Thursday, November 30, 2006

Scope photos inside and out

Here are some photos of the scope and its mount.
Here's a peek into the objective lens end:
I call this photo "Clean your optics!"

The scope's mount is still an ongoing situation--it's not stable on the tripod. Here's a photo of the bottom, where it attaches to the quick-release shoe. I started with a nut in a precisely carved hole, but the hole has deteriorated quickly.
My fault for using pine--too soft. Plus I had to screw in that crossbeam, then cut of the screw end when it poked into the nut hole. There isn't enough Gorilla Glue in the world to hold that tiny nut in there when the weight of the scope is on it. I'm thinking I'll cut out some of the wood there, put in a piece of oak, then make the precisely cut hole again for the nut. OR--if there were some sort of metal plate that had a screw hole precisely the size of the tripod's mounting screw.... it's times like these that I wish I were a welder.

Still--this isn't going to be too bad to fix. I'll think of something.

Meanwhile, the babies were running around while I was taking these photos. Kisses settled into the canvas military-issue bag I bought to carry the scope:
Clawsie thought dinner was just delicious:
It was so funny to get his photo of Clawsie. She really doesn't like the flash in her face, and she's normally just so crabby and mean, yet when you look at this photo of her, she almost looks like a playful little lap cat. She's anything but! She's the house bully, beating up Kisses and jumping on Niblet all the time, just to keep them aware of who's the top cat.

Niblet then began demanding some attention:
So I broke down and fed him some bunny pellets--which he LOVES but which I know are probably just like bunny junk food. He gets a tiny little bowlful in the morning along with a big pile of timothy, and that's his breakfast. But sometimes--well, he wears me down.

Here he's eating out of my hand. I worried that he would nip me, but he never does--and his little whiskers feel so tickly and funny. Of course, one little tiny handful was just enough to whet his appetite, and he soon got indignant:
Hand over the pellets and no one gets hurt!

So I figured I'd better get out of there, before he went Monty Python on me. Run away, run away!

Now--I've been keeping a little secret for the last three days, and my shame has grown unbearable. I had a moment of weakness in my scope-building saga. I was tempted by the fruit of another. I . . . gulp . . . I (this is actually hard to admit! I find my fingers not wanting to type the words, and my throat is kinda tight!) Okay--let me just rip the bandaid off really quick:

I bought a real scope for myself.

There--I said it. I know you all gasped--WHAT? How could you? What were you thinking? But here's the deal: it's just been such a long wait while I worked on the homemade scope! I couldn't stand it anymore! I was looking at that Slik 504QFII tripod, and I was fully intending to get one for myself with my 3rd quarter bonus check. Then I committed the ultimate sin--I googled "spotting scopes" just one time too many. I looked at some scopes between $100 and $200 -- to a professional, these are trash, I'm sure! But . . . well, I just started to think: "I could spend $125 on a tripod, or I could spend $125 on a scope. Hmmm. . . ."

Once that evil little seed was planted in my brain, I just couldn't stop thinking about it. I agonized for about two weeks. Finally, I just pulled the trigger and bought the Meade Condor 20-60x60 spotting scope, with table-top tripod and hard carrying case:

I know what you're thinking: "how could you!?" But I couldn't help myself. I mean, it's not an expensive scope, but then I wasn't going to be getting a Swarovsky ATHD80 or a Leica Televid for the foreseeable future! That's a dream--like "one day I'll go to law school!" It may or may not ever happen! It's not in the planner! It's likely going to stay a dream. But here was this scope, with the Meade name, which I kinda trust, and the power and the specs sounded good. How in the world am I going to nitrogen-purge my scope? It's not gonna happen. When will I have a 20-60X zoom lens? Again--not gonna happen.

So I bought it, after two weeks of agonizing and feeling like I was somehow cheating on my little homemade scope.

I still have that crappy tripod I bought a while back, and I'm kinda warming to it. . . kinda.

I'm still working on my scope; it will always be my neat dream, and I do love it. But I just want to see what the view is through a real scope. I want to put it on the tripod, get a real adapter, put the camera on there, and start snapping some photos!

