While I love this blog, I now pretty much only write on my other two blogs: BirdingBlogs.com and 10,000 Birds - I would love to see you there!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Digiscoping Today - week 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of Digiscoping Today!

[See Digiscoping Today - week 3][
More info here]

The idea behind it is to share my (and probably your) passion for digiscoping and nature. Nature gives us so much joy in so many ways and digiscoping - as with other forms of photography - gives us a reason to be outdoors.

Add your name and web address and tell your friends to join in too.
Write a comment to tell us what you have posted.

Happy digiscoping!
Dale Forbes

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Friday, 29 May 2009

Why I blog

I blog because I love birds, I love birding, and I love to share my passion with other people. I will never be a great birder. I will never see all the twitches, and I am likely to get all of my identifications right. I really struggle with remembering bird calls (which is why my cell phone spews out Citril Finch at the moment) and I tend to drift off in to appreciation rather than noting all the important recognition features.
It is also incredibly difficult to learn quickly when most of one's birding is done alone (there are almost no birders in the area, a couple of ornithologists provide my only reprieve).
But what I lack in competence, I make up for in enthusiasm. And I love sharing what I have learnt and experienced, and interacting with other birders/naturalists around the world.

So why am I writing about this now?
One reason is that I love finding blogs where people expose a part of their soul, a part of who they are, something deeper.
The other is that Dave wrote a blog on this topic.

The post is thoughtful, thought-provoking and encapsulates many of the emotions I love discovering in short stories. "Why I Blog" by DDolan is well worth reading. And it would be wonderful to hear YOUR PERSONAL STORIES of what draws you to blogging.

There is one thing that Dave refers to from another blog post that stands out to me:
"... It was about competing for readers on your blog, and how there are limited readers to go around for all of the blogs out there."
This statement contradicts everything that I have come to learn and understand about how web2.0 architecture and functioning works. Academics and leading users are always talking about how competition works completely differently on the "new" internet: translated, this means that you have no competitors apart from yourself. Not including a particular blog on your blogroll or not visiting that blog JUST BECAUSE you do not want to support that competitor is a ludicrous thought in web 2.0. You do not vote with your not traffic. You only vote with your traffic. So supporting the blogs you really like (in whatever ways you can) means that they grow. And the strange thing is that the more traffic you direct to your friends' cool sites, the more your own traffic grows.

Call it, "spreading the blog love"

The more we support and grow each others' blogs, the more the blog world grows. There is no such thing as a "limited number of readers to go around"! There are at least 30,000,000 birdwatchers in the USA alone, and millions more around the world. I cannot come close to believing that there is a ceiling of about 6000 birders a day who are interested in reading blogs about birds and nature. That might be the level right now, but the more we encourage our blog friends, the more the world grows. For everyone.

I would love to hear your stories and comments

Happy birding
Dale Forbes

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Digiscoping and digiscoping adapters

I post lots of digisoping photos of birds on my blog. In fact, all my bird photos on my blog (and some of the people and animal photos too) are digisocped. And I don't think I have ever really posted about what I use, so here goes:

Digiscoping is basically using a digital camera to take photos through a telescope. Initially, cameras were hand-held up to the telescope's ocular lens. While this works, the extra stability and alignment benefits of having an adapter mean that it is much easier to consistently take good photos when you have a good digiscoping adapter/camera mount.

I have used a good number of adapters and digiscoping setups over the years. Over the past few years, I have used the various Swarovski Optik digiscoping adapters extensively. And they all have their uses so I generally choose one depending on what I will be doing that day. But the digiscoping adapter that really stands out to me at the moment - and the one I invariably pack - is The New Universal Camera Adapter (the UCA).

The Swarovski Optik UCA has only just been reveled to the press (which is what the Kazakhstan trip was all about). I will write a proper write-up on the new UCA in the next few days, and I also have a video on its use. When it is done, I will post it here.

Swarovski ATM80HD scope, 25-50x wide zoom eyepiece, UCA digisoping adapter, Canon A590IS

Essentially, the UCA has been designed to mount either a compact digital camera or a DSLR. The camera screws on to a little base plate using the camera's tripod thread, and this clips on to the mounting platform. The camera can be unclipped and slid off the platform easily so that you can use it separately, and when you slide it back on it clicks back in to place and does not need readjusting before taking a photo.

