Barbara and I headed out to Achensee (near Jenbach in Tirol) this afternoon to see if we could find any waterfowl of note. We managed to find about 50 Coots (Blässhuhn), 2 Mute Swans, 19 Tufted Duck (Reiheenten), one Mallard (Stockente) and one Great Crested Grebe (Haubentaucher) along with about 15 Blackheaded Gulls (Lachmöwen).
We stopped in at a scenic Gasthaus overlooking the lake, to have a cup of hot chocolate and were greeted by a bird feeder. And as with many winter bird feeders in Europe, it had a a steady stream of tits and other little birds coming in.
Watching them from our cosy booth, we got to discussing and observing the various interactions between and within the bird species.
As it turns out, size counts.
The most abundant species was the Coal Tit, and there seemed to be one dominant individual that would tirelessly chase away other Coal Tit individuals when (s)he wanted to feed. But he was no match to the Great Tit that occasionally came by. Nor did (s)he have anything to say when the much bigger Nuthatch showed up.
Canon EOS 5D mark II, Canon EF DO 400mm f4, Canon EF 2x converter
At one stage a single Blue Tit showed up and got to feed in a quiet period, but it soon disappeared as a whole herd of Coal Tits, a Great Tit and two Nuthatches flooded the feeder all at once.
It was great fun to peacefully watch the antics of the birds outside and I can fully appreciate the therapeutic benefit millions of people around the world get from watching birds at their garden feeders.
The Rock Partridge is a stunning bird of the grouse family - one of my favourites, really. They are also incredibly difficult to find in the Tirolean Alps, and I only know of a few places where they have been recorded.
My one encounter thus far with real wild Rock Partridges here in Tirol was last spring up near Kühtai. I had stopped off in an area where I knew Rock Partridges had been seen before, and got out to take a panorama photo. This is the hastily stitched together result:
The road on the right is the western portion of the road on the left.
So I have already posted about the Wild Goose Festival in Tata Hungary, but while I was out there I took some video footage so that I could make a short video about it. It is very short, I promise, but it has some cool footage and will help you imagine just how incredible of a festival it really is.
Every year in November, the west Hungarian city of Tata hosts an incredible birding festival. 2009 saw approximately 24,000 wild geese on the Old Lake (Öreg To) and played host to more than 10,000 people coming to view the spectacle.
The festival drew large numbers of serious birders as well as a considerable crowd of non-birders (avian muggles) who were just fascinated by the experience.
Besides the early morning take-off and sunset return of the geese, the day is largely occupied with a bird race for the more serious birders, and information talks and demonstrations for the general public.
Recently, I have been using the Canon Eos 5D mark II a fair amount, and it makes a great camera for digiscoping using the TLS800 adapter. To be completely honest, I have been astounded by the quality of the results. Here are some photos of Chamois I took at Alpenzoo last week.
Every winter, hundreds of Snowfinches collect in Kühtai in large non-breeding flocks; feeding on the sunflower seeds on offer there, and sheltering from bad weather in the high mountains. I have yet to see a snowfinch below 1800m and Kühtai lies at just over 2000m.
The flock size tends to increase through the winter, reaching a peak in about February (but I'll monitor it more closely over the next winter season.
Yesterday I was up in Kühtai again for a day of glorious powder skiing and picked up the first small flocks of the season in town (as opposed to the single individuals I have been seeing in the high mountains up until now).
It is wonderful to have them back, and I look forward to take looooots of photos of them over the next few months.
Here are five things you should consider when wanting to get crisp, sharp digiscoping photos:
1. Get good focus - use the optical viewfinder of a DSLR or macro autofocus of a compact camera.
2. Understand your camera settings - use ISO and Aperture setting to get photos with low noise (low ISO) and with a wide open aperture (smallest f number in Aperture Priority mode) to get the fastest shutter speed possible for those conditions.
3. Use a remote release of countdown timer - anything that lets you reduce the shake of the camera will improve the sharpness of the images taken with the digiscoping setup
4. Use a stable platform - carbonfibre tripods are light and dampen vibrations effectively. If you are using a tripod, make sure you use a telescope balance rail as adding the weight to the back of the telescope tends to pull the whole setup out of balance and introduce/accentuate camera shake. Even better than a tripod is a Bean Bag. These are very easy to make and - filled with beans, rice or corn - make excellent vibration-dampening camera/telescope supports.
5. Use good quality optics - photographers have been saying this for decades: buy good quality lenses first, and then think about upgrading your camera body. Applied to digiscoping, the quality of the image coming through your scope will largely determine the quality of the image you are able to get out of your digiscoping setup.
btw, those really are real live hippos in the background. they kill more people in Africa than all other living creatures put together: snakes, bees, sharks, lions, spiders... (oh, that list is long)
In May, Clay Taylor and I spent a few days in Italy's dream birding location - the Delta del Po. One of the highlights is the thousands of Pygmy Cormorants (Zwergscharbe) floating/flying about. They really are an abundant bird in the Po Delta - and I suspect - a good deal of the reason why they are spreading throughout the region now (Martin and I saw two Pygmy Shags in Neusiedlersee last weekend).
The highlight of the trip was being taken to the hide near Ravenna. Here are some digiscoping photos from our time with the Pygmy Cormorants there:
A nice sillouette:
While we were at the Pygmy Cormorant hide, we made a little video on the UCA digiscoping adapter which I have posted here before - it also has some videoscoping shots of the Pygmy Cormorants:
The geese sleep overnight on the large "old lake" (Öreg Tó), surrounded by the Hungarian city of Tata. During the day, they feed out on agricultural fields up to 50km away from the lake, returning at dusk again. Binoculars and telescopes really help enhance the experience:
view over the lake, with large flocks of geese coming in
digiscoping the geese across the lake (see the previous photo)
I also took a fair amount of video footage and did an interview with one of the organisers. I'll post it when I have it done. I am really loving video and videoscoping (as you may well have guessed), it just takes so much time to edit and prepare the video files...
Hi All, we have just set up a Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/user/digiscopingvideos where we will regularly (hopefully) post videos about digiscoping, birding, bird identification, cool places to commune with nature, conservation projects and and and...
Here is a video I made while in the woodbush forest in the northern Drakensberg mountains, Limpopo Province, South Africa (with Cape Parrots in the background!!!). It is about how to choose the best spotting scope for digiscoping including telescope objective size, ocular/eyepiece choice, and the adapter.
If you enjoyed the video, please go along to the youtube channel and subscribe.
Last year I attended a really cool bird festival in western Hungary. The 2009 Tatai Vadlud Sokadalom is happening this weekend again and I get to go down there to look at the geese, hang out with my birder friends and experience thousands of geese flying about at the same time!
And I thought I would re-post my blog from last year's goose festival:
Awesome winter birding festival in Hungary
Wow, incredible! The annual Birding and Goose Festival in Tata (Tatai Vadlud Sokadalom), western Hungary was definitely a spectacle. We awoke on Saturday morning to what looked like a nice morning. It was still dark out but most of the birders were already active and starting to "hunt" birds for the bird race. But the real spectacle was happening on the lake shore. The lake was still dark (there are no artificial lights around the lake) but the geese were starting to to get restless - 20,000 of them!
Tons of Bean Geese (Ansa fabalis, Saatgans), with great big groups of Whitefronted Geese (Anser albifrons, Blässgans) and Greylag Geese (Anser anser, Graugans) and - rumour had it - a few Red-breasted Geese too (Branta ruficollis, Rothalsgans). But it wasn't only the spectacle of thousands of geese waking up that was amazing, but also the sheer number of people there to see it. Even at dawn, there was a huge line of birders and telescopes enjoying the spectable - the line of birders must have been at least about 100m long by sunrise.
One of the loveliest and most inspiring things for me personally was the sheer number of children participating in the festival. I would guess that at least 25-30% of the people at the festival were children in families. But this was not the reluctant child being dragged along on the parents' hobby outing - there were kids everywhere with binoculars about the neck looking for birds. Their enthusiasm for birding was infectious and it is really apparent that the Hungarians really know a thing or two about birding, birders and the development of our passion (and we could learn a lot from them!).