Please don't judge too harshly. Besides--I could always return it if I don't like it!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Holiday ramblings

It's been a few days since I blogged--the holiday was busy. Kat's back had been bothering her for a while, and it got pretty bad over the weekend. Em was here, and we were able to have a good non-turkey day, with a feast of Kat's special potato/carrot/squash soup (my favorite), green bean casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, hashroom casserole, some raw veggie mixtures that our only-eats-raw-foods friend and Kat made up together (I didn't taste that!), salad, and a nice Sara Lee cheesecake. I used to miss having turkey and dressing, but we had so much good food this year I didn't miss the old bird a bit. Besides, I love seeing them in the wild; why support the fake big-breasted turkey industry?

Astronomy Boy Jeff DeTray has given me some ideas about how to manage the vignetting and test the lenses and such, and I researched rack-and-pinion focusers online during the holiday weekend. They're a bit pricey, but I think one would make a big difference. I need to choose carefully, though--not many of the sites have photos or detailed descriptions. I'll see what happens when I try Jeff's suggestions in the morning (it's dark by 4:30 now, so no scoping after work).

I'll try to get up extra early in the morning and see what the view through the scope looks like. It's been unseasonably warm here, reaching the 50s in the daytime (though we get a light to medium frost every night). So I've been enjoying what little of the sun I've been able to see when I'm not at work. It's hard for a southerner to do without the sun, but somehow I will manage. Hope to get some good photos in the morning, then post sometime during the day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Scope test 2

The sun was fairly bright (some thin clouds) today so I took the scope outside and tried it out there. Good news: an improvement from the through-the-window view. Here's what I got, before the battery up and died on me:
This is just the bird feeder, and the focus is fairly sharp. It's difficult to really fine-tune it, but I have some ideas to fix that. Meanwhile, a few birds showed up, including the little downy:

This one is just from about 25 feet away on full optical zoom (8X).
Then I put the scope on him:

I don't have photoshop to really take care of the contrast, etc. but for an unretouched photo through a homemade scope, I don't think is really too bad! I am definitely going to trim back some of those branches so I get a better view. I hadn't really decided where to build my blind until today; the spot back by the basement door has good views of all three feeder sites and the marsh. So now I'll make some thoughtful pruning decisions and try to give myself better views of each feeder without sacrificing the cover that the birds like. I also have to set up another feeder--a split log that I'm planning to drill holes in for suet, as well as hollow out a shallow bowl for seed.

I also saw a white-throated sparrow, who sat still on a little branch for ten solid minutes--which was really frustrating because I had no battery to take a picture of him as he posed. But he was beautiful; I like the little touches of yellow around his eyes.

I feel a lot better about the scope, but there's still some work to do. I guess that's pretty much the story with just about everything in this life, though, isn't it?

Disapproving Rabbit shirts have arrived!

Just in time for Christmas, Birdchick has launched her Disapproving Rabbits line of t-shirts. Order early and often! My Christmas shopping just got a lot easier.

"and just WHO is this Cinnamon person? I disapprove of you loving any other rabbits!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A non-birding post--at first

This is not really about birds, but if you haven't heard of Liam Sullivan and his alter-ego Kelly, definitely check his videos "Shoes" and "Txt message breakup."

Now--my biggest disappointment today is that the sun FINALLY came out today but it's a work day. By the time I get out, the sun will be pretty much gone and I won't have any time to bird. However, the weatherman has predicted sun tomorrow and on Turkey Thursday--so I'll enjoy that day immensely.

It's a rare November day in PA when the sun is shining.

Lead-poisoned bald eagle

from the Associated Press:

Pa. hikers find bald eagle sickened with lead poisoning
Published: Nov 20, 2006 12:30 AM EST

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Two hikers found an injured bald eagle in a creek and wildlife officials later determined it was suffering from lead poisoning.
The hikers had been posting "No Trespassing" signs when they found the eagle in Cherry Creek and notified officials at the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Nancie Schoeneberger and another volunteer returned to the creek and captured the eagle, which had no obvious wounds but was acting oddly, she said.
"It made a feeble attempt to spread its wings and get away from us when we approached it," she said.
Veterinarians examined the bird and found traces of lead in its stomach and intestines.
The eagle, which is believed to be between 3 and 5 years old, may respond to treatment, Schoeneberger said.
©2006 The Associated Press

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Project Feeder Watch Day 4, a lifer, and an unknown

This is the second weekend of my feeder-watching for Cornell's Project Feederwatch, and I had a banner day. Last weekend's days were extremely slow, probably due to the constant rain, but today it's dry. I set up the crappy tripod I bought (which I'll return) and took some photos through the new scope. There are some definite problems with the scope, but I'll talk about that later. First, let's look at some birds.

