Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rain delay?!?.... No way!!!

male White-necked Jacobin digiscoped w/Leica APO Televid 82 m scope & D-Lux 4 camera

Let's face it, all of us don't always have sense enough to get out of the rain! The male White-necked Jacobin above is actually bathing in the rain, and typically - if lightning isn't flying - I tend to just don the rain coat and let 'er rip in a similar manner. Clothes dry and so will I. In the video below I was out of the rain only because I was already on the veranda enjoying Asa Wright's tea time (or more likely rum punch hour) when this short-lived monsoon blew in.

Thanks to Bill Thompson for playing camera man as I demonstrated my favorite feature of the new Ultravid HD binoculars - the Aqua Dura coatings.
When the weather rolls in I can simply leave the bins on the outside of the jacket keeping the lenses free of fog. Then when I'm ready to look at a bird (a wet male Jacobin perhaps) all I have to do is give the binoculars a purposeful flick of the wrist to clear the lens for viewing. Not having to wipe the lens or wait for the lenses to unfog as I'd encountered in the past when I tuck the binos inside the jacket, is a HUGE advantage for the user that isn't going to quit when the weather turns!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Settling in at Asa Wright

Asa Wright Nature Centre's infamous veranda, complete with Leica scope! :)

It was hard for me to believe (considering how well traveled the crew I was hanging with on this trip) that none in our crew but me had ever been to Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge before. Some 42 years in operation, we were hard-pressed to think of any eco-lodge with as rich a history, or one that had been in operation as long - especially in the western hemisphere. So it was with great pleasure that I introduced this group of life-long nature enthusiasts to the infamous Asa Wright grounds and especially inviting veranda!

veranda view - Leica D-Lux 4 camera 7/09

The view from the veranda is as lovely as it is "birdy" in a quick review of the Trini list it appears I've seen as many as 87 bird species from this site alone. The array of feeders filled with assorted fruits, breads, grains, as well as hummingbird feeders attract many local specialties in for close looks. Not surprisingly this also offers fantastic digiscoping opportunities, as the birds will often perch up on the vegetation edges some 30' or so away before dropping to the feeders which sit one level below.

Bananaquit giving me "raspberries" as I digiscope him, Asa wright 7/09

Pete & Linda were luckier with flights and able to make it in near mid day on the first day of the trip. I'm afraid for the remaining Ohio contingent they would not arrive until after dark. Not surprisingly, Pete Dunne took to the place like a duck to water. In many ways the Asa Wright veranda is like a ginormous hawkwatch platform, only with shade, a bar, tea time with fantastic treats, and a regularly scheduled rum punch service! So really no different than any other hawk watch I guess, huh?!?... ;p Of course, at first you can't help but notice the constant buzz of the Bananaquits, Hummingbirds, and Tanagers coming and going to the feeders and Linda (ever the photographer) was busily setting up her loaned digiscoping rig.

male White-necked Jacobin digiscoped @ Asa Wright verandah
Linda has likely forgotten more about wildlife photography than I will ever know, but at least in these early moments I had an upper hand in that she had yet to really embrace the world of digiscoping. Of course, after I'd spent about 3 minutes reviewing the limitations and advantages of the new Leica digiscoping rig, Linda was off and running and likely getting better images than me as well. Happily she's not the boastful type!

Palm Tanager digiscoped from Asa Wright verandah 7/09
As Linda and I snapped images, I kept sneaking peaks at Pete who appeared to now have almost unconsciously slipped into comfortable old hawk watching habits. Now melded into his stool with elbows braced on the railings, I watched as the inveterate master (founder of the old "National Brotherhood of Professional Hawkwatchers" of which I'm a proud member) slowly and purposefully glassed the horizon with his 7x42's. No clients, no participants, no deadlines... I could tell this guy was in the zone and had clearly done this practiced maneuver more than a time or two in the past. Before long he announced, "there's a Double-toothed Kite perched out here..."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Pete has a lesser appreciation for other birds or wildlife, it's just that it takes a special breed to sit chained to a platform (hypothetically speaking of course) for up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3+ months for less pay than one might spend in beer alone over the same period. That is the life of a hawkwatcher - at least in days gone by. Most with any sense at all would endure one season of this and happily move on to other activities. However, noting that both Pete and I gleefully came back to endure this year after year, likely tells a lot about our characters. It's a special kind of insanity to be sure!
view of Arima Valley from Asa Wright Verandah - Leica D-Lux 4 camera

