So, about a month ago, I got an email from my buddy Clay about inviting some bird bloggers to the Swarovski Optik headquarters in Rhode Island. I wasn't sure what exactly it was going to be about, but I figured Swarovski wanted to find out about this whole blogging thing. That was half true, but in the afternoon they pretty much let us loose to just talk amongst ourselves and the meeting ended up being beneficial to bloggers as we talked about everything from why we blog to tips for increasing traffic and dealing with trolls.
Some I knew from the bird festival circuit and others I met face to face for the first time. So for me it was part friend reunion and a chance to connect with some of my favorite blogging colleagues. We talked about how different our blogs were and how we each had aspects that we envied of each other like having a team of bloggers, or being married to your in house tech guy who runs your site, or those who have a knack for editing, the ability to interact well with their commenters (I'm such a non commenter, I don't mean to be, but I am) etc. I have to give Swarovski props for wanting to learn more about bird bloggers and they are certainly ahead of the curve on this compared to most other birding companies.
This is Albert Wannenmacher the CEO of Swarovski Optik in North America proudly displaying the Digiscoping Plaque that Clay and I won at the World Series of Birding this past spring. Swarovski has been great to me, they have given me tremendous support that allows me to blog as much as I do and they invite me to tag along at bird festivals and events. You read about other types of blogs and how companies send them press releases or invite bloggers to visit and meet and create mutually beneficial relationships. The birding industry has been slow to catch on. Publishers (though not all) like Houghton Mifflin have been great as has birdJam by involving bloggers with press releases, but many bird related companies are still quite befuddled by the Internet. I've had some companies accost me at trade shows, "Hey, Birdchick! Why don't you talk about me?" to which I answer, "Because you don't tell me anything."
I'm not saying that blogs need to be all about advertising, but let's face it, bloggers want to provide great content and to that you need time and in some cases money. The dream is to find a way to work with a company you legitimately like and find ways they can help you provide some good content. And there are lots of companies out there that are very involved with conservation projects and have contests. I would love more of them to toot their own horns and let us know about the projects they are funding, both because the projects are often cool and it's nice to know which companies are out there helping birds and not just selling product.
I actually arrived a day early and spent some time in the optics repair department. Above is Kyle and if you have a pair of Swarovski ELs and have sent them in to be repaired or upgraded, this guy has worked on them. Talk about a perfectionist, he walked me through a whole upgrade on an EL, up to and included replacing the casing on the outside--I saw naked binoculars!
Oh, and ladies, a piece of advice: if you wear cosmetics while birding, take a make up wipe to your eye cups from time to time--especially if you're sending them in for repairs. All that dirt and old make up can't be good for your pores anyway.
Kyle also gave my 8x32 ELs a once over and we took my focus wheel apart. He showed me how it all worked and it was just fascinating to see the gears and grease and all the places my barrels are sealed to keep them waterproof. He showed me one part of my focus wheel that's called a "Flip Flop"--seriously, that's the actual technical term. I looked at him skeptically and he assured me that something just gets lost in the Austrian translation.
The next day, the other bird bloggers arrived and got a similar tour. I love this shot of Corey from 10,000 Birds. I took this photo through one of the prisms that would go into an EL. That's Ben from 600 Birds off to the left. Julie arrived with some ELs to upgrade and I offered to take care of them for her since I learned how to do it the day before. She got all huffy and said I would just get Cinnamon's fur all over her binoculars. I retorted that I don't see how rabbit hair is much worse than Chet Baker slobber. Albert and Clay had to separate us after that.
But of course, being birders, you can only sequester us indoors for meetings and tours for so long before we get antsy and must go outside. They ended the meeting early and took us out for some light birding. We didn't see too terribly much but I did get a fun head shot of a herring gull head. The real birding was to be had the next morning...(more on that later).
One thing I've noticed with Swarovski is that if they invite you to dinner--GO. They always know the best restaurants. Above, I'm sharing a moment with Ben of 600 Birds as he samples his very first lobster.
Part of the fun of eating a lobster is getting to tear it apart. This place was so fancy that the waiter would don rubber gloves and take apart your lobster for you. Not sure I was classy enough for this place and Non Birding Bill suspects I freaked out Helena of Adventures of Bird Girl with my table manners.
It was an interesting group and if you can believe it, some of us were super chatty and had a lot to say, others of us were quiet and listening, soaking the whole scene in. I think we all know which category I fall into. The bird blogging crowd is an interesting mix.