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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Boys' Weekend in Wales

Last weekend saw the annual "Boys' Weekend", to which I was priveleged to be invited for the second time. This year the event was organised by TCA and held in a Hostel at Llanddeusant in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. The main function of the weekend is to participate in some outdoor pursuits (mountain-biking, hiking, birdwatching) through the weekend until the culmination on Saturday afternoon of watching the Six-Nations Rugby on tv in a local tavern. The choice on Friday was an arduous mountain-bike trail (for those who had transported their bikes) or a 20km hike to the summit peaks of the Black Mountain. These pictures capture some moments during the weekend.
View from the hostel - the Black Mountain peaks which beckon us on foot or by bike

The bikers have a head-start on their approach to the summit...

...whilst the hikers follow the course of a mountain stream.

The hikers approach the summit plateau...

...and get there in the end.

A view of the summit peaks to prove that we made it!

Wildlife in the district was spectacular with Red Kites often seen...

An arial squabble for a piece of carrion!
Both kite pictures courtesy of Barry Gower

Meanwhile, back at the hostel, TCA (aka Worzel) organises the beer...

...before the visit to the tavern; jubilation as England scores againts Scotland in the six-nations rugby tournament!

The inevitable group shot...

...and the eponymous sunset scene at the end of a fulfilling day.

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Happy Festival of Ostara Everyone!

Image source here
Ostara is the festival of the Vernal Equinox, in the Northern Hemisphere (corresponding to the Autumnal equivalent of Lughnasdh in the South). It is a time for planting and celebrating the first signs of fertility and rebirth. This year the equinox is at 11.43 on 20 March, though celebrations may span several days!

On this day, wherever you are and whoever you are, we are all united by this celestial phenomenon: we all have equal day and night. During Ostara a prince can command no more sunshine than a pauper; a bishop no more than a heathen; a master no more than a servant.

At this time I shall reflect on what other factors unite, rather than divide, humanity.

During this Ostara period I am camping and hiking in the mountains of Wales. May you all enjoy a happy and peaceful Equinox, and may the strengthening sun bring fertility to your gardens and anything else that you wish.

Dawn, Wales, Ostara 2009

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Everglades revisited

I visited the Everglades National Park in Florida in April 2004, before I started blogging. So I have dipped into my travel folders to bring these out to remind me of a wonderful birding trip.

All pictures are my own.

A view of the Everglades near Homestead, the Gateway to the National Park, showing a couple of raised "hammocks" in the wetland

The Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus is one of the most elegant and graceful birds I have ever seen

The Everglade Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis is an endangered species. Its highly specialised bill has evolved to pick out the meat from an aquatic snail (the apple snail). If the snail becomes threatened (for example by wetland draining) the kite is unable to adapt to eat other prey.

The Turkey Vulture Cathartes aurais is the most numerous of the large birds of prey on the Everglades

The fish-eating Osprey Pandion haliaetus makes its nest in the mangrove swamps

The Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus is commonly seen sitting on trees a=or telegraph poles along the roadside

A visit to the Florida Keys was required to see this Magnificent Frigate Bird Fregata magnificens (also known as the Man o' War Bird)

The diving and fish eating Anhinga Anhinga anhinga (also known as Snakebird and Darter) needs to sit out in the sunshine to dry its feathers after diving for fish

The curious Limpkin Aramus guarauna is a bird I was especially hoping to see. I found one with just an hour to spare before having to leave the Everglades for my flight home from Miami!

Would any account of the Everglades be complete without a picture of alligators?

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Digiscoping is the improvised use of a birdwatching telescope in combination with a simple digital camera, as a substitute for a camera with a fixed telescopic lens.

The basic equipment: a birdwatching telescope (in this case a Kowa with 20-60 zoom eyepiece) and a simple digital camera (in this case an Olympus 790 SW)

The telescope is focussed on the object of interest and the camera placed by hand so that its lens is in alignment with the telescope's eyepiece, and you allow the camera's automatic focus and exposure do the rest!

The telescope is mounted on a tripod for stability, focussed on the object of interest, and the lens of the camera aligned with the telescope's eyepiece

The "raw" picture takes on the circular aspect as viewed through the telescope, as in this picture of a Stella's Eider I took in Lapland last year:

However, with some judicious cropping an acceptable image can be created:

Or this Dipper:

And then cropped:

Dipper, Cumbria March 2009

Digiscoping does not purport to match the quality of a proper telephoto camera system. However, it does have advantages. It is quick: all you have to do is to whip out your camera from your pocket and hold it up to the telescope through which your are already viewing your subject; no need to mess around setting up a separate system and choosing an appropriate lens.

Therefore digscoping is an ideal method of documentation. It can be used for subsequent verification of identity, if you do not have the appropriate reference book with you at the time. Many organisations require evidence of identity prior to acceptance of a record of a rare bird, and a digiscoped image is satisfactory. And at the very least you can boast to your friends with an impressive image of a rare bird, and not to mention the possibility of using the images on a blog!

Digiscoped image of an Indri lemur, Madagascar, September 2008

My favourite digiscoped image to date is this one of a
Yellow Wagtail photographed in Cumbria, Spring 2008

You can find out more about digiscoping here and here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Storks and Pelicans

Endangered Wood Storks against a backdrop of cumulus cloud,
Everglades National Park, Florida,
April 2004

White Pelicans against a backdrop of altocumulus
migrating through the Danube Delta, Romania, May 2006

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Monday, March 02, 2009

The First Primrose of Spring

My first wild primrose of the year, 2 March 2009