For the bird race, Martin Riesing and I were joined by an enthusiastic Hungarian birder from Budapest and the three of us trudged about in the morning's rain examining everything that moved. Into the afternoon the weather got better. I mean that in the loosest of senses for it was still flippin' cold (but it was a WINTER bird fest after all), but it just was not raining.
Our last tick for the day (and a lifer for me) was three Long-eared Owls (Asio otus, Waldohreule) which we picked up at dusk, just as they were heading out on the hunt.
All in all, about 5,000 people attended the Tata wild bird / goose festival (officially called the VIII. Tatai Vadlud Sokadalom 2008). This is even more impressive considering the poor weather. The festival was well organised (by MME, Hungary's local Birdlife International partner) and everyone was super friendly and helpfull. And the spectacle of 20,000 wild geese moving about at sunset would be hard to beat.
Swarovski Optik Hungary had a little stand at the bird fair with a video camera set up on a digiscoping setup so that people could see live images of the geese on a television screen if they did not have a telescope to use.
It really does seem like the Hungarians know a little something about birding and birders and could teach the rest of us a good thing or two...
If you would like to join the bird.at group heading to the Tatai Vadlud Sokadalom 2009 then we would be more than happy to hear from you!
I wanted to test out a digiscoping adapter with various cameras so I went out this morning hoping to find some birds to try the adapter out on. The trouble was, the birds were quiet and the light was so dim.
I have no idea how people like Chris Photo Nature survive the winter in Iceland, because I am really struggling here - too late in the year for any sunlight, and too early for the pretty white snows...
Here are a couple of shots that I did manage to get at low shutter speeds.
I liked this first shot of the Tufted Duck (Reiherente), the colours came out very nicely.
Swarovski Optik ATM80HD scope, 25-50x W eyepiece, Canon EOS 5D mark II digiscoping.
I suppose the birding highlight of the day was two Bohemian Waxwings that did a circle and flyby over us - this is very early for them. What is happening with the crazy birds in the alps this year?
Last weekend I went down to Milan, Italy, with a few rugby mates to go watch the Italy vs New Zealand All Blacks in the San Siro Stadium. It has been many years since I last got to watch a big rugby game and the chance to see the All Blacks with 80,000 screaming fans could just not be missed (the biggest attendance at a rugby game in Italy, ever).
San Siro Stadium is just HUGE and it was an incredible experience.
Here is the Haka from the game - the first time I have ever seen it live, and it was way more powerful and impressive than I had expected.
... but I couldnt help cursing not having brought my digiscoping stuff with; but then again I spent a whole lot more time soaking in the huge sound from the crowd and watching the game.
New Zealand won, btw. No great surprises there, but the performance of the Italy forwards was incredible to say the least. I think it is safe to say there were 44 bruised and mostly broken bodies the next morning.
At the beginning of the week, we had a small group of journalists at Swarovski Optik to present the new EL42 Swarovision binoculars. On Tuesday morning, a few of them went out birding around the hotel where they were staying and found a good few cool birds including Brambling (Bergfink, Fringilla montifringilla) and Hawfinch (Kernbeißer, Coccothraustes coccothraustes) - the latter a rather unusual bird species for Tirol. I wanted to get out there earlier in the week to try and pick up some of these birds (I have yet to see a Hawfinch in Tirol) and whatever else was about, but ended up working from dark to dark. This afternoon our server crashed mid-afternoon so I was kinda limited in what I could effectively do, so I dashed out of the office armed with a compact camera and a pair of binoculars.
Getting out to Gnadenwald, there really was tons of action about - great big flocks of Goldfinch (Stieglitz, Carduelis carduelis), joined by various tit species, Greenfinch (Grünfink).
Looking up in to the brightly backlit trees, all the birds were massively and disturbingly purple fringed. The thing is, I was not using a Swarovski Optik binocular but had taken out a pair of binoculars in the premier segment from another company (a binocular I usually really enjoy using). What I quickly found out is that if you hold the binoculars incorrectly then Chromatic Aberration is very very pronounced, but hold the binoculars correctly, and I could not find any Chromatic Aberration no matter where I looked.
