Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Office list extras

Assistant Editor Mike Weedon writes...

In addition to the list posted below of birds seen from our office window this year, I am pleased to add:

Herring Gull and
Great Black-backed Gull

Both of which flew past today.

It has been pretty sunny around here today, and the exceptional mildness has even brought out a Red Admiral butterfly in the garden of one local birder who lives in Peterborough.

The sun has provided plenty of thermals, which are being enjoyed by passing corvids, but most notably by a pair of Sparrowhawks, which have even indulged in a spot of sky-dancing, which I must say is very pleasing on the eye.

Sparrowhawk by Mike Weedon (not taken in the office)

BW office window year-list

Assistant Editor Mike Weedon writes...

Last July Bird Watching moved to a new office at Lynchwood Business Park at the west side of Peterborough. From our desks, Matt Merrit and I can just about see out of the large, permanently-sealed windows. We can't quite see the ground, but we can see enough sky and the tops of enough trees to have a stab at a 'window list'.

So this year we are trying to have a birds-seen-from-the-window-while-we-are-at-our-desks-in-2008 list.

So far we are up to 27. Here they are:

Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Golden Plover
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Feral Pigeon
Stock Dove
Green Woodpecker
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Carrion Crow

Please feel free to let us know about your office year list and how it compares to ours... (click on 'comments' below)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend, four members of the Bird Watching team took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.

All you have to do is count the maximum numbers of each species in your garden (or other spot you chose) over a one-hour period over the weekend January 26-27. Then you submit your records on the website. Easy.

Read all about how Carol Debney, Mike Weedon, Matt Merritt and Kevin Wilmot got on in their respective gardens in our March issue (so, you'll have to wait about a month).

Meantime, here are a few shots Mike took during his hour-long garden-watching stint with his children Jasmine and Eddie.

Magpie guzzling peanuts like a Puffin guzzles sand-eels...

This Blue Tit and its mate were checking out the nest-box nearest Mike's kitchen window. Last year the babies sadly died when still rather featherless. Fingers crossed for this year...

Collared Dove and House Sparrow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

February 2008

Coming soon to a shop near you (click the pic for a bigger version)
UK readers, why not try WHSmiths or Tesco:

Bird Watching, February 2008

This month, the UK's most popular monthly birding mag includes the following goodies:

Budget binoculars – We have tested 12 pairs of unbelievable-value binoculars for under £150. These include some incredible roof-prism models as well as brilliant porro-prism pairs. The perfect starter pair is in this test.

Winners of IWP 2007Chris Packham and his fellow judges have chosen the best photographs from eight mind-blowing categories in the world's biggest bird photography competition. We present simply the best bird photographs in the world!

The Best of 2007 – Top bird man Richard Millington gives his unique view on the best rare birds of last year.

New Year Birding – Despite rupturing his Achilles tendon before Christmas, Assistant Editor Mike Weedon made a brave attempt at his local New Year's Day Bird List Record. Did he succeed? Read the answer inside!

ID Insights: small brown finches – All you need to tell a Twite from a Linnet, plus Snow Bunting tips.

Plus Plus PLUS – Ten new Go Birding walks to try; unique site-by-site guide to all the best birds of December 2007; 8 chances to win a Páramo gilet; page after page of ideas for February birding, and so much more!

Go buy it! Or subscribe here:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rat trap!

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:

More and more when out birding, I notice rats picking around underneath feeders and bird tables. And of course, they can't be blamed for taking advantage of an easy, accessible food source, especially when such feeders are often close to bins overflowing with man's leavings, to say nothing of rubbish simply dumped by the wayside. These opportunistic rodents rarely show any fear of humans or birds, although at one feeder I see regularly, the Mallards are often willing to claim sole rights to the ground below and its rich pickings.

On Saturday, then, I wasn't surprised to see three rats scuffling around in the undergrowth below the bird table in the car-park at Staunton Harold Reservoir, near Melbourne, Derbyshire. They went about their business entirely unconcerned by human or avian passers-by, sometimes feeding side-by-side with a pair of Dunnocks. After watching them for a while, I turned my attention to the real business of the day - Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and Siskins, the former two always encouragingly easy to find at this probably underwatched site.