The UCA has the great advantage of allowing me to use it with my compact camera, a camcorder, or a DSLR. You can also take it off and put it back on quickly; separate the camera from the adapter easily (without need for readjustment when replacing); and always have easy access to the eyepiece's zoom. It is also rather light, which is an added bonus.

The new UCA has also come at a good time for my new interest in videoscoping. I'll post more videoscoping videos of birds over the next few weeks (including Longlegged Buzzard, Shorteared Owl, Himalayan Rubythroat, Pygmy Cormorants, Greater Flamingoes and much more).

Videoscoping Pygmy Cormorants in Po Delta, Italy. Videoscoping setup is per digiscoping but with a Panasonic SD100 mounted on the UCA. Yes, that is a DCA on the counter.

I still use my DCA (the little ring digiscoping adapter you can see on the shelf in the hide photo, above), particularly if I know that I will be doing more observation birding than digiscoping, and if I have a pocket free. The DCA has the advantage of being small and pocketable when using a compact camera, but it does not fit all compact cameras because the camera needs to have a filter attachment thread/cone, and I don't find the scope's zoom as easy to use as with the other adapters.

DCA attachment of a DSLR. The DCA has the advantage of being small, light and easy to use, and works for many compact digital and DSLR camera. The disadvantage being that not all compact cameras have a filter adapter cone, and with a DSLR, the camera is only attached via the filter thread.

The DCA was one of the first digiscoping adapters introduced on the market and has quite a fan-base among DSLR users as it allows you to quickly slip the camera on and off again. The downside of this adapter (solved in the UCA) is that the camera is attached using the camera's filter thread, which was not designed to hold the weight of heavy DSLRs. Having said that, with a small 40 to 50mm "pancake lens", and a little bit of care, the DCA works like a dream, and along with the Telescope Rail to shift the centre of gravity further forward and balance the whole setup, it really does make DSLR digiscoping easy.

If you have the DCA ring attached to your DSLR (or even your compact camera), you can very easily use this for digibinning, by sliding the swarovski optik snapshot adapter on to your binoculars and then just using the DCA ring to cup over the snapshot adapter. This creates a good attachment platform for taking a quick digibinning photo.

The DCB flips up and out of the way when using the scope for birding/observation.
The photo is off the internet somewhere 'cos I cannot find one of mine anywhere on my computer. Maybe someday I will replace it with one of my own photos.

I know that the DCA has its strong (and rather vocal) supporters, but with a compact camera, I frankly prefer my DCB. The DCB is a bracket that lets me flip my camera in front of the scope's ocular and then back out of the way again. The camera sits nice and neatly up above the scope. I can then use the quick-release slide on the Telescope Rail to balance the scope properly again. I think I like this system so much because it keeps the camera out of the way, but I don't have find a pocket or bag to hold the camera when I am not using it. This is a great advantage when hiking out somewhere and I don't want to have to take a bag (or clothing with big pockets) with.

The other thing I like about the DCB is that I can use my 30x wide or a zoom eyepiece with it (the current DCA can also do this, but you need to use a little elastic/rubber band or something to wrap around the 30xW to make it a little broader, to help the adapter get a snug connection).

I have heard some digiscopers voice concern about having their camara always exposed to beach sand, rain, etc. I have never had a problem with this. If it is starting to drizzle, I put my hat over the camera. If the conditions are too bad, you can always just unclip and slide the camera off of the DCB and put it somewhere waterproof or dry. Unfortunately, when you want to put it back on again, you will need to find the correct position again manually, but I have never found this too much of a hassle.

