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!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Biggest Bird Blogger Convention (only counting Central European bird blogs)

Today was the great day: the largest, most dramatic, most incredible Bird Blogger Convention EVER! to take place in central europe with central european bird bloggers.

given that there only appear to be two bird bird blogs in the whole of Germany and Austria, that just means that Jochen (of Bell Tower Birding fame) and I got together.

Having just a couple of hours to entertain ourselves, we quickly darted up the Sellraintal to Kühtai to try pick up some of the high alpine birds. We were rewarded with about 12 Alpine, 20 White-winged Snowfinches and frozen hands (it was -7°C up there, after all).

It is always great to meet blogger friends... so far I have managed to meet up with Corey, Joan and Sharon, with whole piles more to go...

Happy birding,

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Swarovski Optik Digiscoper of the Year Winners 2009

The Digiscoper of the Year competition has been run by Swarovski Optik since 2006 and the growth in the quality of the contributions from year to year has been astounding.

A stunning Great Crested Grebe by Manuel Esteban Ruiz
the quality and number of entries coming out of Spain this year was truly remarkable.
It seems the Spanish are really leading the way with digiscoping

... and Digiscoper of the Year 2010 was probably the most outstanding to date. There were literally hundreds of entries of which I thought: "wow, now that is a nice photo!"

Arctic Tern by Paco Ruiz - a great action shot

How were the winning digiscoping photos chosen? There were 8 regional competitions (1 each in UK, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands; and 4 in the USA: Birwatcher's Digest, BirdChick, Eastman's, and the Western Hunter) and an international Digiscoper of the Year competition, each with their own separate websites and juries. The winners from the regional competitions were awarded prizes and automatically added to the selection of images entered directly in to the International Digiscoper of the Year competition. The jury for the international competition (3 independent photo experts and 1 Swarovski Optik employee; 4 different countries) was then presented with all the international entries without prejudice or knowledge of which entries had won in the various regional competitions. The points awarded by the jury members were then tallied to determine the winners.

Snow Bunting by Peter Nilsson - exceptional use of exposure and lighting!

As I am sure you can imagine, judging photographs is incredibly difficult and in many ways personal. The entries this year were of an incredible standard with hundreds of images I really liked: showing off great composition, rare moments, action and artistic beauty. Digiscoping is really growing leaps and bounds both in the numbers of practitioners and in the skill level being shown and we (Swarovski Optik) will continue to try to find ways to support this development.

This year's Digiscoper of the Year will start in April 2010.

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Friday, 22 January 2010

Diving with Tiger Sharks

I absolutely love diving with sharks... there is nothing else like it.
The power, the grace, the agility. And after you have spent just a little time in the water with them, you start to learn their nature and how to read them.

In many ways, I am way more comfortable in the water with sharks all about, than I am with unknown dogs. You see, a strange Rotweiler might (or might not) be very aggressive - or worse - unpredictable. The thing with most sharks is that they are generally rather predictable. Here is a video I made a few years ago off the coast of South Africa.

To be completely honest, even I had a "what the frig am I doing" moment when I first saw the tiger shark pull up next to the boat - there seems to be some deeply inbedded instinct that when you see a very big shark pull up next to the boat, that you SHOULD NOT get in to the water. We got in to the water anyway and - quite predictably - everything was just fine. In fact, it was a dream.

Although I love the predatory sharks, they have nothing on a whale shark! I really should post some photos and stories on whale sharks some time.

Happy diving!
Dale Forbes

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Flying Mallards digiscoped

Here are some Mallard photos I took while out at Bodensee, just a few minutes before the Goldeneye digiscoping photos.

It is so easy to take our common birds for granted, but Mallards really are beautiful.

Here is a larger version of one of the Goldeneye photos:

All photos digiscoped with the Swarovski Optik STM80HD spotting scope, TLS800 telescope photography adapter and Canon EOS 5D mark II.

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Goldeneye takeoff digiscoped with TLS800 and Canon 5DII

While at the Bodensee (Lake Constance) a couple of weeks ago, I had a few opportunities to digiscope some Goldeneyes. These are one of the most incredibly beautiful ducks, and I love them.

