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!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Digibinning lions with the snapshot adapter and EL binoculars

I use the Swarovski Snapshot Adapter with whatever binoculars I have with me (mostly EL8,5x42 Swarovision, SLC8x42 HD or EL 8x32). The procedure for using the snapshot adapter is as follows:

Video on using the snapshot adapter to photograph a lioness (digibinning)

1. Slide the snapshot adapter on to the eyecup of the binoculars until it is firmly in place

2. Screw the eyecup back in as far as it will go

3. Switch your compact camera on so that the lens extends out of the camera body

4. Now if you play with the Swarovski snapshot adapter, you will see that it is made of two plastic rings. if you twist these two rings, the three plastic feet on the inside of the snapshot adapter will extend and retract. you want to retract these as far as possible by rotating the top ring anticlockwise. you now have a great big opening to insert your camera's zoom lens

5. Insert your camera's zoom lens in to the opening. If it does not fit in to the hole, then the snapshot adapter will not work for your camera (but I have only seen this with very few standard compact cameras)

6. Slowly rotate the upper ring of the snapshot adapter clockwise so that the holding feet come out to grip lightly against the camera's lens (you will have to holding the camera in place on the binoculars while you do this)

7. You camera should now be semi-fixed to the binoculars to form one fairly stable unit. Note: be careful that the snapshot adapter is not very tight against the zoom lens and that your camera does not turn itself off and try to retract the lens. I tend to have the connection firm but not too tight, and I usually turn off my "lens retract" automatic power off.

8. With one stable unit, you can now hold the binoculars in a vertical position, and adjust the focus on the binoculars until the subject is clear

9. Let your camera autofocus to fine-tune the image (macro mode is invariably best for both digiscoping and for digibinning), and

10. Take the photo!

Digibinning with the new Swarovski Optik SLC 8x42 HD and a Nikon P6000.
Photo by Reinhard Hölzl - check out his stunning photos here

Because I tend to expend most of my bird photographic energies digiscoping with a regular telescope, I only tend to use digibinning through my binoculars when I do not have my birding scope with me. This is especially so when I am out hiking or birding in areas where I know the going will be tough (long, long hours; climbing/scrambling; thugs about; trudging through deep snow; torrential rain...). But at these times, it is really great to have a means to get some nice bird photos.

Note: this text is (mostly) taken from an earlier post, but the info is good so I thought it well worth posting again.

Happy digibinning,
Dale Forbes

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Long-eared Owls

Zoos can provide great opportunities to practice digiscoping in an easy environment.

Digiscoped with a Swarovski STM80HD scope, TLS800 telescope photography adapter and the Canon 5D mark II.

Happy digiscoping,

Friday, 26 March 2010

new SLC 42HD binoculars by Swarovski Optik

Last week Swarovski Optik announced a new 42mm binocular: the SLC 42HD

Me playing model with a new 8x42 SLC HD.
Photo by Reinhard Hölzl, one of my favorite nature photographers.

I first got to use a pre-serial production SLC HD near the end of last year and I really was very impressed by it. My first impression was that it was at least as good as or better than any binocular I had ever tried before (excluding the new EL42 Swarovisions, of course, which are in a league of their own ;-).

You can see the official SLC HD microsite here so I will try to limit my commentry to my personal impressions of the binocular.

Me playing model with a new 8x42 SLC HD. I am also using the new tripod head DH101 there.
Photo by Reinhard Hölzl, one of my favorite nature photographers.

My first Swarovski binocular was an SLC 10x42 (bought as a student with the money I had been saving for my first car - good choice for my fitness ;-) and I used this beauty of a binocular for many many years. It saw lots of forests, cliffs, holes, trees (falling from trees), beaches... and all round mis-treatment. And still everytime I looked through them I loved what I was seeing.

This new SLC HD binocular gave me that same reassuredness that I could take it anywhere and I would always be happy. But the most noticeable change is in just how much this binocular has shrunk. They are not just ~150grams lighter, they are a whole lot smaller and slimmer - no longer a brick around my neck. The central bridge has been compacted which makes for nice ergonomics - works well with my little girl hands, and my bear-hand-possessing father-in-law finds them the most comfortable he has used.

Optically, they are lovely. The view is not quite as incredible as the EL42 Swarovisions, but it is still impressive, with a great big sweet spot with high transmission (I think the official figure is at least 91 or 92%) despite keeping colour fidelity a nose ahead of anything from other companies There is always a compromise between transmission and colour fidelity which is why some binoculars with high colour transmission have such strong colour biases.

