Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015 World Digiscoper's Meeting - 20-22 Jan 2015

Tuesday morning 20 Jan 2015 I flew to Orlando, FL for the 1st World Digiscoping Meeting. Hosted and organized by Swarovski Optik the meeting provided an opportunity for some of the world’s top digiscoping masters to get together share tips/secrets and engage in friendly photography competitions. It was also a wonderful opportunity (for me) for finally meeting many of the folks who I’ve been in contact since I began digiscoping in 2003. It was great to finally put faces to names. Those who attended included: Clay Taylor, Dale Forbes, Gudrun Kaufmann, Tara Tanaka, Robert Wilson, Danny Porter, Justin Carr, Simon Brumby, Anna Koeman, Stephen Ingraham, Bill Schmoker, Karen Willis, Russ Gavitt, Glenn Kincaid, Robert Hunt, Sharon Stiteler, Kevin Bolton, Jorg Kretzchmar, the legendary Neil Pfifer, Juan M Benjumea and Tom Berriman. I’m missing a couple of other names and will add them as I remember…

After getting my car at the airport I drove to Titusville, FL where the meeting was held in conjunction with the SpaceCoast Birding Festival. Weather was in the mid-upper 60’s and forecasts called for sunny skies and 70’s for both Wednesday and Thursday when we’d be out in the field as part of our little competition: teams of two to bird all day Wednesday and digiscope images for entry into a number of categories that included “Birds”, “Non-Birds”, “Landscape/Man-made”, “Flight”, “Short Video” and “Video Story”.

First stop was the college where registration and workshops were held. Then onto the Quality Inn to check in to my room. I then drove over to the Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant for a Meet-n-Greet with the fore-mentioned folks. I had a wonderful time meeting all of these other folks who’ve been my inspiration, and was a bit shocked when I learned that many were anxious to finally meet me. Whaaat?

Stephen Ingraham, retired Sport-Optics Rep for Zeiss, and I teamed up for the Wednesday Team Digiscoping Competion. We started out before sunrise and headed over to Black Point Drive on Merritt Island NWR. Incidentally, Verizon Navigator has no clue where this place is - both Merritt Island NWR and Black Point Drive are believed by them to be in Orlando, so I had to rely exclusively on Stephen’s navigation to get there and back. Even the Max Brewer Memorial Parkway to the Island is not found in their navigation - epic fail! But he knew where we were going and within minutes we were on the drive waiting for the sun to come up.

Initially the waders were scarce, but soon large flocks of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, White Ibis, and even a few Roseate Spoonbills were foraging just feet away. We were digiscoping into the sunrise, so tried to get silhouette images in the low-light conditions.

A flock of American Avocets and Roseate Spoonbills were found a bit farther up the trail, so we spent some time digiscoping them in the now-sunlit morning conditions. We could only stay a short time, however, since Stephen had a workshop at the college to give at 9 am. So we finished the loop and headed over to the college. But not before we stopped and got some lovely images of cooperative Green Herons and Snowy Egrets near the restrooms. Since the battery died on the Nikon 1 V3 first thing in the morning, I switched cameras and used the Sony RX-100 III. Since I’d been having issues with autofocus (even with focus-peaking through the EVF) I decided to use my Hoodman Loupe on the camera viewfinder to manually focus on birds. I got some terrific images and vow to use this setup in the future.

While Stephen gave his workshop at the college I walked around to look for Paul Sayegh (Digidapter™) and spent some time transferring images to the computer. When his class was over we drove over to Viera Wetlands Park for the afternoon.

Things were a bit slow when were arrived, but we did find birds like Common Gallinules, Anhingas and Great Blue Herons that provided wonderful subjects for digiscoping, even in the afternoon sun. Small Alligators were also fairly numerous, so we spent some time with them, as well.

The Great Blue Heron was especially gorgeous, perching atop a tree and displaying its breeding plumage. It would crane its neck skyward and make a barely audible grunt that was quite musical! Unfortunately I was unable to follow its movement while focus-peaking, so I had to settle for more traditional portrait images.

An American Bittern flew in and landed next to the dike in front of us and provided a short bit of digiscoping as it headed into thick cover. I thought I had seen a Least Bittern around the corner but we could not relocate it later on. We would find another American Bittern on the other side of the cells and this one was less obscured and eating a snake!

I immediately put the scope on the bittern and recorded a video of it swallowing the snake. But an epic fail on my part resulted in the video being deleted later in the day when the file failed to be transferred to the computer before the card was reformatted. Ugggh! At least I was able to get stills of it moving through the grass.

With the exception of a gazillion Turkey and Black Vultures in the skies, raptors were largely absent this morning. That is, until we came upon a very cooperative Red-shouldered Hawk on its normal perch next to the observation tower. We spent some time digiscoping it in the backlit conditions, then stopped farther down to road to photograph it in better light. We would later see a Loggerhead Shrike but it flew off before we could get close enough to digiscope it.

With Vierra Wetlands conquered, Stephen and I then drove back to Titusville for the late afternoon trip on Black Point Drive. We stopped for a few American Avocets that were foraging in the late afternoon sun, but again, lighting was less than ideal.

At one of the few places where one could walk we got out and hiked down the road. Blue-winged Teal were in the canals and beautifully illuminated in the late afternoon sun. I spent some time digiscoping them.

At one of the hides a small flock of teal included a single female Northern Pintail. Gorgeous bird! And she really stood out among the significantly smaller teal.

