Thursday, 27 September 2007

Vismig on The Pinnacle

Spent a very enjoyable lunchtime on the Pinnacle today. Everything was flying west, unless otherwise stated:
Redwing - 637
Chaffinch - 74
Brambling - 3
Song Thrush - 1
Siskin - 1 NE
Meadow Pipit - 7
House Martin - 17 S

Below is the Metcheck jet stream chart for today. No wonder we got a rush of Redwings today!

The Pinnacle, Sandy

Here are two views from The Pinnacle (also called locally the Sand Hills) from where I look for visible migration, or vismig for short. I started last autumn and did a few days here and there, with two exceptional ones. On 2nd November 2006 we had around 8000 birds fly over us in around two hours. This included over 5000 Fieldfares and 2500 Redwings! Outstanding counts for Bedfordshire. The next day we saw around 2500 birds, which was still a fantastic mornings birding.

This autumn (2007) we are doing the same again, but hopefully spending a few more mornings 'on the hill'.

Looking north-west

Looking south-west

Monday, 24 September 2007

Pegsdon Hills - some shots

Me birding from the top of Deacon Hill. You can just about see Knocking Hoe beneath my tripod.

Looking up Chack Valley

The Large Dell

The Long Valley

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Pegsdon Hills

Here is my guide to Pegsdon Hills. Below is a google map with two polygons on it - the large one is Pegsdon Hills, and the much smaller one is Knocking Hoe. On Pegsdon I have placed a few markers for places of note, or my names for these areas.

View Larger Map

Friday, 21 September 2007

Digiscoping with the Canon S80

Why did I choose the S80? Basically, it was Canons top of the range compact camera (at the time – early 2006) and at eight megapixels the resolution was much higher than the ‘best’ digiscoping cameras quoted (the Canon A95 I believe) on Birdforum and other websites at the time. Since 2000, when I started digiscoping, I had used a Sony camcorder, then a Nikon Coolpix 4500 and a Contax U4R, before deciding on the S80.

When I received the camera I was immediately struck with its fantastic customisable controls, which enabled you to ’set and forget’ the cameras settings so, as soon as the camera turns on, it is ready to go for digiscoping. A massive boon when birds show only fleetingly and you need a few grab shots.

Within a few weeks, I was soon pretty quick at sticking the camera on the scope and using the (customisable) self-timer to get some awesome shots. Being able to set the self-timer to shoot from anything from one to ten seconds and up to ten shots at a time is also an excellent feature of the camera which made me love it even more. Once this is set, it’s basically the stability of your tripod that lets any shots down. Carbon fibre models are FAR better than metal tripods with regards vibration dampening – typically, a metal tripod calms down at around ten seconds, a carbon fibre model usually takes around three. I think this is the single most important attribute to bad digiscoping – get your tripod right, and you will see a vast improvement in your sharp to blurry images when digiscoping. Then it’s a matter of getting the bird to sit still!

Anyway, back to the S80. The one slight issue I have with the S80 from a digiscoping perspective is the way it fixes to a digiscoping adapter. This is via a plastic conversion adapter which screws in to the tripod bush of the camera and then clips over the back of the camera near the viewfinder. This was fine when I first got it, but after a years worth of use it has got a little worn and doesn’t clip quite as tightly as it should. This is only a slight quibble mind you, and it has worked fine for most of the time I have used the camera. There are ways around using this adapter – by using the SRB swing-out adapters. These are incredibly well made adapters, which do the job nicely. They slot over the eyepiece of your scope (usually a very snug and neat fit, and easily the best fitted I have seen, of any digiscoping adapter) and then screw in to the tripod bush in your camera. This adapter also has a built-in cable release arm, which can be adjusted to sit over your shutter-release button. Everything is tightened up using allen keys, and my one tip, if using this adapter, is put a spot of superglue on any of these areas when you have decided they are perfect. This stops them from shifting when in a bag and saving you valuable time when a bird is performing. Fantastic value for money too. Well done SRB!