I got up at 11, coffeed up, and went out to the three-season porch. There weren't many birds around at first, but then I realized the feeders were empty! I filled them all up and did my usual birdcall ("come on, budgies!") and went inside. Within minutes, the tufted titmice and black-capped chickadees appeared. I got a couple of photos, but please forgive all the obstructions--whether natural (branches) or manmade (that green garden arch between me and the hanging feeder):
Black-capped chickadee

Note the tilt--as if you couldn't without my mentioning it. That's the scope. We'll get to that later in the "will this scope ever work?" section.

Tufted titmouse cracking open a seed

Suddenly EVERYONE showed up and both the hanging feeder and the platform feeder were crowded with birds, and the nearby trees held queued-up birds awaiting their turn.

Northern cardinal

Purple finch
That's my garden arch in the way--gotta take that down today.

I even got a lifer at the feeder--my first nuthatch!

White-breasted nuthatch

Blue jay, with camera zoom only

By now you're probably getting a little motion sickness from the angled photos. I don't have photoshop yet--or I'd rotate them to proper orientation. That's on the list, though....

I also saw but didn't get to photograph the following:
White-crowned sparrow
White-throated sparrow
Downy woodpecker
House finch

Then a new bird came to the new peanut cake I put in the suet feeder yesterday. I don't think this is a mockingbird, but what is it?
I was using the camera only, and I was at a bad angle, but I think you can see pretty much what you need to. The body is mockingbird-like, but the head and beak were very small and fine, almost dove-like. What is it? Am I just not seeing it?

Here's a professional photo of a mockingbird:

That's a Northern mockingbird (photo by Lang Elliott). My guy looked--well, he just looked different. I also noticed white tips on his tail feathers. I don't know--maybe it's a mockingbird. Help!

All in all, it was a busy two hours at the feeder.

The "will my scope ever work?" section
There are some obvious problems with my latest scope. First, given the 90-degree angle of my image-erecting prism, I have to kind-of tilt it to the right or left then stand beside the scope, which gives me the angled views. I saw a 45-degree prism, which I don't remember seeing when I first looked for the prism. That would be nice to have.

Second, the focus is only so-so. I have worked on the focusing barrel quite a bit, but I'm just not able to fine-tune it. This is assuming that better focusing is even possible, given the construction, quality of lenses, etc. I don't know the answer to that question.

Third, the field of view is kind-of tiny, and the vignetting is horrible.

That's the full-screen view through the camera. Zooming the lens, which helps when I digi-binocularize (?), does not improve the view. I don't know why. Astronomy Boy once told me that vignetting means the optical path is obstructed. I would guess this is happening at the narrowing point, which makes me think I need to lengthen or widen or something. You see how fast the diameter narrows down because (for some strange reason) PVC pipemakers did not take into account my needs for scope-building.

I'll have to think on this for a while. Any suggestions?

Now I have to start my homework for tomorrow (reading about the sentencing phase of the criminal justice system, then beginning the essay portion of my next exam--the essay parts are always take-home).

Any help with the bird IDs--either corrections or confirmations--would be appreciated! And thanks goes to Mike McDowell for his excellent photos and discussions about different sparrows.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tripod Talk and Mis-ID'd birds

First off, let me get this out of the way: Mike McDowell, who had some great advice for me on tripods, noted that I'd misidentified some birds on the blog. No yellow-rumped warblers, and what in the world was I thinking when I called that sparrow a swallow? I've gone back and fixed both. I'm embarassed about the "swallow" thing, but bummed about the yellow-rumps. I thought I had a new lifebird. Oh well.

Now to the tripod talk. Mike had recommended a micro-fluid head (specifically a Bogen 3130), and I'm very tempted. The best price I could find online is $79.00 which, for a Bogen fluid head, is stellar! However, I'd still have to get the legs unit, which would likely drive my total over-budget. But....

I also spoke with a local camera shop owner, who showed me some of the SLIK fluid heads. I could likely get one of those (probably the 504QFII) for about $120. So--I think I've narrowed it down to this one or the Bogen 3130 head and a tripod-to-be-named-later. Depends on the dollar total, I guess. The thing is, I'm no professional photographer nor will I ever be, but I do want something that will work.

Still blushing from the bad bird-IDs. Please forgive a beginning birder.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The scope is done!

Well, after bemoaning the lack of a lathe to narrow down the outer diameter of the barrel, I decided to mount my belt sander upside down in the vice (before I'd just used the random-orbital pad sander), with a super-coarse 60-grit sanding belt on it, and just ground the crap out of that PVC. I made it at least a couple of millimeters thinner before it was all said and done, and the sleeve now slides all the way down. However, it's still not a smooth motion at all--I have some sticky-back cordoroy pieces to smooth the sliding but it still takes some effort to get the barrel moving.

However--eyepiece is sanded, shaped, and painted, mounting is done--
UPDATE: photo of finished scope, mounted on tripod:
thanks to inspiration from Kat's marble rolling pin and its little wooden stand:

Here's my mount (note: these photos added later--I forgot them until just now):

That's a nut that I glued into a small hole I made, and it screws onto the tripod's shoe. There's velcro on the scope and in the channel on the mount, so the scope doesn't slip.

One note--I've discovered that the cheapie tripod I bought is, well, cheapie. It doesn't hold firm under the weight of my scope or even my camera--with all adjusters locked, it still moves a little. I'll take this one back, and according to Kat, I'll get a good one for Christmas. Sweet!

So now all I need is TIME. I didn't finish everything until last night after sundown, and I woke up too late this morning to play around. Today is my long day (work from 8-5, then class from 6-9, then about a 1/2-hr drive home), so I won't be playing with the scope tonight. However, tomorrow, I might have some free time, so if the weather cooperates, tomorrow I will have some DIGISCOPED photos of something.

I say something because the weather has been cold and drizzly, so despite my full feeders, I've seen no bird action for the last two days. I do need to put out a new suet cake. The woodpeckers finally ate most of that spicy one, so I'm putting a peanut one in there and smearing the rest of the spicy one on the trunk and a couple of fencepost holes etc. to maximize my photo opportunities.

I really need to get some birding in, because this year's Project Feeder Watch has begun. But like I said--no birds. I have to schedule two consecutive days once every one or two weeks, so technically I did my scheduled days on Sat/Sun, but no birds were observed. I heard Mr. or Mrs. Cardinal but never saw them. Not even a chickadee or a titmouse.

Photos of my Project Feeder Watch materials are forthcoming. I have a poster of common feeder birds, a big calendar, some window stickers, some little newsletters--all kinds of bird stuff. I'm very excited. I just wish the weather would get better.

So I'll add photos to this post tonight when I get home. But wait, you say--back it up to that green marble rolling pin photo--now that you've seen that photo of the rolling pin, you want to see more of that stove--that 1950s model GE stove, just like the one used in The Hours, during the "Laura Brown" (Julianne Moore) segments. Ladies and gentlemen, our vintage stove:
Note the built-in salt and pepper shakers, and the obvious Detroit/auto-design-influenced dashboard look of the controls and clock. Here's a great photo of the "dashboard lights" feature:

It's practically got tailfins on it! You can almost hear Pat Boone singing "See the USA in your Chevrolet!" The stove is huge, and it's in perfect working order, right down to the bread-warming drawer (in which we keep baking sheets). It also has the "deep fryer" option that no doubt added a few dollars to the cost:

We don't know what plugs into this, nor do we have said plug. But then, we're vegetarians--not a whole lot of deep-frying goes on in this house since we moved in.

At any rate, the scope is finished, but it turns out I won't be able to digiscope tomorrow. Weather will be bad, plus I have to stay downtown and wait for Kat to get out of some meetings, so no time to digiscope. But I'm hoping the sun will come out and bring some birds to the feeders later in the week. Until then, I leave you with this rather upclose and personal shot of somebody's dewlap:

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Scope prototpe III -- a new hope

Here it is, finally: the next generation of the spotting scope, Prototype III:

Here's another view, with the focusing barrels apart:
Yes, that's a big plastic cup with a handle as the barrel piece sleeve that slides over the other end. It was the only thing big enough to slide over the 3" PVC pipe.

Here is the new eyepiece, hand-carved by yours truly:
That's red oak, with shaping and cutting-down of the 1-1/4" barrel done by hand with a wood chisel. I love my chisels! It still needs some finish-sanding and shaping.

I have only one problem: the focusing barrel sleeve (the cup) that's supposed to slide over the other part just doesn't slide smoothly at all, and it won't slide down far enough to allow me to focus on far-away objects. So--while the scope looks very finished, it's still a prototype. What I need is a lathe, so that I could mount the one barrel and sand it down to slightly thinner outer diameter so the sleeve would slide better. I don't have a lathe, though, so I mounted my power sander in a vice upside down, then just held the tube there and tried to sand it down. It worked some, but obviously not enough.

