've found virtually every Alpen product in my hands to do so. Quite impressive!

I decided to do further testing by asking owners of other high-dollar optics to do a side-by-side comparison. In every case the other owners declared the Apex line to be as good or nearly as good as their glasses costing more than three times as much! Two persons did say that they felt their $2,000 glasses were slightly brighter, but not by much.

It got to the point that these owners were asking me to get binoculars for them. I replied that I was a test-writer and had no way to do so; they then wanted my samples!

Consequently, I've chosen two pair for keeping: the light, compact Apex 8X32 and the top-end Apex camouflaged 10X42. I also chose to buy a pair of the next line down Shasta's for my truck in 8X26. These lines are the first glass I've found that I could see properly with while wearing spectacles.

I finally figgered out that I now would be happy for the rest of my remaining short days upon earth in the outdoors; that's when I received a package from Miss Vickie, the petite co-owner of the Alpen Corp. In it was a brand-new pair of their high-dollar Ranier line, which won't be available until June; these are meant to be as good as the top-dollar name brands such as Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski, Kahles, etc. that sell for upwards of $1,500 to $2,000.

These Raniers came in 10X42 and so it behooved me to do another comparison. I borrowed a pair of high-dollar Swarovskis and asked people to do side-by-sides. The results? In every way, non-owners of either pair said they were equal in every way. Yet the Raniers cost one-third to one-half of the other brands. I guess I'll keep these too, sigh!

Why are these Alpen lines so good? It is the fully multicoated-Tense-coatings on every glass surface, plus a thing called phase coating on their top-of-the-line prisms.

My smallish 8X32s have permitted me to closely scrutinize jays, juncos, thrashers, collared doves, quail and all manner of other bird life. They will be accompanying me on my ongoing turkey hunts, too.

I'm so impressed by the quality of the Alpens, plus the fact that virtually all of my "buds" want them, that I have decided to do something I've never done with a reviewed product before: I have become a dealer for southern New Mexico.

By the way, I've already sold several pair to race-car aficionados, too. These optics in the Shasta line in eight and 10 power are just the right size for long periods of watching autos and trucks race around the track.

If you would be interested in such fare, feel free to contact me in care of my other business, SW Carpet Grooming, 388-3448, or online at larrylightner@yahoo.com, or contact the parent Alpen Outdoor Corp. at (877) 987-8370. Thanks, and keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there!


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively
for Desert Exposure.


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