Crossing the Big Pond
Well my first trip to the UK was somewhat uneventful from a birding standpoint. I saw about 75 species only and most of these were your common "garden variety". I had almost no time for birding or digiscoping unfortunately as there was work to be done. What work?!?... well I was off to BirdFair in the UK and assist as I could at the Leica stand. Of course, the staff at Leica, UK had things well in hand and it is questionable as to whether I actually added anything positive or not, but I would have felt guilty not helping out as the unbelievable numbers of bird enthusiasts poured through the optics marquis.
For those used to bird festivals here in the US, BirdFair would strike you as something very different. Here in the states every bird festival is centered around viewing birds first and foremost. At BirdFair 15,000+ attendees from across the globe descend upon the 6 marquis to view and learn about all of the latest products and services related to birding. Despite excellent birding opportunities on site, almost none of the birders present carry optics at all! It is all about the products and services... serious business. I stood out as an obvious tourist with my bins peering into every bush as I strolled out for lunch. Some would ask what I was looking at and were polite enough to not laugh at me when I said, "I'm staring at this Robin!" More than a few likely thought "crazy Yank" as the strolled off though! ;p
The view from the optics marquis offered a view over one of the pools so I was able to see many birds while manning my post. Eurasian Kestrels hovered in the distance, while Pied Wagtails "tsik-tsik"ed overhead and bobbed at the water's edge. Sand & House Martins joined the (Barn) Swallows that picked insects over the pool. A Sparrowhawk sped past one day and Common Greenshanks circled over looking for a spot to land on another. Yellow-footed Gulls sometimes joined the ubiquitous Black-headed Gulls and Cormorants on the islands. A local highlight were the Osprey, but coming from Florida I was far more impressed by the Eurasian Coots, Grey Herons, Tufted Ducks and Pochards. Even the (Eurasian) Wigeon offered opportunities for study of eclipse-plumaged birds.
I snuck off for a tour of the hides (blinds) one evening and then again for a bit on Sunday and had new opportunities for study. Stock Pigeons have a very different structure than the superficially similar Rock Pigeon (something not apparent from the guides). Little Grebes had youngsters and were busily feeding at the marsh edges. Turtle Dove and Garden Warblers were a bit unusual locally so were added bonuses. One bush held a mixed flock of Tits and Warblers and in one field of view I saw 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Chiff-Chaff, and a Garden Warbler for direct comparison. I was even lucky enough to see 2 Northern Hobbies (thanks Steve) which was a great treat! The guides always compare these to Peregrines which they resemble in markings, but I was amazed at how different they were in flight. As they glided around hawking dragonflies, they reminded of Kestrels sailing around on bowed wings which were not angular at all until they flapped. That was VERY unexpected and a welcome study and major highlight!
new Televid 82 under glass
Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning, there was work to be done and the main reason for my trek across the big blue was Leica's introduction of a suite of great new birding products which generated a lot of excitement and constant foot traffic through the Leica stand. In three days time, thousands of folks strolled through and I was fortunate enough to talk to more than a couple of these wonderful people as I babbled seemingly endlessly about digiscoping and birding.
The big news was first the announcement of the new Ultravid HD binocular line, as well as a sneak peak at the upcoming new Televid scope line up! I will review both of these in my next post for those who haven't already heard the news, but for those who can't wait or want to review all of the specifications you can visit the Leica website for more info.