All digiscoped with a Canon EOS 5D mark II, a TLS800 telescope photography adapter, and a Swarovski Optik STM80HD telescope. These are just tiny versions of the 5616 wide images.

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"I'm this big!" said mr duck

creatures can have a sense of humour too!

here, a Mandarin Duck is showing off

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Whooper Swans & Bean Geese, Bodensee

This week Paul and I spent a couple days out in the Bodensee (Lake Constance) region of far western Austria (Vorarlberg). The Bodensee is shared by Austria, Switzerland and Germany and is pretty much the whole year round a great spot for birds and birding.

One of the highlights of the trip was finding a group of 120 Whooper Swans (Singschwäne) including at least 10 1st winter youngsters (why did I not count this when I was there in stead of just trying to figure it out from photos).

The swans were feeding in an open field and we did not want to get too close, so the possibilities of getting good shots were very very limited.

Such stunning birds...

Later, we were on the water's edge with a good 5000 ducks (mainly Tufted Duck and Pochard), the swans started to come in from the fields to overnight on the water. It was getting very dark, but I still managed to get a few photos of the Whooper Swans drinking. The photo really doesn't do justice to how dark it was - I was really impressed with the Canon 5D mark II at ISO3200. I used live view and a count-down timer to reduce shake at 1/25 shutter speed and the TLS800 digiscoping adapter and Swarovski Optik STM80HD spotting scope.

Quite incidentally, we also had 24 Bean Geese (Saatgans) on the fields alongside the Whooper Swans - a rather unusual species for the area.

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

latest video: aperture and aperture priority

I have just finished another "how to" video explaining aperture and aperture priority and how you can make it work for your in photography and digiscoping. I am off to Bodensee (border of Switzerland, Germany and Austria) in 10minutes, but when I get back in a couple of days, I will write a real post about aperture and digiscoping.

If you like the video, PLEASE RATE IT!
go ahead, give it some stars!

happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Photographing swans on Achensee

Big white birds are often hard to photograph as the large white surfaces reflect a large amount of light, meaning that it is difficult to accurately set the exposure on the plumage without getting a very dark overall image. Or, in the opposite case, if you set the exposure for the entire image then the whites of the bird tend to "blow out".

Essentially, blown-out whites means that that portion of the image is so bright that the camera does not record any important fine-detail information - just plain white. Because no information is recorded, no amount of photoshopping will be able to rescue that detail. Although an old-fashioned paint brush might do the trick.

How do I avoid blowing out the whites in my photos? Well, there are some things that can be done:
  1. the best solution for white birds is to photograph them at sunrise or sunset when the light is softer and you will have less problem matching the feather exposure with the image exposure. A solar eclipse would also be do, but they tend to be shorter and less frequent than the classic dawn/dusk approach.
  2. underexpose the image a little. I personally prefer darker images, not bright computer screens... so this is a bit of a personal thing, but regardless, it can help with better exposing and getting feather detail in white birds.
  3. some mid- to high-end digital SLR cameras are able to take multiple images of the same subject at various exposures and then re-combine the images again to create a new image incorporating information from an enormously high dynamic range.
  4. use a camera with a high dynamic range. The dynamic range in digital photography describes how effectively a camera is able to measure and record detail for really dark and really light areas in an image (Dynamic range in photography describes the ratio between the maximum and minimum measurable light intensities (white and black, respectively). To oversimplify and generalise, the larger the sensor size, the higher the dynamic range of the camera.
  • A Full Format sensor DSLR camera, such as the Canon EOS 5D mark II I am using at the moment, has a large dynamic range, meaning that it is easier to get detail in very bright white areas without losing all the information.
  • Compact cameras typically have a rather small dynamic range. This is exacerbated with extra-low ISOs - below 100 - in some compact cameras, where the dynamic range is clipped in order to allow the camera to take finer quality images.
These photos were all taken with the Canon EOS 5D mark II, a Canon DO EF 400mm f4 objective lens.

Achensee starting to freeze over - a beautiful evening

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes