Sunday, 1 March 2009

Digiscoping at Slimbridge (on a dull day)

Yesterday saw your anti-hero and blogmeister heading off to Slimbridge. During the week while chatting to a mate we thought it was well overdue to have a digi-photo day. And so this weekend was chosen for an outing. I'm still not sure about digi-scoping, mainly as I'm absolutely hopeless at it; but as Rob had been on a digi-scoping course a while back, a joint venture of incompetence could keep us, and everyone else at Slimbridge, entertained for a day. I can hear it now, Mummy, what are those strange men up to? Daddy, I've never heard that word before, what does it mean?

Ideally for digi-scoping one would have blue skies, wall to wall sunshine and subjects which don't move about much. February 28th dawned dull and cold. I also felt rougher than rough after being out the evening before for a fish and chips birthday party, meaning bed was only reached at 1am. Up again at 6am, a pressing need for a "Big Breakfast" at Sainsburys on the way there seemed to help with the hangover and general feeling of sluggishness, but I wasn't sure!!

Finally we made it to Slimbridge, with still no prospect of any sunshine. First stop the heated hide next to the Centre. Simple we thought, quickly unpack the kit, check it's working and hey presto, award winning photos will follow. I'm not sure whether it was the breakfast, the hangover, the warm heat in this centrally heated hide, or my innate incompetence with anything technical but it seemed to take about an hour to get the scopes set up. Blood was spilt, words were said, tempers frayed to the point of snapping, so I gave up using the scope for a while and just photographed these Bewicks just using the camera.

Back to the digi-scoping, and eventually a half decent image of a Bewick head and water. But I still can't get the focusing spot on. I think it's the problem of not having a remote camera release, that movement of the shutter button is enough at 20, 30 40 times magnification to blurr the image just enough to make me think, why am I doing this!!

But feint heart never won a goldfish at the fair, so we pushed on and outside into the cold.

Flamingoes are weird. If I was the creator of wildlife, I'd have obviously thought these birds need to feed at ground level, so I'll create a gangly bird with very long legs, an even longer long neck, thus it needs to spend all day bent double to feed, possibly with a spot of sciatica for good measure. Oh and for a final twist of insanity, I'm going to colour them pink. WHY!!!!

But then again...... they are photogenic and gloriously colourful. Hey I'm beginning to get the hang of this digi-scoping malarkey, this one is almost in focus. Thank you photo-shop.

I was getting carried away now. Success with one photograph had gone to my head. At the next hide I spotted a Buzzard at 3 miles away and wanted to take it's photo. Rob said try max optical zoom on your camera and full zoom on the scope (I'm sure he had a wry smile on his face). So work out the maths, 7x optical on camera and 48x on scope... Magnification therefore something like x336. The resulting strobing effect was stunning with even the slightest movement by a passing gnat, producing so much camera shake I was getting a migraine. I'm sure at one point I saw Rob bent double facing towards a corner of the hide with his shoulders moving rapidly, probably has a cough or something.

But hey!! Look at this. By wedging the scope between myself and a window, and taking 40 photos, I managed to get 1 photo which wasn't blurred. Nice vignetting too, and that black spot is a bit of dust which has got into the lens and bugging me, but I got there. I don't think any top wildlife photographers have anything to worry about though.

I was on a roll, nothing was safe from the prying lens of the Boy. A sleeping Pochard, no problem madam, bung it through Photo Shop and hey presto.....

A Herring Gull, idly resting on a fence post half a mile away didn't escape the shutter

And this Jackdaw on a bird feeder, suffered from my voyeurism. Hang on I thought bird feeders were for smaller birds, what's this Jackdaw doing on this? Well basically it's because corvids are wonderfully intelligent birds able to adapt to anything; and that's what makes them fabulous.

And male Pintails are just wonderful. Those tails could be used as kebab skewers.

Which reminded both of us we needed some food. A bowl of carrot and ginger soup in the Centre and we were back out. At lunch we both said, oh lets just go birding bit fed up with this digi-scoping now. En-route to the Zeiss hide, Rob met a birder he knows. "Are you off to see the American Wigeon" he said. Both having fingers very much on the pulse, we had no idea an transatlantic Wigeon was in the area. Apparently it was with a flock of Wigeon outside the Zeiss hide

We hot footed it there (after looking at an American Wigeon in the collection... coz neither of us knew what one looked like - basically a normal Wigeon with alopecia) and arrived to be told by a guy leaving the hide, it's over there amongst those Wigeon. Oh great, don't need to look for it. I looked through the bins, and there it was. Well I think it was as just as I found it, the whole flock took off like the clappers (it's somewhere in this flock flying about in the sky above), flew about for a couple of minutes and then disappeared. Rob never saw it.

But we had better luck with the White Fronted-Geese.

By now I was beginning to flag. But we had one last push to the new Kingfisher Hide. We both said it looked like a "Shire House" and suggestion was made if I stood in the doorway I could play the hobbit role for a photo. I'm glad they have a plaster kingfisher on the wall, it's the only one we saw.

So time to pack up and head home with a final photo of this Jackdaw, taken in very poor light. At the end of the day I'm still perched on the fence of digi-scoping carry on. It does bring in a different dimension to birdwatching, but it's a right faff, for results which are okay but will never be as good as an SLR attached to a whacking great telephoto lens....... mmmm, now where's the Jessops website?

The day ended with a splendidly convivial evening spent at the home of Mate and Mrs Mate, where I suppered on an astonishing combination of foods Heston Blumenthal would have been proud of. I think this is probably because they've just come back from India and picked up some foreign cooking tips. It's the only conclusion I can come to. Mango sorbet with Medlar and Apple spiced chutney anyone? But we did have a laugh. A great end to the day.


  1. What a highly entertaining account of what appears to be a day of mixed emotions! Glad you persisted with your digi-scoping Andrew (never tried it)cause I enjoyed your results! Ages since I went to Slimbridge.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    What a great day out. I haven't been to Slimbridge for years, thanks for the reminder it's on my list for this year now.

    I loved the photo of the Swan's head particularly. Digi-scoping seems very daunting to me, I'm still struggling with getting to grips with my camera!

  3. ay, it all went well......in the end!

  4. You crack me up, you're so funny. What a great writer you are. Love the picture of the swan. I agree, corvids are fabulous birds.

  5. Hi Tricia, that's kind of you to say so. I'm not convinced myself.

    Shysongbird: I like Slimbridge, as every time I visit it's different. This year has sen a lot of changes so I'm sure you will enjoy revisiting.

    Just about Warren :-)

  6. Thanks Oldcrow, I totally agree Corvids are fabulous.

  7. A lovely posting Andrew - particularly the photo of the sleeping Pochard - the reflection is great - must have been a very still day. It's tipping it down with rain right now so am rather wondering if tomorrow is going to be a day here rather than gardening - forecast is terrible!

  8. Ahhahh go on Miranda, put your wellies on and garden in the rain. Alway a joy :-)

  9. I was very interested to read about your experiences digiscoping. The results are fascinating, especially with the distances involved. I had been looking at the adverts for a digiscope with a built in camera but in the end decided to spend the money on a new camera body.