The SLC HD is a completely new binocular; the High Definition (HD) objective lenses mean that chromatic abberration (purple finging) is brought to an absolute minimum, close focus is 2m, wide field of view, good edge-sharpness and all the latest coatings.
New multi-function field bag. Water-resistant, well padded, comforatble to carry, space for a bird book, and removable strap.

The SLC HD is available in 10x42 and 8x42 and shipping starts in June 2010.

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Goosander digiscoping with TLS800 and Canon 5D mark II

Goosanders (Common Merganser; Gänsesäger) are one of the loveliest of the waterbirds we get here in the Alps. Unfortunately, they are extremely shy (and rare), being often shot.

Female Goosander, showing the distinctive red neck ring clearly distinguishing her from the somewhat similar Red-breasted Merganser (which has nothing near a clear red-white margin).

Beautiful male Goosander showing off his tooth saw - if you look carefully you can see what duck's teeth look like ;-) They are piscivores (fish eaters), hence the teeth, to hold on to their slippery prey.

Digiscoped with a Swarovski Optik STM80HD spotting scope, TLS800 digiscoping adapter, and Canon 5D mark II.

Happy digiscoping,

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Slide show for Birdlife Tirol

Tomorrow evening I will be giving a talk / slide show to BirdLife Tirol based on the biogeography, bird and other animals of South Africa...
looking forward to it!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Rare migrating birds in the Alps

The Alps is not a rarity hotspot. It is not now. It will never be. That's just how it is and I have found my peace with it.

But yesterday, TWO people phoned me to tell me that there were some Ferruginous Duck (Moorenten; Aythya nyroca) down on the River Inn between the Innsbruck Airport and the village of Völs. Some of us had to work so dashing off to the river for a country tick yesterday afternoon was just not going to happen.

But I did pray for bad weather overnight (to keep them from migrating on...)

I awoke to cloud and snow - yippee!

Needless to say I was late for work, but I did get a couple of horrible photos ;-)

Male Fudge Duck showing off his white eye

The ducks are somewhere there in the background. The Innsbruck Airport is 2m behind me.

After that start, I was in a bird mood and so took the afternoon off to go birding with Paul and my father in law. We picked up two male Goosanders and a female as well as lots of wagtails hawking over the River Inn in Mils and a single Chifchaf. A search for the Great Grey Shrikes Paul had seen in the morning was fruitless, but we did pick up a flock of 49 Lapwing, 5 Golden Plover and a Common Gull (all three being Tirol ticks for me) on the fields in Thaur. We also picked up our first swallow of the spring (a Crag Martin)

Here is a photo of a Golden Plover a very very long way away. If you want to see real photos of Golden Plovers then you should visit Chris Photo Nature.

A shot of the fields in Thaur where the Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Common Gull were. This gives you an idea of the power of digiscoping because the plover shot above was taken at this same point and the birds are in the lighter brown area between the first white field and the white field behind it - way too small to make out on this photo.

Spring is in the air!

Happy birding,

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Digiscoping Lions and ISO

Last year while back in South Africa on holiday, I got the wonderful opportunity of taking my parents-in-law to Kruger National Park. They are real outdoors people and love the forests and mountains of Tirol, and have always been fascinated by nature documentaries. And so it was naturally great to be able to take them out in my "home turf" and show them around.

Barbara and I had planned our perfect trip including visiting the forests of Magoebaskloof / Woodbush, and then working our way down through Kruger from Olifants Camp and then heading southwards, finishing off with a couple of nights in the forests and grasslands of Graskop and the Drakensberg mountains.

Besides the natural wonder and beauty of Kruger National Park - which is always lovely - the greatest thing of the entire journey was to experience the joy these two very dear people expressed as they discovered Africa for the very first time. It really was an honour and a great way to deepen my appreciation for my homeland.

On our second morning I had gone out wandering about the camp trying to get some digiscoping shots of the Blackheaded Orioles and Starlings on the Aloe blossoms and my father in law had spent a good while scanning the savanna for anything interesting. For those not familiar with Olifants Camp, it is set upon a largish hill with wonderful views over the Olifants River and the savanna in the background. It is a great spot for seeing eagles (I photographed 6 eagle species in one morning in the middle of Winter!). Anyhow, so he must have spent at least an hour slowly scanning the hundreds of hectares that lay before him for anything interesting.
Some impala. A couple of old elephant bulls. Three lions.
Three lions !!?