My other esteemed fiends & colleagues (the Ohio contingent) consisted of Bill Thompson, III & his wife Julie Zickefoose representin' for the downtown "W" Whipple bird club, and Kenn & Kim Kaufman doin' the Oak Harbor crowd proud as well. For these four, their first real taste of veranda living would wait until Monday morning. A phrase that usually equates to board meetings, appointments, and other work-related hogwash, on this Monday morning at least, the Ohio contingent was in for a special treat. Their first view of the Arima Valley as seen above.
Forest Elaenia, digiscoped w/Leica APO Televid 82 scope, D-lux 4, & digital adapter4
I bumped into Bill Thompson & Julie Zickefoose early the following AM as they made their way down to the veranda for the first time. It was slow going with all of the Great Ant-Shrikes, Rufous-breasted Hermits, White-shouldered Tanagers, Tufted Coquettes, and the like to distract us, but we did finally cross the threshold of the infamous veranda together. The "Thompsofooses" (or is that "Zickesons") are no strangers to platform-birding either mind you. Their backyard deck/tower is a well known Whipple landmark (perhaps institution even) amongst local birders - especially when the annual "Big Sit" occurs. So I could sense their ease here as well, although I'm certain I caught Bill eyeing the thatch-roofed Tiki bar with a gleam in his eye. Perhaps he was envisionaing a remodel on the Whipple tower, I'm not certain. Meanwhile, Julie, the consummate artist, was noting some angles of light, and the play of color and movement that I was oblivious to being somewhat "left-brain challenged". Although, I still appreciate those who can capture this and make it so obvious that even a dolt like me can get it! Clearly though these two were also as taken as any who appreciate this stunning view for the first time.
distant Black-tailed Tityra digiscoped from Asa Wright veranda
Kenn & Kim Kaufman were the last from our group to arrive on the veranda after enjoying their own leisurely stroll down from their room - it's worth noting this is only a couple hundred feet but there is plenty of bird activity to keep you occupied along the way. Even though he had never been to Trinidad, Kenn was infinitely familiar with most of the bird species here due to past bird trips to nearby Venezuela on mainland South America when he worked as a professional bird guide. Never-the-less, anyone who knows Kenn understands what a keen student of bird distribution and plumage variation he is. So, as expected, he was enjoying this opportunity to reacquaint himself with these birds in a different setting and was already noting subtle subspecific variations in plumage or call.
Kim although admittedly suffering from cumulative weeks of sleep deprivation, was bubbling over with enthusiasm for all of the new sights and birds as she was not familiar with most of these birds. Even if it was a muted enthusiasm by Kim's standards. Nothing a little coffee wouldn't fix, and the Asa Wright staff had this and an assortment of teas at the ready for each of the groggy adventurers that were appearing this AM to soak in the bird activity as we awaited the sound of the bell signifying breakfast was served.
... and so it began the first morning of a ten day trip and our crew was already in awe of this place. Stay tuned for more from "the office". This typical Monday morning is merely the tip of the iceberg!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Working in Paradise

some of my friends on Little Tobago Island, D-Lux 4 camera

I've never been the best blogger in the world as I often hit busy periods where I have more to do in a day than I have time to finish all. Well, the bad news is I've just come off one of these hectic periods and I haven't posted in forever (obviously). The good news is that as aresult of all of that running, I have some fabulous stories to share. Not the least of which includes travelling for 10 days with some friends and esteemed colleagues for a wondrous trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

My esteemed panel of friends, authors, artists, and colleagues included from left: Pete Dunne, Mark Hedden (owner/operator Caligo Ventures), 2/3rds of Kim Kaufman (sorry Kim didn't mean to cut you out), Julie Zickefoose, Bill Thompson, III, Kenn Kaufman, and Linda Dunne. If the names sound familiar that means you've likely read nearly any bird magazine, or even a bird book or two in your day. Since all of these folks are experienced & accomplished birder-naturalists with life-long passions for the outdoors, I was certain the trip would be a marvelous success. However, for my part, I was going to force each of these folks to try a healthy dose of digiscoping with Leica's brand new digiscoping kits (D-Lux 4 camera, digital adapter 4, and the new APO televid spotting scopes - 65 & 82 mm).

adult Bananaquit digiscoped @ Asa Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad

As I said before there are a lot of stories to be told over 10 excellent days of birding and digiscoping with such a star-studded cast and for these tales will follow in the coming weeks. As an introduction though, I want to send my sincerest thanks to all of the folks that made our trip so successful.

Oilbird digiscoped at Asa Wright reserve, July 2009

I would be horribly remiss if I didn't acknowledge all of our friends at Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge. The feathered variety performed swimmingly doing their part by offering us the best in digiscoping opportunities & world class natural experiences (like the spectacular Oilbird for example). However, it was the human touch that provided us with all of the creature comforts and amenities we enjoyed. The entire staff from the talented guides were excellent answering all of our questions, and the skilled cook and wait staff did their part to insure I gained at least 10 pounds I think! I'd like to offer Ann Sealey my sincere gratitude for what she did to insure our trip was successful, and thank Mukesh for offering a program on the rich history of Asa Wright as well! We spent 7 days based out of Asa Wright so rest assured I have a lot of tall tales to share..

Thanks to Phil & Margaret Schaeffer, & Mark Hedden of Caligo Ventures as well for making all of the arrangements for a spectacular job arranging an itinerary that was incredibly well balanced between wildlife & photo ops.

view of scenic Blue Waters Inn, Tobago
Following a week of day tripping out of Asa Wright we shuttled to visit the neighboring island of Tobago. Here we were hosted by the Blue Waters Inn, a spot known to birders primarily for their close proximity to Little Tobago Island. But who knew the place was such a scenic marvel with wonderful reefs with Octopus, Hawksbill Turtles, and the like right off their dock?!?... Special thanks to David Hairston for all of his assistance in helping us to arrange this visit, and to the staff that worked so hard during our stay here as well.
In all it was a spectacular trip and as promised I will have specific details about all of the birding to follow shortly. From birds of tropical forest and open savannah, amazing mangrove forests, to shorebirding, and nesting seabirds and sea turtles... stay tuned!

adult Brown Booby, digiscoped w/ Leica APO Televid 82 mm scope, D-lux 4 camera 7/09