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!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The great goose festival: TATAI VADLÚD SOKADALOM 2009

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!

Here is a short interview with Szimi aka Szimi Style from last year:

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!

Happy birding
Dale Forbes

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Winter digiscoping...

Today was a hard day.
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?

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Saturday, 21 November 2009

All Blacks vs Italy in Milano

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.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Winter birds this early...

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.

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sea Turtles hatching in Ostional, Costa Rica

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.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

"Pray for Ice" ice climbing competition 2009

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.

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

White stoats

I finally managed to get out and do some digiscoping over the weekend at one of my localfavourite Alpine birding spots - Inzinger Gaisau.

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.
Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes