Friday, 28 December 2012

My top 3 birds of 2012

Looking back over my birding year and trying to pick three personal favourite birds wasn't an easy task, not because there was so many to choose from, more because making my top three took more than just rarity value, other considerations had to be taken into account - location, views, and the whole birding experience on the day.

Before revealing my top three here are a few birds who made my shortlist but didn't quite make this years podium - a bit biased towards the south-east side of England but still not a bad collection!

  • Desert Wheatear: Worthing - a cracking confiding male along the promenade
  • Baillon's Crake: Rainham - it took me three attempts but great views in the end
  • Little Bittern: Rickmansworth - two attempts this time, but again stunning views
  • Buff-bellied Pipit: Queen Mother Reservoir - more amazingly close views 
  • Melodious Warbler: Leyton - a truly urban setting for this displaced Hippolais Warbler
  • Blyth's Reed Warbler: Warham Greens - not the best views or looking bird but an extraordinary song from this singing Spring male
  • Snow Buntings: Salthouse - a big single flock of over 100 birds in off the sea
  • Bonaparte's Gull: Barking Bay - this diminutive Gull was another first for London

In 3rd place and just pipping the Desert Wheatear into Bronze medal position was the Short-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor. Having driven for over three hours to be on site for first light, this bird showed and performed amazingly well (despite hearing it could be difficult) in perfectly still conditions in the bright early morning light of Autumn.


In second place and picking up a well deserved if not slightly biased Silver was the Wryneck I found on Wanstead Flats - seeing other peoples birds is OK but finding your own is surely what it's all about! This bird stayed loyal to the small group of Hawthorn bushes in the SSSI area for six days - elusive at times but giving rewarding views to many who persevered and was joined by a Common Redstart and a Pied Flycatcher at one stage only adding to Wanstead's draw at the time.


In this years prime position and the 2012 Gold medallist just has to be the Spring adult Cream-coloured Courser - what a bird, what a setting! This near mythical bird was the perfect 5 out of 5 Chili's for me! There may well be one or two other records in the next decade but I doubt there will be another adult spring bird for a very long time and sharing that experience with Jono, Shaun and Tim in the evening sunshine on the hilltops of Herefordshire will live long in the memory - which is why the CCC earns its rightful place for me on top of this years podium.

Gold - pure, pure gold

You may have a differing opinion or have seen better birds but that's what makes birding the great hobby it is...experiences and opinions! 

Have a great bird-filled 2013 and if it's half as good as 2012 we are all in for a cracker!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Meopta MeoPix iScoping Adapter - Part 2 review

As promised here is part two of the review - The Field Test

The set-up: Swarovski ATM 80 scope with a 25-50w angle lens with Meopta MeoPix iScoping adapter and iPhone 4S.

The series of four images below of a Grey Heron (an easy subject which comfortably fills the frame) were taken early morning on a bright day at a distance of 15-20 metres and are an example of what can be achieved with the set-up. Overall the images are relatively sharp with a little bit over exposure in the whitish-grey area around the head and neck of the Heron - due in part to the low level of the Sun on the subject.

  • The first image has been taken at x25 magnification and shows the dark edges or vignetting which can occur.

  • The second image is the same as the above but has been cropped using the iPhone's software to loose the vignetting.

  • The third image is at x50 magnification without the need for any cropping.

  • The fourth image is at x50 magnification and cropped slightly.

As you can clearly see the results are quite impressive and remain sharp even at x50 magnification and some additional cropping. They are more than passable for anyone who wishes to post images on-line or just for your personal records.

Conclusion: As previously mentioned in Part one of the review the idea behind the adapter is not to replace or supersede any DLSR camera and lens set-up, as the photographic results are not comparable, but instead to use as part of your birding experience in the field - especially if you are already carrying a scope and Smart phone. The build quality and fit of the adapter are excellent and at less than £50 has been priced competitively without the need to bust open the kiddies piggy bank or feel like you've wasted a fortune if you upgrade your phone.

Overview: This lightweight and portable birding tool will surely became part of most birders natural set-up and for anybody who has been thinking about digi-scoping I would happily recommend the Meopta MeoPix iScoping adapter to enable you to capture that moment you previously thought was just a memory - you can't fail to be impressed with resulting images. And for anyone who hasn't yet experienced the joys of wildlife photography this could open your eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

The Cowboy Birder rating of 4.5 out of 5 Chili's.

Friday, 14 December 2012

London's very own 'Buff-bellied Pipit'

All week the weather has been cold and sunny, but the day I get to go birding the heavens open - oh well it's still good to get out!

News of a relatively close (not Scillies or Shetland) Buff-bellied Pipit showing extremely well on the west side of London on the margins of Queen Mother Reservoir, had me circling the M25 in what were treacherous driving conditions. Just over an hour later and having survived that roller coaster thanks in main to some go-cart style driving and Heart FM Christmas tunes on the radio keeping me nice and relaxed, I was at the entrance to the Sailing club being courteously greeted on arrival by Mr LGR Evans who was putting in a shift on the gates and collecting £2 for the day permits - small price to pay for a quality bird.

Having reached the banks of the reservoir it was obvious by the small distant crowd that the bird hadn't yet done a bunk, I was surprised by how much further round the reservoir the bird was - usually I wouldn't mind the walk but with today's weather not improving it was a case of head down and onwards, all the time trying to protect the optics from the elements.

I wasn't to be disappointed and the views of this North American Pipit for the next hour were crippling, no need for a scope today or even a pair of bins as the bird showed to within 10ft, continuously hugging the bank of the reservoir, always on the move, never stopping - it definitely kept me on my toes and the small group of birders following its movements.

The only downside was trying to capture that pin sharp image that every photographer craves for, made more difficult by the weather, poor light and the incessant movement of the bird - better photographs by better photographers are probably to be had, especially if the bird sticks for the next few days, but here are a couple of OKish ones from me of London's first ever Buff-bellied Pipit.

I had hoped to see Red-necked Grebe or Long-tailed Duck whilst on site but to be honest I was happy to head back to the dryness of the car and a few more of those wonderful Christmas songs!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Meopta MeoPix iScoping Adapter - Part 1 review

That's some title - to you and me that's phone scoping!

With the ever increasing popularity of photography and blogging as part of most birders make-up the chance to add to the tool kit without breaking the bank has come in the form of a lightweight piece of moulded plastic - just in time for Christmas. As someone who already carries a DSLR camera and lens around but at times needs a bit more reach for that distant Wader on the foreshore or Grebe on a reservoir - this could well be the answer. There is many a time I can think of when I've tried to balance my iPhone on the end of the scopes eyepiece in hope of recording a photo of a bird - which ended in either a terrible photo or nothing at all because the bird had flown before I found that all important pin point alignment.

The MeoPix iScoping adapter from US company Meopta has been designed and created as the perfect tool for you to carry in conjunction with your Scope and Smart phone - I might add at this point the model I purchased is compatible with a Swarovski 25-50w eyepiece and a iPhone 4/4S. 

I've been aware of Meopta's phone scoping capabilities in the US for about a year now but it was at this years Birdfair 2012 at Rutland when I first got the chance to have a look at the product in the hand and try out the tool in the field, with surprisingly good results. Since then (August) I've been waiting for this product to hit the shops in the UK. Then news reached me that the guys at CleySpy Norfolk had them in stock - a quick phone call later and £49 lighter in the pocket and the item was on its way to me in the post.

First impressions were very good, nicely packaged with quick and easy instructions to get you started straight away and because the adapter is made of plastic it's very light, making it easily portable in a jacket pocket without the worry of thinking about having to lug another piece of equipment around all day in the field, but on the flip side this may make the adapter more susceptible to breaking if used heavy handedly or even accidentally sat on - only time will tell.

The iPhone slides effortlessly into the holder, firmly holding the phone in position without the slightest chance of any movement, with easy access to all the icons on your screen, the camera and its settings. The adapters housing is then pressed snugly over your eyepiece, and as the surround of the eyepiece is rubber, the grip and position feel firm - I would happily carry it in this position out in the field safe in the knowledge it wouldn't detach - although taking a private phone call would be interesting! It's worth checking the circular attachment which connects to your scope is fully pressed into position, if not the images will show dark edges or vignetting - these can be cropped using the iPhones own software if necessary. Once in position you are ready to photograph or maybe video at your leisure, focusing on the iPhone is quick and finer adjustments are made to the focus of your subject on the scope itself as you would normally.

The quality of the images are never going to compete with any DSLR camera setup but at 8 megapixels and a magnification of up to x50 on my scope I was more than happy with the resulting images (read Part 2 of this review to see those). I basically now have a handy long lens at my disposal without the huge cost or the additional weight of a large telephoto prime lens.

To remove the adapter from the scope you simply pull it off, although I found a small half twist as I pulled the best way to do this quickly and without putting any additional pressure on the adapter - with more force this could possibly snap breaking the plastic housing.

Read part two of the review next week - The field test and discover how this product rated on 'The Cowboy Birders' Chili Rating.

Click here: Part Two of the review

Monday, 3 December 2012

'TOWIE' Waxwings

After hearing eight Waxwings had been seen in Buckhurst Hill just down the road to where I live - it would have been rude of me not pay them a quick visit! So late in the afternoon and with the light starting to fade I dashed to the location and quickly found them silhouetted high up on a Poplar tree.

Thankfully they did come a bit closer to feed on the last of the remaining berries to enable me to get a couple of half decent photos in low light levels, I counted 14 birds in total before they flew off - probably into some lucky locals garden.

Based at their current location and with immaculate looking crests, guyliner and buffy orange tans - these little stars wouldn't look out of place on an episode of TOWIE!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Bombycilla Rainhamus

A Friday afternoon visit to Barking Bay was somewhat spoilt by misjudging the high tide by around an hour! Thus ruining any hopes I had of seeing a few waders feeding on the last of the exposed mud - scant consolation were five Snipe flushed from the edge of the saltmarsh, so I decided to give the surrounding scrub a bit a of a bash.

Circling the scrub it was evident winter Finch numbers were looking healthy with over a hundred flighty Linnet in the area joined on the periphery by a couple of calling Redpoll - all of which were being kept on their toes by a rather striking male Sparrowhawk.

I hadn't seen a great deal else when I received news of a Waxwing just down the road at Rainham Marsh feeding on the Hawthorn berries adjacent to the RSPB visitors centre, having not seen any locally this year as yet I was on site within 15 minutes and greeted at reception by Mr Vaughan who directed me straight onto the bird - magic! It doesn't matter how often or how many of these birds you see they simply ooze star quality.

I timed my arrival perfectly and managed to get a couple of phone scoped images before the bird flew off but judging by the number of berries around the car park and woodland area I'm sure a few more of these winter favourites will arrive in the coming weeks.