Then, as things went quiet for a few minutes, I noticed that the smallest of the three rats was climbing one of the nearby bushes in preparation for an attempt at jumping, squirrel-style, on to the table itself. There's wire there to stop it, but it wasn't to know that, and all that prevented it was the fact that its weight bent the branch out of reach every time it looked to be within leaping range. As I watched, fascinated, and the rat pondered its next move, there was a sudden flash of black and white, and a Magpie landed next to it. It gave one savage peck to the head, and the rat fell from the branch, dead, before the Maggie started making a meal of it. Its demise didn't seem to bother the other two rats, who carried on feeding, and none of the other birds seemed especially wary of the killer corvid.

Nature, red in tooth and claw, and all that, and a reminder that there's always someone out there just that bit more opportunistic than you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kev's digiscoping: Phase 2

Assistant Editor Mike Weedon writes:

Kevin Wilmot went out again this weekend for a spot of digiscoping in his garden. After his first efforts (see below), Kev reported to me that he was having a few problems – mainly that he had to zoom in a long way (with the camera) to avoid vignetting (blackening around the edges). I thought that perhaps there was a slight geometry problem between the camera, adapter and the scope's eyepiece.

So, I recommended that he tried going for the hand-held approach, as featured in our digiscoping DVD .

Kev's Nikon camera has a Nikon tube adapter which fits to the Swarovski digiscoping adapter. He found that he could hand hold the camera with the Nikon tube attached and easily centre the camera on the scope. And, lo and behold, the vignetting was gone even at the lowest magnification!

Lower magnification means less shake, faster shutter speeds and cleaner, sharper photographs. So, Kev went for it...

And he was rather pleased with his results, namely this Woodpigeon and Blue Tit (click the pics for bigger versions)...

Not bad, eh?

Watch this space for when I finally persuade him to let go of his 'fully-Automatic' parachute and learn to use the other settings on his camera...

Meantime, if you want to learn to digiscope birds using minimum fuss and no adapters (ie. the hand-held way)), check this link
for our exclusive Digiscoping Made Easy DVD.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Holiday owl

Great Horned Owl, near Tucson, Arizona (click for larger version)

This magnificent Great Horned Owl was photographed in Arizona by Louise Parker. Louise, a former Bird Watching designer (remember her?) who now works for Trail magazine, was on holiday near Tucson over the Christmas period.

"There were birds everywhere" she says, "Gila Woodpeckers, Cactus Wrens, Northern Cardinals... and there were birds of prey everwhere you looked".

Louise's nights in the Sabino Canyon were disturbed by a deep hooting from nearby trees. One morning one of the locals told her he knew which tree the local owl preferred to roost in, and a few moments later, there it was in its magnificent glory.

Louise took the photo using a simple compact digital camera on full zoom. Not bad, is it?

Monday, January 7, 2008

New Year Digiscoping

Bird Watching Editor Kevin Wilmot writes:

Happy New Year, everybody, and good birdwatching to you all!

This year, I have decided to act on at least one of my resolutions: to take up digiscoping.

After threatening to do it for several months, I finally took the digiscoping plunge at the weekend with a morning trip in hazy winter sunshine to Ferry Meadows Country Park near to my Peterborough home.

Armed with scope (Swarovski ATS65 HD), camera (Nikon Coolpix P5000) and the appropriate adapter, I wanted to try to photograph the abundant wildfowl and gulls that frequent this three-lake nature reserve.

However, a wheezing Greenfinch was too tempting a target to resist even before I’d arrived at the lakes, perched promisingly, but at distance, at the top of a tall tree. You can see the results above (click the picture for a larger version). Not bad, but could do much better...

Tufted Ducks and Coots were the next birds to receive the Wilmot digiscoping treatment, neither very successfully I have to admit.

Still, the ‘delete’ button is a wonderful invention, and it was then off for coffee and bacon baguette at the waterside café… when a flock of 20 or so Pochards landing obligingly some 50 metres away had me scuttling for my scope again. Now these proved a real challenge as they nervously made off towards the other side of the windy lake, and you can see my best effort here.

Finally, the group of dozing Black-headed Gulls on the jetty close to the café made the easiest subjects of the day, and I think the results show this.

Anyway, I’m not ashamed to show you my first attempts at digiscoping, thanks also to my colleague Mike Weedon, who weaved his magic with some very welcome Photoshop work on the images.

The main problems I encountered were these: 1 - Focusing through the camera’s display screen was difficult in the glare, and 2 - Birds move, and the camera’s half-second delay between shutter being pressed and photo being taken resulted in more shots of empty water than of birds. But, improving is all part of life's great adventure...

The best thing is that digiscopiong is fantastic FUN! The digiscoping bug has now well and truly bitten and I can’t wait to get out again.

Watch this space!