Chromatic Aberration (purple fringing) has been a favorite complaints theme amongst birders over the last couple of years and it has gotten me thinking; if I position the binoculars better then I get no disturbing chromatic aberration so why would I demand optics manufacturers to use substantially more expensive glass (which I need to pay for) so that I can hold my binoculars badly?
Boggles me. But then again, if that is what the customer wants, then it makes sense that optics company's will provide it.
Besides finding decent numbers of Brambling (don't think I have ever seen them this early in the winter before), I also found at least 20 Citril Finches (Zitronenzeisig, Carduelis citrinella). I have never seen such a large and varied bird party here in Austria - a good 400 small finch-sized birds about; what a lovely sight.
Before moving on to the Honduran Caribbean and then on to the Alps of Austira, I lived in Costa Rica for three years. I was employed by a small parrot conservation organisation Amigos de las Aves. Because I loved my work, I would tend to work 7 days a week for a few months and then take a string of days off get out somewhere new.
One of the places I loved visiting was Playa Ostional in the north west of Costa Rica (but still two FULL days journey in chicken busses) - it is a famous spot for sea turtles, particularly the Olive Ridley Turtle (Oliv-Bastardschildkröte Lepidochelys olivacea). Here are some photos I took in my time on the beaches of Playa Ostional:
There is so much I could say about shrimp fishing. Not very much of it positive. In the time I spent on Playa Ostional's beaches, I probably averaged about 1 dead turtle found per day. And this is just the damage we see on the beach, not to mention the millions of dead turtles washed out to sea or the huge scars on the ocean's floor.
Turtles are lovely ... I think I might post some more turtle posts and photos some time
I publish this post with a smile on my face and a joy in my heart. I hope you feel this too.
This last week has been super busy, Saturday I was at the Alpinmesse in Innsbruck all day (an expo all about Alpine Sport). Sunday was spent in final preparations for Monday's press event for journalists where we presented the new Swarovski Optik EL 42 Swarovision binocular - I will have to write about it some time this week for it truly is an incredible binocular. But back to Saturday...
Swarovski Optik had a stand in the Alpinmesse and I took along a pile of digiscoping stuff to take photos. Right in front of our stand was a huge big dry-wall for climbing set up for the 2009 "Pray for Ice" ice climbing (Eisklettern) competition.
For the most part I was a good 25m away from the wall so that I could be at a higher level. I tried to position myself to be able to get images that included the climbers' faces, which wasn't that easy.
These guys and gals were incredible climbers and their athletic ability was amazing. It was great to be able to get right up close and personal to the climbers in the photos - something that is rarely possible in real life.
These photos were taken with the Swarovski straight telescope (STM80HD), the TLS800 digiscoping adapter and a Canon EOS 5D II. Being in a relatively dark expo hall meant that it was often difficult to get sharp photos with such shutter speeds. But there were a few gems in the photos I did manage to take.
I had borrowed a Canon EOS D350 from the office, attached it to a UCA digiscoping adapterand on an STM80HD scope (a straight scope with 80mm objective diameter) with the 25-50x wide angle zoom eyepiece. I thought I had a pretty decent setup. Starting off with some Marsh Titsand Blue Tits, I managed to get a few photos, but I was really struggling to get anything that remotely resembled a sharp image.
Just as I was thinking about heading home, a streak of white flashed through the bushes...
This Stoat (Wiesel; Mustela erminea) in stunning white winter plumage (I believe non-bird people call this "coat" ;-)
He was hopping and springing about and fully entertaining me with his life's joy. And I tried everything in my might to get a decent photo, but no matter what I did I just couldn't get a sharp photo (and I altered and adjusted everything). Eventually, after the stoat had left, I tried taking the camera off of the scope and testing it by itself. And I still couldn't get a sharp photo (regardless of aperture) - so there must be something wrong with the camera. The canon EOS D350 was first introduced in 2005 but surely the images shouldn't be that bad even though it is 4 years old. mmm...
Anyhow, I had a lovely time with this beautiful little creature.