We then witnessed several teal starting to go ballistic, tearing across the water, diving, splashing and shaking. I couldn’t get the scope on them since the boards of the hide were too high to digiscope over. So I backed up, stood on a bench, and extended the tripod to full height and proceeded to take several slow-motion videos of the birds splashing, shaking and flapping. I felt sure that I was going to win the ‘video’ competition until Sharon Stiteler decided to destroy me with her iMovie production of her day. To top that, Dale and Gudrun’s production of their day was voted most popular! Oh, well.

With the sun going down we came across a flock of ~60 Northern Pintail roosting on the mud just to the right of the dike. We spent some time digiscoping them before calling it an evening.

I would spend most of the night uploading images (except my video - grrrr) and trying to come up w/ enough images for the competition categories. With too many photos to choose from I called it quits at midnight.

Stephen and I met for breakfast the following morning and reviewed our entries. Though none of our images would place in the competition we had some lovely images. The competition would highlight the talents of Tara / Jorg, Simon / Kevin, Justin / Danny, and Dale / Gudrun. Spectacular images! Justin Carr was able to photograph a butterfly in flight. Unbelievable…

But before that, I drove back out to Black Point Drive for a late morning excursion prior to to afternoon lunch at the Holiday Inn. The sky was a bit overcast and I had enough of a headache that I just enjoyed to slow drive around the wetlands taking in the hundreds of wading birds and shorebirds. I only stopped long enough to digiscope another cooperative Green Heron and Snowy Egret, then found a Reddish Egret that was putting on a show in the morning sun.

The Holiday Inn Luncheon was wonderful. We spent the time chatting, reviewing images, and voting for winning photos. The consensus of most people was that for future get-togethers we should just submit our top images and have them displayed at random throughout luck.

After lunch we were all invited over to the Blue Heron Wetlands, which is part of the water treatment plant just up the road a quarter mile from our hotel. I headed over there immediately, opting not to try to carpool. After signing in at the office I drove along the dikes toward our rendezvous tent. Hundreds of American Coot were in the cells and these birds were much more skittish than those at Merritt Island NWR and Vierra Wetlands. But I did finally see a pair of Purple Gallinule running across the pads along the shoreline. I was able to get a couple of digiscoped images before they disappeared. Even better was seeing a Crested Caracara sitting on the dike next to the tents. I was able to pull over and get a few digiscoped portraits of the bird before it took off and flew over the trees.

I then hiked along one of the inside cells and was able to get a Red-shoulded Hawk from 100’ away.
After chatting with Tom Berriman for a few minutes I continued around the cell looking for more Purple Gallinules (w/o luck). I spotted several Eastern Phoebes and Palm Warblers, but had to keep a wary eye out for several huge Alligators that were sunning themselves on the dike ahead of me! Luckily they scrambled into the water upon my approach, but I felt a bit like a potential lunch for a few minutes…

Just before returning to the tent I spotted the Red-shouldered Hawk perched on one of the poles next to the tent. What a great way to allow all of us digiscopers to check out our equipment with a bird like this just feet away! The hawk was backlit for me, so I quietly stood alongside the dike so as not to scare it w/ my approach. But it finally took off and floated lazily directly at me. I put my arm out to see if it would perch…:)

Robert Wilson and Neil Pfifer
I spent some time chatting with Glenn, Danny, Justin, Robert, Dale, Kevin, Neil, and a few others, and took some photos of the group. Ms. Gudrun was down the path far enough that I needed to digiscope her for posterity.

Danny Porter, Tom Berriman, Kevin Bolton, Jorg Kretzchmar

Tobey Wilson, Glenn Kincaid, Dale Forbes, Tom Berriman, Danny Porter

Bill Schmoker, Drew Weber

Robert Hunt, Glenn Kincaid, Danny Porter

Tobey Wilson, Kevin Bolton, Robert Wilson

Neil Pfifer

Simon Crumby, Anna Koeman, Kevin Bolton, Justin Carr, Jorg Kretzchmar

Robert Hunt, Clayton Taylor, Sharon Stiteler, Danny Porter

Gudrun Kaufmann
Robert and Tobey Wilson, Danny, Justin and I then drove back out to Merritt Island NWR where Robert knew of a Great Horned Owl pair. Danny and Justin needed this bird for their lists, so we caravanned back across the causeway to the island. Standing beside the highway we waited for the Great Horned Owls to appear.

One bird was spotted in the trees by Danny, and I was quickly on it. Tobey then saw its mate fly into an open branch and pose nicely in the setting skies. I was planning to video record it flying into the nest, but wouldn’t you know it, I decided to take a 10-second delay photo of the perching bird and it flew just as pressed the shutter. Fail again! But we managed some nice images of the bird as she settled on the nest before calling it a night.

After dinner w/ the gang at Dixie Crossroads I headed back to the hotel to pack and head home Friday morning.

I’m grateful to Clay Taylor, Dale Forbes, Jorg Kretzchmar and Swarovski Optik for hosting this visit, but especially to Robert Wilson who proved to be the catalyst for making it happen. He contacted folks from all over the world and convinced them to fly to the States for this event, and it couldn’t have gone better. I met some of the finest people and cherished my time with them. Thanks also to Mr. Stephen Ingraham and Zeiss for allowing me to be his guest for the day on Wednesday. Hopefully in a few years we’ll all be able to get together again!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jerry, I loved your slow-motion video of the teal, even if it didn't win a prize! It sounds like you had a very satisfying time at this event. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos. ~Kim

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