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!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Olive Sunbird and Grey Sunbird digiscoped

Sunbirds are these crazy crazy creatures that spend their lives flying about behind a ridiculously long decurved bill. I suppose they are what results when a songbird decides it wants to look like a curlew or whimbrel (only prettier).

One of the birds that I really loved as a young birdwatcher and ringer was the Eastern Olive Sunbird (Nectarinia olivacea aka Cyanomitra olivacea; Olivnektarvogel). I know it as a coastal or scarp forest bird species, typically liking open sunny forest clearings, and drifting in to gardens and wandering up and down riparian forest watercourses.

As sunbirds go, the Olive Sunbird is rather drab, sporting matt green plumage. But it is when the males get excited that they start to stand out. They have these little bushels of bright yellow feathers that they poke out of their shoulders in territorial disputes or when a predator - like the African Goshawk - is about.

Olive sunbird in a Common Coral Tree aka Lucky Bean Tree (Erythrina lysistemon) digiscoped using Swarovski Optik STM80HD spotting scope, 25-50x zoom eyepiece, Swarovski UCA digiscoping adapter, Canon's baby DSLR the 1000D.

But the absolute bestest thing about the Olive Sunbird is its call (play xeno canto recording by Patrik Ă…berg here). It might not be the most incredible call, but this is what my home forests sound like to me. It is like drinking from a fountain of joy and youth to hear it whistling away in the forest.

A closely related and equally non-flamboyant sunbird species is the Grey Sunbird (Nektarinia veroxii aka Cyanomitra veroxii aka Mouse-coloured Sunbird; Graunektarvogel). The grey sunbird lives in much the same habitat and has a similar southern African distribution to the Eastern Olive Sunbird, although I generally found it somewhat less common. However, it could well be that the grey sunbird just does not sing as much as the olive sunbird, but this is just speculation on my part.

While the Olive Sunbird has the bright yellow "I'm all excited" flashlights, the Grey Sunbird has bright red shoulder tufts which it flaunts in the face of competition. But it seems less likely to show these off than the olive sunbirds.

peeky boo said the grey sunbird

Despite having those ridiculously long bills, sunbirds actually get a whole lot of their dietary requirements from insects; caught mainly on the wing. The flowers give the sugars and fast-energy fuel; while the insects provide the necessary proteins and long-term support for reproduction and body maintenance.

Sunbird really are lovely, I should post a few more photos of them...

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Friday, 19 February 2010

WWT London Wetland Centre

One of the (many) things I love about working at Swarovski Optik is that we have the opportunity to support various conservation initiatives around the world. And as a perk of the job, I sometimes to get visit some of these great projects.

Last year offered the opportunity to visit the Kazakhstani Birdlife Partner ACBK's Sociable Lapwing project. Here are some of my posts about our birding trip to Kazakhstan, and one from Corey of 10000birds who was also there.

Last week I spent some time visiting some of our dealers in the London area, and got to stop off at the WWT's London Wetland Centre for a guided tour of the grounds. It was absolutely wonderful to find such a gem of a reserve in a city. Snipes feeding, Widgeon, Teal, kazillions of Moorhens... and a good few bitterns (who did not want to show).

click on the image to see it big

Swarovski Optik has recently become a partner/supporter/sponsor of the site and it was really cool to see the work they are doing there for myself.

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

TLS800 photography workshop in England

So I spent much of last week and the weekend in a bitterly cold England and got a miserable cold for my troubles. The coldest day was probably Thursday when we had planned to spend much of the day out in the field taking photos with the TLS800 telescope photography system.

We headed out to Weirwood Reservoir in East Sussex (just south of East Grinstead), to the greeting of an icy wind and temperatures that felt like a good -10°C. not exactly ideal for photography.

Out on the water were some Cormorants, Widgeon, Tufted Duck and a couple of Great Crested Grebes. Making for our only decent photographic subjects were some tits on a bird feeder and a few mallards in front of the hide.