The one thing that I don't particularly like about the DCB digiscoping adapter is that the camera is easily bumped from position, i.e. swivelled out of place. This is particularly the case if your camera's tripod thread is offset from the center, meaning that the connection plate would attach to one side. It certainly helps to make sure that the attachment plate is screwed tightly in, but the other thing you can do is to try to make the attachment place a little more adhesive with some thin elastic bands or by glueing a little bit of sticky silicon in place. It doesn't help to be careful with your camera and digiscoping setup either ;-)

Happy digiscoping and happy birding!

p.s. if you are interested in digiscoping, then check out our Digiscoping Today meme.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Big Hat policemen

I just loved these guys' huge police hats. I just could not get enough of them.

I never got around to taking a photo of one of the Kazakhstan policemen myself, but this is a photo that James Lees managed to snap off. James is based in Gloucestershire and writes a blog: JSLees Wildlife Images. As the name suggests, he has some nice digiscoped and DSLR photos (and a video of a young Pallid Harrier in his local reserve).

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Laughing makes everything seem so much more lovely...

This blog post has nothing to do with birds or birding. Directly. But it has got everything to do with appreciation. The more we laugh, the more we appreciate life and everything around us. Enjoy.

Happy laughing,
Dale Forbes

Monday, 25 May 2009

Views of Astana, capital of Kazakhstan

Astana (Астана) has to be one of the strangest cities I have ever been in. It smells of new money and basically this entire super-modern city has been created in the last 10 years. Architecturally, the buildings are definitely visually appealing. Everything in Astana looks new and shiny. And big.

The mosque and Islamic center is spectacular. Sponsored by the Emir of Qatar (emir = something like commander or prince), the dome is 43m high, has 4 x 63m high minarets, and can accommodate 5,000 worshipers. It was built in 2005.

This looks like an enormous apartment block in downtown Astana. But maybe it is also an office block.

This is the site of a new "giant transparent tent". The structure will be covered with some form of transparent plastic that absorbs solar radiation, creating a warm, tropicl climate inside - year round, even when the steppes are bitterly cold outside. Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world with an average daily low of -21ºC (-6ºF) in January and February and it has gotten down to -52ºC (-62ºF)!

Anyhow, this new tent will cover an area of about "10 football stadiums" and "...will be a city with squares and cobbled streets, canals, shopping centres and golf courses. The idea is to recreate summer, so that when the outside temperature is -30C, the residents of the Kazakh capital can play outdoor tennis, take boat rides or sip coffee on the pavement cafes" according to the BBC news report.

Sounds like an incredibly ambitious project, but is likely to be a wonderful break from the cold for the locals in winter.

Lots of shiny new buildings everywhere...

Rush hour in Astana.

I found it really interesting that there is so much money being invested here, but literally two minutes drive out of Astana, and the roads are horrendous. We travelled great big wide open roads all over Kazakhstan, and besides in Astana itself, there was not a road where you could effectively use fourth gear. 60km/hr on a "good" road and you are asking for whiplash. I wonder if the local chiropracters offer frequent flyer miles...

Green Steppe lizard.JPG

Green Steppe lizard.JPG, originally uploaded by capepolly.

This lizard was trying [unsuccessfully] to hide in the grass from all the fascinated paparazzi. Eventually s/he escaped our attention by creeping in to crack under a walkway.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Kazakhstani beetles look like this ...

Well, maybe they don't all look like this. And this wasn't even a beetle, but just that hard remains of an exoskeleton discarded in the rocky desert.

I had been looking for some cool bugs to photograph for Joan while in Kazakhstan, but was finding very little interesting. And when I did, there was normally a much more exciting bird nearby that stole my attention. I found this beetle while hiding up against a rocky slope, waiting for some Grey-necked Buntings to come out so that I could videoscope them. It was in these minutes of quiet and solitude that the exoskeleton presented itself.

This is my favorite of the shots as there is nice depth, looking out across the flat desert to the Tien Chan mountains in the distance (on the border with China).

Dale Forbes

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Digiscoping Today - week 3

Welcome to the third installment of Digiscoping Today!

The idea behind it is to share my (and probably your) passion for digiscoping and nature. Nature gives us so much joy in so many ways and digiscoping - as with other forms of photography - gives us a reason to be outdoors.

Add your name and web address and tell your friends to join in too.
Write a comment to tell us what you have posted.

More info here.

