PhoneSkoping

I have pretty much transitioned to using my iPhone 5 for digiscoping using an attachment called a PhoneSkope. As I mentioned in a previous post, I always have my iPhone in my pocket and it’s a handy way to shoot through the scope. The quality gets better with each iteration of the phone, and an iPhone 6 may be on the not too distant horizon.

Each PhoneSkope is tailored for your camera and your scope. The cost is about $80 for case and adapter.

Each PhoneSkope is tailored for your camera and your scope. The cost is about $80 for case and adapter.

The setup is simple. You just put your phone or tablet into the case and attach it to the optic adapter by twisting and locking it in place. You then slide the optic adapter onto the end of your scope eye piece. It’s about a one-minute deal – I keep the case and adapter on the phone while I’m birding. (You can still use all functions of the phone.)

Here's what you see - and you can either photo or video, and change the scope setting to get in closer.

Here’s what you see – and you can either photo or video, and change the scope setting to get in closer.

There are lots of blog posts on using the iPhone (and other smart phones) so my suggestion is just to get out and shoot. It’s easy and even if there is some vignetting, you can reduce that through a finger swipe on the screen. The images are pretty good sized and  can be perfect for web work.

Here's what I lug around although I usually take the phone off the rig and zero in on the bird with the scope.

Here’s what I lug around although I usually take the phone off the rig and zero in on the bird with the scope.

Here are a couple of Mallards I got with the iPhone the other day -- nothing special but a nice easy shot as they cruised along.

Here are a couple of Mallards I got with the iPhone the other day — nothing special but a nice easy shot as they cruised along.

I know there are other adapters that folks use and like. PhoneSkope has worked well for me and I see that they have created them for the new iPhones and other tablets. Consider giving it a try – you’re likely carrying a pretty good camera in your pocket.

Posted in Digiscoping, digital photography, iPhone | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Won’t Get Fooled Again

Yesterday morning, after seeing some Black Scoters on a local reservoir, I drove up to Lamoille County to try my luck there. I saw six male Hoodies on a small pond beside the road which seemed to bode well for the birding up ahead. Well, not exactly.

I pulled into the boat launch area at the south end of Lake Elmore, my usual first stop, and saw that the stiff wind had the water pretty roiled up. Scanning from the truck, I saw a line of Canada Geese hunkering down in the tall grass on the far side. I thought I saw some ducks also so I hopped out into the breeze and set up my scope and started quickly scanning through the six or eight geese, looking for something different like a Snow Goose. Here’s what I saw:

Decoys2W

I then looked at the ducks thinking, “That’s a female Mallard – no it’s not.” Then I saw the male Mallard and realized that these weren’t ducks, they were decoys.

Without the bobbing and the shaking scope, these are obvious as decoys.

Without the bobbing and the shaking scope, these are obvious as decoys.

I swung the scope up lake and scanned everything else and then heard a couple of “wank, wank” calls from the decoy area. Figuring that a hunter was trying to yank my chain, I looked once more and saw a small camoflauged shelter in the reeds. I gave a wave and headed out, a bit chagrined but a little wiser.

I don’t monitor hunting seasons (obviously) and since we have limited waterfowl activity midstate, you don’t hear a lot of shooting or seeing hunting activity. I mainly worry about deer season.

We had a good morning although nothing unusual – it was just good to be out with the dog between rain showers. I stopped on the way home and grabbed a few shots of the decoys to illustrate this post. It is funny how obvious they are once you know they are decoys – but at first glance with a shaky scope…. That’s why they work for hunters.

The lesson of the day – if the birds are staying put in your scope they are probably not just being cooperative, they are probably tethered.

Posted in Vermont Birding | Tagged | 1 Comment

DIY Repairs

Owning an older Airstream is always an adventure, whether you are trying to find a leak in the roof, a mouse in a cabinet, or solution to a problem you yourself caused.  This is a short story of owner-caused damage and DIY repair.

You learn pretty fast that you need to know how to fix things when you travel with an RV of any type. I’ve repaired dents, replaced punky floor segments, and done many along-the-highway fixit jobs. This time, it was my back yard.

I was setting up the ‘stream on the back lawn for a few months and needed some planks to keep the wheels from sinking in and to level things out. As I drove on to a long plank, the tire caused the wood to swing up and bashed the rod to the grey water tank – tore the whole thing off. (I don’t have pictures because I was too mad a myself to think about getting a camera.)

The foot-long rod with its handle lie there, looking pretty lonesome, and the guide for it was pulled out by the rivets. I could, however, get a hold on the rest of the rod and pull it out.  I had visions of traveling with a Vise-Grip this winter.  First thing I did was to try to epoxy the old rod onto the remaining section.  Two days later, a test pull ended that experiment.

Some good friends of mine, Shawn and Helen, had recommended a local RV dealer who I had never visited. It’s a small mom & pop operation called M’s RV Sales & Service.

ValterraWI know that no outfit likes to work on grey or black water tanks and was dreading the visit but decided to go down and talk to them about options. What a breath of fresh air! As soon as I showed Marcel and Joanne the broken rod they not only made me feel better by saying, “We see lots of those,” but also came up with an easy solution — a rod extension kit.  Marcel gave me some ideas on how to proceed, how to deal with the rivet that was still on the other end of the rod, and sent me off with a “We like to work with owners that do their own work — give us a call if you get stuck.”

The fix went rather easy after the coaching – I was pleasantly surprised. I also was pleased to find a small dealer who will be a great “go to” person if I need one down the road. I might be calling him for repair advice from Florida this winter. Hopefully not.

I you are in the Central Vermont area, M’s is just south of Montpelier on Route 12. Good people, great service.

Posted in repairs, rig maintenance | Leave a comment

Some Florida Target Birds

One of the reasons we are traveling to Florida is to see some birds which I’ve never seen; many of the birds we’ll encounter are those that also frequent the Southwest but there are some that are more unique to Florida. Here are a few of my top ones (photos are by an excellent photographer, Mark Vance, who has a gallery on Flickr here.

A large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps, the Wood Stork is the only stork breeding in the United States. Its late winter breeding season is timed to the Florida dry season when its fish prey become concentrated in shrinking pools.photo by Mark Vance

A large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps, the Wood Stork is the only stork breeding in the United States. Its late winter breeding season is timed to the Florida dry season when its fish prey become concentrated in shrinking pools.  Photo by Mark Vance

An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida. There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative.

An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida. There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative. Photo by Mark Vance

A strikingly marked raptor of wetlands in the southeastern United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite captures flying insects or plucks insects and lizards from the tops of trees.

A strikingly marked raptor of wetlands in the southeastern United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite captures flying insects or plucks insects and lizards from the tops of trees. Photo by Mark Vance

A bold and curious bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay can become hand-tame in areas where it comes in contact with people. Unfortunately, it is restricted to the rare oak scrub community of Florida, a habitat under constant threat of development, and is classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A bold and curious bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay can become hand-tame in areas where it comes in contact with people. Unfortunately, it is restricted to the rare oak scrub community of Florida, a habitat under constant threat of development, and is classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Mark Vance

Caption text is from Cornell University “All About Birds
Posted in Florida birds, Life list | Leave a comment

Florida Plans

I’ve mapped out a three month trip to Florida. It was much tougher than planning to go to the Southwest because Florida state parks fill up fast — often I grabbed the last site available — and the state wants all the money up front. So I’m sitting with over a thousand dollars on my AMEX card so I guess we’d better go.

I got some advice from my brother and sister-in-law, some birding friends, and used two birding guide books: Birding Florida by Brian Rapoza and the slightly-dated A Birder’s Guide to Florida by Bill Pranty.

Right now, we are planning to head out right after New Year’s, subject to weather forecasts.  We take the Airstream to Georgia and then down to a big birding festival in Titusville in January.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 11.20.07 AM

We then hit some good birding spots in southern Florida for February.  (The Keys were out of the question since everything there is tied up 10 months ahead of time.)

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In March, we work ourselves up the western side of Florida, hoping to hook up with some old friends from Central New York who winter there. We end up in the Pensacola area as we think about heading home in mid-April.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 11.20.35 AM

One of the nice things about hauling your own lodging is that you are flexible. If we find Florida to crowded, too wet, to0 Republican (just kidding!), we can head back to our old haunts along the Gulf Coast, and just eat some of the deposits. The long-range forecast (30% cooler and wetter down south and 30% warmer up here) adds another element but we’ve done the rainy slushy winter and Florida’s got to be better.  In my next post, I’m going to pick a few target birds for the trip.

Posted in Florida, Florida birds, Georgia birding, Trip Planning, winter travel, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Power Drain Fixed

I replaced the dead refrigerator in our Airstream in May. The new unit cooled like a charm but turned out to be an energy hog. So this post is about the problem and the fix: if you are more into birding than Airstream repair, go ahead and move on. The post after this will outline our Florida birding plans.

We camped this summer at Stillwater State Park, which has no electricity, and later at our daughter’s which is in the woods in Massachusetts. I noticed that the battery was being drained rather fast in both places but with no solar recharge at Jen’s due to the trees, it was very noticeable. I would use the generator and get everything charge but only using LED lights, noticed that the voltage went from 12.5 or so to 11.8 each night.

It took me a while to sort it out — I read the manuals, visited a number of forums, and finally determined that the Dometic folks, for some reason, omitted a critical climate control switch on many of their new models, like ours. In high temps and humidity, the climate control evaporates water droplets that form and draws 12 VDC power continuously. Since we no longer can turn it off, what now?

Several folks reported that there are two wires, one to the refrigerator light and one to the climate control.  “Just cut the climate control wire” said one guy, “but make sure you get the right one.”  In another post, someone noted that it was the fatter wire.

If I cut the correct wire, the light will still work.

If I cut the correct wire, the light will still work.

Well, as you can see below, I cut the heavier wire (and the light still worked.

Light2W

I then put a couple of disconnect terminals on the line and now can connect it when we have power and leave it open when we are boondocking.

Light3W

Here’s the final result — a relatively easy job after a lot of searching for answers.

Light4W

Posted in Airstream, boondocking, equipment_issues, refrigerator, repairs | Leave a comment

More iPhone Practice

I went up to Lamoille County yesterday to see if any waterfowl had shown up. Nothing new but a nice assortment of birds, many of which I couldn’t catch in the scope. Best birds were a Sharp-shinned Hawk right overhead and several handsome White-Crowned Sparrows. The lighting was not great but I did some more shooting with the scope and iPhone. (I’m not going to put every practice session up – this is it except for special birds or great shots.)

A Great Blue Heron hunting while a Mallard cruises by in poor early light.

A Great Blue Heron hunting while a Mallard cruises by in poor early light.

A White-Crowned Sparrow moving through the shrubbery.

A White-Crowned Sparrow feeding on the shrubbery.

There were dozens of sparrows moving here and there. Can you find the three in this bush?

There were dozens of sparrows moving here and there. Can you find the three in this bush?

When we returned home, I set up in the back yard for a while to get some feeder birds.

This Blue Jay, one of the eight or ten who hang out here, is giving me and my scope the hairy eyeball.

This Blue Jay, one of the eight or ten who hang out here, is giving me and my scope the hairy eyeball.

What's not to love about White-breasted Nuthatches?

What’s not to love about White-breasted Nuthatches?

And through it all, the Viszla was in stealth mode, watching the parade of birds as well as a foraging chipmunk. If her nose looks a little browner than usual, it’s the result of some major Fall excavation projects she has underway.

PennyW

Posted in Digiscoping, iPhone, Penny, Photography, Yard birds | Leave a comment

Some great customer service

I’ve had two situations this summer that sort of restored my faith in the integrity of RV equipment manufacturers.

The first involved the replacement of my trailer hitch. I have been using the ball and hitch that the previous owner used and I knew that the trailer was riding a bit nose high but there was no way to adjust things.  So I did some searching and purchased an adjustable hitch (Eaz-lift Bolt-Together Ball Mount Kit 48110) from a vendor (Makarios) to replace a fixed hitch.  The product I received looked fine and went together ok.

Eaz_Lift_48110_Ball_Mount_Kit__36351.1405460125.1280.1280

I was planning to use the weight bars (1000 pound) from my original unit were about 15 years old but in good shape.  As soon as I tried to hitch up the bars — even though the shaft opening looked the same size, the depth apparently wass not and the clips would not settle into the grooves of the bar. The bars just fell to the ground.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 10.23.19 AMAfter some study, I figured that the depth of that opening had been shortened just a bit (probably a quarter-inch or less) with the new unit — so it looked like I was facing an additional $150 or so for a pair of bars.

I wrote to the folks at Makarios, who were great, and they had me email the manufacturer, Camco.  Within a couple of days, I got a call from Mike at Camco saying that he would ship a couple of new bars that would work.  Sure enough, within a week or two, the bars arrived and I put the chains on them, tried them out, and everything worked fine. I know Camco is an immense operation but this attention to detail really made me a fan of their products and their customer service.

My second experience involved the tongue jack whose difficult installation I chronicled last year. It worked fine, when it worked, but almost from the start, it would quit for a bit, and then decide to operate again. We took it across country to California last winter but it was always a little tense to see whether we’d have issues. Most of the time it was great but more than once, I had the truck and trailer jacked way up to install the bars and it died. A little rap on the head seemed to get it back running.

I had talked to Steve at Vintage Trailer Supply who sold me the unit — he talked to the company and told me that there was a two year warrantee. Well, I kept putting it off until a few months ago when it seemed to act up even more.  I called Ultra-Fab, explained the situation, and they said that they would send out a new one with return postage for the old one. Again, the new unit came shortly thereafter and the replacement was a snap (since I had done all the grunt work with rusty bolts last year.)

TJack

The new jack is great and has operated without incident.  It’s great not to have to hassle folks in situations like this — and I highly recommend the product (Ulta 3502 Electric Tongue Jack) and the company.

Posted in equipment_issues, repairs, rig maintenance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Digiscoping Practice Session

I have been dabbling with digiscoping — shooting photos through my telescope — for a number of years.  I’ve used several good SLR cameras, a good digital point-and-shoot, and most recently, my iPhone. Once I bought the Canon SX-50 I gave up trying to digiscope since that camera works so well for me. I sold my good camera and the adapters that were needed to connect it to the scope.

As I watch the improvement in iPhone cameras, I’ve started to revisit that option of photography since I’m really looking for help with bird identification and for shots to illustrate this blog. I’m a birder, not a bird photographer.

As I plan our upcoming trip, I realize that I’ll be looking at a lot of waterfowl and shorebirds and be lugging my scope everywhere.  The Canon SX-50 is good but one more piece of gear to carry and I always have my iPhone in my pocket — so why not use it? I have an adapter from PhoneSkope for my iPhone 5 so yesterday, I took the rig out and did some practice shooting.

A couple of Killdeer were foraging along the Winooski River.

A couple of Killdeer were foraging along the Winooski River.

I spent a little time at Wrightsville Reservoir where an American Crow ignored me as I got out of the truck and let the dog run.

CrowW

There were a number of sparrows moving in and out of the brush, providing a pretty good challenge to getting them in the scope and shooting before they flitted on. There’s quite a crop of White-throated Sparrows this year.

WTSP2WThere were about eight or ten Northern Flickers feeding and flying off as we moved along. They must be gathering for their winter trip down south, although a few may stick around. They were less than cooperative but here are two shots:

Flickr2W Flickr1W

Penny, who is camera-shy, could not figure out what I was doing as she watched from afar.

Penny, who is camera-shy, could not figure out what I was doing as she watched from afar. Not the image of the left ear – the wind was moving it up and down and the iPhone camera speed did not stop it.

Later, we went for a walk in our woods where I grabbed this shot of one of her “friends” who sat, seemingly out of sight, but not for the telescope.

RedSW

So, it was a good outing and even though some of the photos are unclear and I missed many shots due to “always moving” birds (a winter wren taunted me as it bounced further and further into the underbrush), I am going to keep practicing.  Many birders across the country are quite adept and the newer 5S and iPhone 6 cameras have even more capability. I’ll still use my SX-50 for a lot of shooting but if I’m going to lug the scope, the iPhone is likely the way to go. Stay tuned.

 

Posted in Digiscoping, iPhone, Photography | 2 Comments

South or Southwest

Autumn is here, the leaves are starting to change rapidly, and we’ve had several frosty mornings to remind us what is up ahead. While some folks plan their winter travel all summer, it takes a few wakeup calls, like the need for a wood fire, to focus my attention on where we’ll go this winter with the Airstream. Which has resulted in a “Florida vs Texas” question — we’ve always gone to Texas and last year to Arizona, New Mexico, and California — we’ve never gone to Florida. My brother and sister-in-law, who travel widely with their restored Airstream, like the Florida state parks a lot. So, I’m leaning in that direction but also finding that many others are — and have tied up good parks half-a-year ago.

The Airstream is parked on the back lawn for repairs before the next big trip. Trees are just showing color but are vivid on the mountains.

The Airstream is parked on the back lawn for repairs before the next big trip. Trees are just showing color but are vivid on the mountains.

I have started by thinking about attending part of the Space Coast Birding Fest in Titusville, Florida and have reserved a spot at a local KOA.  We try to avoid commercial parks but there are times where the “cheek by jowl” spacing has to be endured.  Other than that, I’m thinking of probably not going to southern Florida because those parks are all full. Right now, the agenda is wide open so if you have a favorite spot, let me know.

There are lots of Florida birds I’ve never seen — Wood Stork is a good example — so I’m looking to adding to my life list. We also wouldn’t mind avoiding the long drives we made last year. We are looking forward to visiting Pensacola again where back in the dark ages, I was a budding naval aviator. It will be fun to revisit the Cubi Point Officer’s Club which is part of the Naval Air Museum but reportedly, much tamer than when I was there. (Their chocolate milk shakes were to die for!) Well, not exactly.

So, with mixed feelings, we are planning to skip the places we’ve come to really like over the last four trips — Goose Island State Park, Falcon State Park, Lost Maples State Park, and Patagonia State Park to name just a few. If we don’t like Florida, we can always jump on I-10 and head west for a couple of months.  That’s the joy of flexible schedules and dragging your home behind you.

Posted in Florida, Florida birds, Trip Planning, winter travel, Winter2015 Trip | Tagged , , | 3 Comments