I still have no idea how he saw them sitting there in the tan-coloured grass, only having a pair of 10x42 binoculars and cataracts to look through. Incredible.

It also gave me a good opportunity to make an impromptue video about ISO and digiscoping and I think it does a good job of showing just how powerful a tool digiscoping is.

What is ISO and how is it important to digiscoping?

Essentially, ISO as a camera function describes how sensitive the sensor is to the light that it receives. This means that a high ISO number means that the sensor very quickly gathers information (i.e. allows me to use a fast shutter speed) but because the picture information is gathered so quickly, the smooth quality of the photo is "penalised", introducing more grain/noise in to the photo.
At the opposite extreme, a low ISO gives you great images with very little noise, but you will only have slower shutter speeds at your disposal.

Every camera handles ISO and noise slightly differently, but let's split them generally in to the average compact cameras that are used for digiscoping and DSLRs.

ISO 800 on Canon A590IS. faster shutter speed from the high ISO made this shot possible, despite being at night. Had to sacrifice image quality through noise.

Compact digital cameras for digiscoping: With, by way way of example, a Nikon P6000 or P5100 (both very common digiscoping cameras), using the minimum ISO of 64 gives nice images, but anything above 200 tends to bring a lot of noise in to the images and is then only really interesting for key rare-bird identification photos when nothing else will work.

DSLRs for digiscoping: Entry level DSLRs like the Canon 1000D or Nikon D3000 have effective ISOs going up to 1600. This range is fairly usable, and for various reasons, when using one of these cameras, I would normally start digiscoping with an ISO1600 and drop it down to ISO800 or ISO400 if the light is good enough or I want to try for a better shot of the same subject (i.e. after the ISO1600 shot). The noise at ISO1600 is certainly noticeable in a large print with these cameras, but it really is often necessary to get a fast enough shutter speed for a sharp photo.

ISO100 on Canon A590IS. Low noise. Enough light to still get decent shutter speed.

The noise control of larger DSLRs (e.g. the Canon 7D or Nikon D300s) is considerably better than the little ones, making results at ISO1600 much more appealing. This effect is even stronger with a full format camera (on a TLS800 as normal digiscoping does not work) - the Canon 5D mark II has exceptional noise control and can take some great photos at ISO1600. But even with the Canon 5D mark II, I will normally try to drop the ISO whenever possible.

There is a general rule in photography:
In order to get a sharp photo, use a shutter speed greater than the focal length
i.e. if the focal length is 50mm, use 1/60s shutter speed or faster
if the focal length is 1000mm (as is typical in digiscoping), use 1/1000sec or faster

This rule can be bent a bit, but the more you bend it, the harder it will be to get sharp photos. This is where playing with your ISO will really make a difference.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Woodbush forest birding, Tzaneen, South Africa

While doing the field work for my MSc thesis in 2000-2002, I spent a lot of time in the Woodbush Forest (Houtbos), just west of the city of Tzaneen in the Limpopo Province, South Africa. Actually, to be more specific, I lived in the forest for a good while - it was an old run-down forester's house half way down the famous "Woodbush forest drive". Surrounded by forest, overlooking forest, breathing forest...

Woodbush Forest is right at the northern extension of the Drakensberg Mountains; a 1000km escarpment chain running the eastern length of South Africa. Woodbush Forest itself is the largest inland forest in South Africa and has some stunning wildlife. Besides the resident pixies and fairies, the dwarf chameleons, rain frogs, diving Red Duiker and towering Podocarpus yellowwood trees are just a few of the wonderful creatures I got to share this forest with.

Some of the great birds in the area are a tiny population of beautiful Cape Parrots (Poicephalus robustus - but watch out for the Grey-headed Parrots Poicephalus fuscicollis suahelicus flying high overhead overflying the forest to get to the savanna on the other side), Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Crowned Eagle, Orange Ground Thrush, Green Twinspot, Chorister Robin-chat, Square-tailed Drongo, Forest Buzzard, Bathawk and many many more!

This is where I made the other movie: How to choose a spotting scope for digiscoping

If you have the chance to go to the area, you really want to take some time to enjoy the area. Find a peaceful spot along a mountain forest stream and soak in the beauty of the forest.

...and go for an outing with one of the wonderful local guides from BirdLife South Africa

Happy birding,