1. Kevin Bolton of Jersey Digiscoping has been after American wood warbler photos lately and has posted one of that series: a Prairie Warbler Dendroica discolor.

2. Sharon aka BirdChick has posted some cool digiscoped photos and video of a steppe eagle and a family of "barking" marmots (also known as steppe eagle food) live in action.

3. Dale Forbes (yes, that is me) has the first part of his travelogue to Kazakhstan, posted below. Isn't it weird to talk about oneself in the third person?

4. Nancy Castillo has a post called "Gorgeous evening Grosbeak". The title does not lie.

5. Corey of 10000birds has added a "Soul-satisfying Scarlet". Damn, this man sure has a way with creating intriguing titles. The posts starts: "Sometimes a species just stops you in your tracks. So it was with a superlative, breeding-plumaged, ...". As always, Corey's post is filled with eye-candy and words to match.

6. Jason (Horukuru) has just posted the programme for a photography workshop to be held in Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok, Sandakan. If you are in the area, then you don't want to miss Jason's presentation on digiscoping and birding equipment in the afternoon of 21 June 2009. He also has a post on his setup and some new digiscoped photos here.

7. Tom Cuffe of Galway Bird photos and more has posted a digiscoped Sedge Warbler - always hard to get.

8. Jerry Jourdan of Jerry's Birding/Digiscoping Blog has some nice digiscoped photos of bright wood warblers, and a story of a wonderful morning's birding in Crane Creek.

The widget service I normally use is on the blink, so click here to add your post

Happy digiscoping!
Dale Forbes

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Steppe Tulips in Kazakhstan

Driving through the steppes, every now and again, we would come across these enormous stretches of beautiful wild flowers. These wild tulips were my favorite. Evidently, the steppes of Kazakhstan are a centre of tulip biodiversity.

BirdChick would kill me if she saw this photo. But then again, she is unlikely to see it, so I think I am safe ;-)

Happy birding

Friday, 22 May 2009

Birding in Kazakhstan 1 - the northern steppes

The past two weeks have seen me cavorting about looking at birds. Well, that is nothing unusual, but what was unusual was the places I got to do my bird cavorting.
  • An overnight stop in Frankfurt (with lots of singing Nightingales, Black Redstarts and Serins)
  • Almost a week in Kazakhstan - think steppes, huge wetlands/pans, great big mountains and dry deserts
  • Four nights in northeastern Italy in the famous Delta del Po / Po Delta - great for wetland / estuarine birding
There is so much I would like to share that I think I could blab on for at least 6 months non-stop.
I am also left with another problem: where to begin?

The steppes of northern Kazakhstan

Heading west out of the Kazakhstani capital city, Astana, you quickly get in to the flat open plains of the steppes. The landscape reminded me strongly of the open "highveld" grasslands of central South Africa. Completely flat as far as the eye can see, with very slight undulations, sometimes bowling in to green wetlands and pans.

Pallid Harrier.JPG-2
Pallid Harrier (Steppenweihe) scouring the steppes for edibles...

Having just seen a Pallid Harrier in Innsbruck, and having always had a fascination for the white harriers, I was blown away by the sheer numbers of Pallid Harriers on the steppe. We literally saw hundreds of them. Some of the birders on the trip were obsessed with the Black Larks Melanocorypha yeltoniensis, I was all about the Pallid Harriers.

Montagues Harrier.JPG
Digiscoped Montagues Harrier making an about-turn while warding off another territory-imposing male

On one occasion, we stopped at a pan and all the birders rolled out of the vans - a pair of Pallid Harriers was scouring the borders of the wetland zone. I got my digiscoping setup together and scuttled off with Peter Grobben to see whether we could pick up a Black Lark on the road...

But then the harriers came back so the black larks got quickly forgotten. We fired off a series of photos and loved experiencing the interactions between the two males and a female. What a wonder of nature! It was only when I was reviewing my pics back at the car that I realised that we had been photographing Montagues Harriers and that the Pallid Harriers had wondered a few fundred meters up the shore. It really is a hard life for a birder when you have to deal with the confusion of having sooo many beautiful Circus harriers about ;-)

A good number of times, we came across Demoiselle Cranes (Jungfernkranich, Anthropoides virgo), but the intense heat haze made taking photos of them really hard.