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

To give an impression of what the photos would look like with a normal 50mm lens:

Richard Sibley (AP Magazine) trying to get some action shots of tits.

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Cold, grey England. But what a lot of fun!

I think the title sums it up.
We flew in to England last night. and it snowed a few flakes overnight, but the excitement of being in a new country (on my birthday) is pretty cool and I am looking forward to getting out and taking some photos today. Hopefully the wind calms down and the sun comes out at some stage, otherwise TLS800 photography is going to be rather tough...

Happy birding,

Friday, 5 February 2010

TLS800 Telescope Photography System by Swarovski Optik

Many of my recent posts have been littered with photos taken with the TLS800 telescope photography adapter, and a good number of people have asked for more information about it, so I thought I would post a video I made last year explaining how to setup and use the TLS800 adapter.

In the video, I am using a Nikon D3x. A good friend of mine has a boss with too much money with which he has no idea what he should do with it all. Said boss bought a now unused Nikon D3 a year ago and for the last week I have been permitted to borrow and play with it. soooo much fun! I am such a techno geek

Essentially how it works is that the ocular/eyepiece is removed from the telescope and replaced with an optical tube with a bayonet fitting on the one side (to lock in to the spotting scope body), and a thread at the other end to which a T2 adapter is attached(available from any DSLR camera dealer). The T2 then clicks straight in to your DSLRs camera body. This means that the telescope and adapter effectively become an 800mm super-telephoto objective lens for any DSLR camera by using a fitting T2 ring.

The things that suck about the TLS800:
Compared to the Canon DO EF 400mm f4 with an EF doubler (i.e. also 800mm) I have also been using recently, the TLS800 only has manual focus (but with doubler I also lost autofocus on the 400mm f4), it has no image stabilizer, and it has a fixed aperture f10. Having said that, I was completely unimpressed by the autofocus functionality of the Canon EF 400mm f4 and ended up using it only in manual focus anyway.
Naturally, having the extra series of wide apertures available to me meant that I could gather more light and still take photos in rather tough conditions. And having the image stabilisation when I was free-hand holding the camera and lens meant that I could take sharp photos at just a little slower shutter speed, and that made a real difference in the late evening light (see the Achensee swan photos here). A caveat about the image stabilisation- this was a nice to have, but is only useful when free-holding the lens (i.e. it should not be used with a tripod as it makes shake worse instead of helping it). This then leaves one manual focussing a great big heavy lens in a rather awkward position. The sheer bulk and weight of the 400mm f4 telephoto lens meant that the longer I had it, the less I would actually take it out with me. And I would certainly never take it birding.
Don't get me wrong, I love this lens. Stapped to a Canon 5D mark II, I had a huge amount of fun with it and got some lovely photos to scatter about my macbook. But my nature photography and birding generally takes me places on foot; and for this, the EF 400mm f4 is rather impractical.

Which brings me back to why I love the TLS800 so much. And I do. And it is not just because I know the guy who designed it ;-)
I like the TLS800 because it really does give me a light and portable alternative to super-telephoto photography, and it fits my style of nature photography/observation. With a full format camera like the Canon 5D mark II (and an ISO of say 1600), I can take flight shots of birds free-hand, and the swans/ducks in the second photo in the Whooper Swans and Bean Geese blog post were photographed when it was really seriously dark. Sunset was already long forgotten.

Some of my favorite photos were taken with the TLS800:
the first leopard in this blog post (taken with a little Canon EOS 1000D)
the flying Goldeneye shots from a few weeks ago
"my" local black kites last year (with a really crummy Canon EOS 350D)
the rock partridge

And the best thing is that if I pack an ocular/eyepiece in my pocket, I can very quickly switch between photography and observation. Which makes me much more likely to drag a camera and scope about wherever I go. I can't wait until the Wallcreepers come back in spring!!!