I use my S80 on a Swarovski ATS 80 HD. The usual eyepiece is the 20-60x zoom, which the Swaro digiscoping adapter works perfectly with. However, and unfortunately, the Swaro digiscoping adapter doesn’t work at all well with either the 20x or 30x eyepieces. This is a real bugbear of mine, as that limits you so much with this very well made adapter. I have only just (Sept 2007) remedied the lack of use with the 20x and 30x eyepieces and my S80 as I reckon these are awesome eyepieces. This was done with two pieces of toilet roll! They are rolled up to the required sized and taped. They slip inside the eye-cup and then over the extending lens of the S80. The fit is tight, but with a little slippage. This is helped with an elastic band, which is fixed to the stay-on case and over the back of the S80. This is by no means a perfect solution, but it’s functional enough to get some reasonable shots. The tube also stops extraneous light from getting in and causing lens-flare. One day I’ll find something better than an old bog roll!

From my short time using the Swaro fixed length eyepieces, the 20x is the sharpest and brightest. This is probably the best eyepiece I have (so far) ever used for digiscoping, definitely beating the 20x offering from Leica for sharpness. One day I’ll get around to testing them side-by-side to try and prove this. With the use of the customised bog-roll adapters, vignetting with these eyepieces disappears completely after one click of camera zoom (unlike the 20-60x zoom eyepiece which vignetting doesn’t go until around half-way through the camera zoom).

So what else is there? Well I sometimes use a cable release, but this very often falls by the way-side in favour of the self-timer now. If a bird is performing, and I have time to set it up, I will still use that method, which definitely has its uses.

Settings are pretty standard digiscoping settings –
aperture priority set to the widest setting
highest quality images (8 megapixels)
continuous shooting mode
centre-weighted exposure
customisable spot-focus
low contrast
auto white balance (mostly)
one stop up in saturation
no sharpening.

My standard digiscoping set-up is this (Sept 2007):
Camera: Canon S80 (with LA-DC20 conversion lens adapter)
Scope: Swarovski ATS 80 HD
Eyepieces: 20-60x zoom, 30x and 20x fixed
Digiscoping adapter: Swarovski DCA (with two unique bog-roll adapters)
Tripod: Manfrotto 443 carbon fibre legs, Manfrotto 701RC2 head

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Clay-coloured Thrush

Clay-coloured Thrush Turdus grayi, Hotel Bougainvillea, Costa Rica, March 2007

White-eared Ground Sparrow

White-eared Ground Sparrow Melozone leucotis, Hotel Bougainvillea, Costa Rica, March 2007

Prevost's Ground Sparrow

Prevost's Ground Sparrow Melozone biarcuatum, Hotel Bougainvillea, Costa Rica, March 2007

Thursday, 13 September 2007


Skylark Alauda arvensis, Pegsdon Hills, Beds, April 2007

Red-crested Cotinga

Red-crested Cotinga Ampelion rubrocristatus, Antisana, Ecuador, March 2006

Plain-coloured Seedeater

Plain-coloured Seedeater Catamenia inornata, Yanacocha, Ecuador, November 2005

Purple-chested Hummingbird

Purple-chested Hummingbird Amazilia rosenbergi, Canande, Ecuador, March 2006

Green Thorntail



Green Thorntail Discosura conversii, Los Bancos, Ecuador, May 2005

Friday, 7 September 2007


An evening walking around the Beds brick pits was pleasant enough in the evening sun light. Not that many birds to entertain, but this Fox did put on a good show at Coronation Clay Pit. This was taken using my 30x wide angle eyepiece with a new adapter I made last night. Basically it's, err, an old bog roll which is cut and rolled up, and wedged between the eyecup of the eyepiece and the zoom lens of the S80. It works remarkably well.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Black Grouse

Lekking Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix, Scotland, April 2007

Gorgeted Woodstar

Juvenile Gorgeted Woodstar Chaetocercus heliodor, San Isidro, Ecuador, March 2006

Great Sapphirewing

Great Sapphirewing Pterophanes cyanopterus, Yanacocha, Ecuador, March 2006

Monday, 3 September 2007

Curlews at dusk

These four Curlews Numenius arquata at currently roosting at my local patch, Broom GP. The setting sun this evening made a nice shot.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Spotted Flycatchers

Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata, Broom GP, 1st September 2007

The lone tree

As I trudged up Deacon Hill at Pegsdon early this morning I was struck by this image. A small window in the cloud was illuminating this single straggly tree on the ridge top. I could have probably made a better job of it, but I only had by S80 in my pocket.

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