Here is a "look mom, I saw a crane" photo:
Demoiselle Cranes
Demoiselle Cranes digiscoped on the steppes of northern Kazakhstan

While hiding behind a road-side bush (yes, the only bushes anywhere was the rare one right alongside the road, usually near a leaking water/irrigation pipe), a gorgeous Bluethroat decided that that was a good time to sing for Peter and I.

My first Bluethroat (Blaukehlchen, Luscinia svecica)

Late afternoon was spent at the scientists' station in the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve where we had a breeding pair of pallidus Merlins (Dominic Mitchell has a great photo here), tons of Paddyfield Warblers in the reeds, a common rosefinch, oriental turtle doves, and lots of mosquioes - no wonder all these tropical birds make the long trek up to the steppes to breed.

Tree Sparrows.JPG
These Tree Sparrows were loving the attention from my camera! I loved the paired expressions.

Other birders who were also on the trip (and who have been way more productive on their blogs than I) have already posted stuff on the trip. Check out:
A crazy photo from Mike Weedon of Bird Watching magazine fame.
Corey Finger's photos of Desert Finches on 10000 birds.com
Sharon Stiteler's post on the steppes of Kazakhstan on BirdChick.com
James Lees has lots of photos from the trip on his JSLees photoblog, and
Dominic Mitchel of Birdwatch magazine has posted some of his nicest images on his flickr profile.

As I find more time to work through the piles of photos and get focused, I will post more on my recent trips.

Happy digiscoping,

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Digiscoping Today - week 2

Welcome to the second installment of Digiscoping Today!

The idea behind it is to share my (and probably your) passion for digiscoping and nature. Nature gives us so much joy in so many ways and digiscoping - as with other forms of photography - gives us a reason to be outdoors.

So please, add your name and web address to the block below and tell your friends to join in too.

More info here.

I have just gotten back from Kazakhstan (in the last few minutes) and have huge numbers of really cool photos and videos so will be posting them over the next few weeks.

This afternoon we are off to Po Delta (northeast Italy) for a few days, so I might not be able to post for the next few days.

1. Corey of 10000birds has posted a link to some photos from a recent trip to Honduras. It is well worth scrolling down and checking out those Euphonias - they are a little bubble of yellow joy bouncing around in the tree tops!

2. Frank the Early Birder got some lovely shots of Mandarin Ducks and tells a good story too. What makes the shots all the more impressive is that they were taken using a monopod shoved in to the earth to keep the hand-held digiscoping setup steady in a fierce wind!

3. Carol of WildlifeAroundUs has some nice shots of a Caroline Chickadee in her garden. I wonder how it ended up that they were called chickadees to the west of the atlantic, and tits to the east?

Happy digiscoping!
Dale Forbes

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Saturday, 9 May 2009

Tree Pipit videoscoped in Mieming, Tirol, Austria

So I now have a little HD videocamera to play with, so I hooked it up to my Swaro scope and took it out to play in the woodlands on the Mieminger Plateau (just above Telfs, west of Innsbruck). Being my first day videoscoping, I did not expect much, and it took a little while to get used to the whole setup. I'll write a review of the camera and setup when I get back from Kazakhstan.

At one stage, I flushes a pipit off the ground in an Austrian Black Pine woodland. Looks like a female Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis. She seems to be showing a brood patch which is why I am guessing it is a she.

Tree Pipit videoscoped in high definition using a Swarovski ATM80HD scope, a 25-50x zoom ocular eyepiece, the UCA adaptor, and a Panasonic SD100 camcorder.

I am pretty happy with the results, and it looks really great on my TV and computer. Unfortunately, I had to reduce the quality for YouTube, but it is still not too bad for my first time videoscoping birds.

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Night migration of birds - videoscoping

MoonWatch is an ornithological project aimed at investigating the night-time migration of birds through the Alps. It must have been almost a month ago now that we did the survey: spending each evening staring at the moon through a telescope looking for birds flying between us and the moon.

