Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Who's Watching Your Eyes? Sunglasses for hawkwatching

Happy Hawkwatchers
Have you ever stepped off of a hawkwatch platform or out of a trapping blind and felt like your eyes were bleeding? You are not alone. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can really take a toll on your eyes after staring into the sky for upwards of eight hours a day. Many hawkwatchers and bird banders experience the same exact issues, and after years of doing either activity, UV rays can severely damage your eyes. Since vision is one of a hawkwatcher’s most valuable assets, let’s talk about how to save it. We don’t want you missing a single bird out there.
I’ve been in the sunglasses industry for nearly five years. My company sells multiple brands, and I have no specific brand bias aside from my own preferences. What I do have is a working knowledge of many of the best brands available, and field experience wearing sunglasses both in the blind, and at the hawkwatch platform. This entire piece is written as my opinion, and without any endorsed bias. With all that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The most basic question revolves around a price point. “How much do I need to shell out for good sunglasses?” Most respectable sunglasses range in price from $60-$320. I like to tell birders that they have to think about sunglasses the same way they think about binoculars. Both optical technologies cost money to make, and even more money to make well. Optical clarity is important to most birders. How much did your binoculars cost? Birders are the one group of people who can really appreciate the quality of good optics. Now you don’t actually have to spend $320, but just like with binoculars, you get what you pay for. You’ll probably spend around $200 for a nice polarized pair of sunglasses with a high clarity index and superior color portrayal, but you could get by with a $60 pair just as well.

Future's so bright....
The next standard question is: “What is polarization, and do I need it?” Polarization, specifically, has to do with sun glare. Almost every pair of sunglasses you buy at a reputable brick and mortar dealer will already be 100 percent UV-A and UV-B protectant. That means all those UV rays you have been soaking in for years will be blocked. But without polarization you will see a lot more sun glare, and be prone to squinting. At its most simplistic explanation, polarization is a sort of filter system within the lens that blocks out sun glare wavelengths. Polarization is going to increase the price of your glasses anywhere from $20 to $100, but I had already figured that into the price points when I quoted them above. I shy most casual sunglass customers away from polarization as they don’t really need it, but I always encourage anglers, golfers, serious drivers, birders, and those with more than casual visual needs to spend the extra money. It makes all the difference in the world if you’re staring into the sky for long hours at a time.
A large consideration to take into account when buying sunglasses for hawkwatching is the lens color. Brown lenses will give you a higher contrast on edges, and superficially “highlight” objects (especially hawks in the sky). The downside to brown lenses is that they will distort colors a bit. For instance, a distant juvenile Bald Eagle whose heavy mottling tends to come off as brown might appear a different shade with a brown lens. Black or neutral-gray lenses will stay much more true to color, but will not give you any advantage as far as contrast or “highlighting.” Finally, black/gray lenses tend to heavily shade the world, whereas brown lenses appear to brighten it up. I suggest trying both colors out in the store and deciding what you like best for your hawkwatching needs.

Blue Skies of Death!
Finally, you might think about lens material. The two main choices are polycarbonate (plastic) and glass. Glass lenses are going to give you a much higher clarity than plastic lenses right away. Another advantage to purchasing glass lenses is that they are much harder to scratch than plastic ones. The main disadvantages to wearing actual glass is that it is noticeably heavier, and there is always the chance that they can shatter if you drop them on a hard surface. The main advantage to purchasing plastic lenses is going to be weight. They also are much harder to shatter, but easier to scratch, and the clarity is never going to be as good as glass.
I am always asked to recommend glasses brands, and what my preferences are, so I will include my personal opinions as closure to this article. I almost always wear Maui Jim sunglasses. I believe they have an unparalleled color spectrum and clarity index. I lean towards their non-glass models for hawkwatching because of the long hours involved. I wear brown lenses for the advantages they provide described above. My second choice is Smith Optics. You get great optics for your dollar with this brand ($120-$200), and they are the only brand that comes with a lifetime warranty that I am familiar with. Another great bang for your buck is Ray-Ban. I would recommend getting a polarized pair with glass lenses from them. They will be about your cheapest option to obtain real polarized glass. If you are on a budget, I would recommend Polaroid (just like the instant cameras) sunglasses. They actually introduced polarized lenses into the civilian market, and the lens quality appears to be much better than similar priced competitors that have come back to my store with layer flaking, pressure cracks, and so on.

You can go cheaper if you want, but think about the decisions you made when purchasing your binoculars, and how a higher-end model price probably seemed insane to you when you first looked. Think about the quality difference between low-end bins in the $100 range, and high-end bins in the $1,000 or more range. Every dollar in optics counts in the end, and luckily sunglasses won’t cost you more than $2,000 like a good pair of bins will.

Author Rick Bacher
Rick Bacher: As well as being an English teacher and full-time student Rick also volunteers as a Junior Audubon leader at Buffalo Audubon, is a leader for the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage, takes public relations photographs at Tifft Nature Preserve and is a hobby wildlife photographer and birder. He spends autumns at Cape May with his mentor where he is learning to identify, process, and band raptors. Rick can also be found watching and counting hawks throughout Western New York during the Spring migration. He's a serious hawk bum. Follow Rick's photography on his birding blog at  

1 comment:

  1. Great article about Sunglasses.All designs are very nice.Thanx for the great post.