On two evenings, I did a little bit of videoscoping with my little point-and-shoot digital camera, the Canon A590IS. I put together a few clips with birds flying past the moon.

Can you see all four birds flying past the moon?

There are five clips. Only the last four have birds in them.
Congrats if you can see any of the birds in the small frame.
Viewing FULL SCREEN and in HIGH QUALITY definitely helps.

When you have found a bird, you can describe it in the comments section by saying which direction it is flying (top is 12, bottom is 6, like a clock face).

This will give you an idea of just how concentrated one needs to be in order to not miss a bird.

Happy birding

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Digiscoping Today - week 1

Welcome to the first ever Digiscoping Today installment!

The idea behind it is to share my (and probably your) passion for digiscoping and nature. Nature gives us so much joy in so many ways and digiscoping - as with other forms of photography - gives us a reason to be outdoors.

So please, add your name and web address to the block below and tell your friends to join in too.

More info here.

1. Dawn has just posted a lovely pic of a Pied-billed Grebe showing off its characteristically large bill beautifully.

2. Kevin Bolton has added a link to his flickr profile, with lots of new photos that he has posted over the last few days. This one of a cardinal really stood out to me:

3. Jerry Jourdan has linked a post about digiscoping the White-faced Ibis and he has some incredible shots (and a video) to show for it!

4. Jason has a wonderful collection of mouthwatering images from Sabah Borneo Island - gaudy coloured kingfishers, great big hornbills and wild Orang Utans! I have really wanted to get to Sabah for ages. In fact, one day I will live there! (you can all be my witnesses) great birds and awesome tropical diving, what more could I ask for?

5. First videoscoping contribution comes from Can Popper; showing some nice detail on a pelican. Can has just help me choose a video camera and gave tons of great advice on how to create a videoscoping setup, so hopefully I will be able to get some videoscoping shots of my own soon.

6. Tom Cuffe of "Galway Bird photos and more" has a nice website with a wide range of bird and nature photos from Ireland. He uses both a compact camera/digiscoping setup and a classic DSLR setup for his photography. Here are some terns that he digiscoped.

7. Frank the Early Birder has added a photo of a European Starling and as Frank put it "
Whilst I know this species is not so popular on the other side of the Atlantic, the Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a regular visitor to our garden. It also has a rich repertoire of song, often incorporating imitations of other species and many other sounds such as car alarms etc."
It really is nice to be able to see and appreciate a species in its natural home environment when one has known it as a "pest" elsewhere (this also happened to me with Lantana camara).

Happy digiscoping!
Dale Forbes

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Digiscoping Today - A Weekly Blog Carnival

Digiscoping Today is a new blog carnival/meme where digiscopers can add links to recent photos. The thing is, there are so many people digiscoping out there (all over the place) that it would be nice to get together somehow.

Digiscoping Today is for:
  • Showing off your great digiscoping images
  • Getting advice from other photographers/digiscopers
  • Whether it is your first digiscoping photo or your 10000th join in the fun!

Here are some general guidelines:
  • Post your photos or video to a blog, flickr, youtube, etc.
  • Add your name/blog name in the linky box
  • Add a link to the specific URL of your photo/video/post
  • The content or subject of the photo does not matter as long as it is not offensive. Photograph birds, bugs, mountains, clouds or the moon, as you like.
  • Any photo or video counts as long is it was taken through another, external lens; a telescope, binoculars, a hand lens, whatever floats your boat.
  • Please add the words "Digiscoping Today" somewhere in your title, and please paste the widget in your blog so that your post links back to the main host site.
  • If you are linking to a flickr or youtube video, then please insert the linkback in the description, and make sure that the image title has the words "Digiscoping Today" in it.
  • Digiscoping, videoscoping, digibinning, phonescoping, anything goes

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Two other carnivals you may want to participate in are:


you can use the same post/image for Digiscoping Today and for any other meme/carnival as long as they fulfill the requirements of all carnivals involved.

Check out www.birdfreak.com for tons of interesting birding and bird conservation stuff, Eddie also runs Bird Photography Weekly, so go ahead and have a look at some of the cool photos people are placing there

Happy digiscoping!
Dale Forbes