Still--I'm pretty impressed with the look of it now that the flat black paint is on there. And the eypiece is good, though I need to paint the inside of it still, and finish sanding, etc. But I wanted to show you what I have so far. I haven't digiscoped through it, though. I want to wait until it's perfect! But the close-up view (focused about ten feet away) is tack-sharp, so that's encouraging.

I also went to the mall and bought a tripod--not an expensive one, but one that will do the job:

It has a quick-release on the shoe, so it will be easier to attach the scope and the camera. I have some ideas about how to make the scope mount, and I'll work on those today (along with the barrel sanding, etc.).

I also received all my Project Feeder Watch materials, but more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Watching turkeys with Deb

A new friend, Deb, and I were on our way to my favorite sub place (pardon me, "hoagie place" is apparently what they call it up here) and we saw a big flock of turkeys. I had my cell phone with me, so I got Deb to stop and--here's where I got dumb--I got out of the car to photograph the turkeys.

Of course this spooked the birds, who began to move toward cover. I should've had Deb photograph them from her driver's side window, which would've given us great shots. Instead, I got these terrible shots of some scrambling turkeys, fleeing from certain death at my hands:

See them back there? Those specks?

Here you go--this one's MUCH better:
See that frightened guy, flapping his wings and running for his wild turkey life, just to the right of center?

Yeah, that's my fault. For all I know, he ran back there and had a little turkey heart attack.

All my reading about birds, birding, "stalking" them slowly, trying not to frighten them--it was completely lost on me at that moment. I got out of the car, walked around to the back, and then tried to get some photos as they (surprise!) ran away. Oy vey.

Perhaps it was because I was really hungry for that cheese sub (I mean hoagie). Perhaps I was just too excited at the thought of seeing turkeys in the wild. Perhaps I'm just a beginning birder with very little experience.

Perhaps it was all of that combined.

But the sub (I mean hoagie) was really good.

Bald eagle morning, voter anxiety day

I had a great experience first thing this morning--I saw the bald eagle again! This time he was flying over the house and the marsh. I grabbed my binoculars and watched him light on a tree across the march. This is one huge bird. Some starlings fluttered around in the air near the tree, looking like maple leaves in a whirlwind, and the eagle turned his huge head and watched them for a while. He flapped his wings a bit, breaking off little twigs around him. It was a great moment.

Then the bad thing: voting. Now, I am an ardent voter--I believe deeply in the importance of voting. It used to be that voting was a real pleasure for me; I was proud to live in a democracy, the only one like it in the world. Now--after stolen elections, hacked voting machines, e-voting controversies and continued failures, etc.--voting day has become a very anxiety-filled experience. You can see my entry on my other blog if you'd like the whole tense story.

I just have to hold the picture of that eagle in my mind. And pop some more Tums. I'll make it through.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Yellow-rumped warbler--NOT!

My birding adventure was delayed this morning by a couple of errands, but once I got going, I had a good time. I saw what I thought were my first yellow-rumped warblers, but UPDATE on 11/15/06, Mike McDowell told me these are winter-plumaged American goldfinches:

Still neat to see this bird in its winter outfit, but darnit. No lifebird.

I also saw another bluebird couple, though I only caught the male with the camera:

I was on full digital zoom on these--because I was pretty far away. Not in focus, but obviously a bluebird.

I also saw some horse disapproval!
Someone's not happy.
His pasture mate, with what looks like some scarring on the nose from the bridle. That's sad.

Also got some obligatory "frosty foliage" photos:

And some landscapes:
That's cropped severely to eliminate the shadow from the car--oops.

So--not a real successful birding trip as far as number of species or photos, but a nice short trip.
yellow-rumped warbler
red-bellied woodpecker
eastern bluebird (male and female)
killdeer (wish I'd been ready with the camera)
ducks--though it was too bright to see their foliage against the silvery water. By the time I got a photo, they'd all flown off:

I had to bring the car back so Kat could go into town. Now I'm stranded out here; guess I'll go look at tripods tomorrow. I did manage to get some 3" pipe for the scope--but I need to take measurements, figure out focusing (no 2-1/2" pipe to fit snugly inside, so I'm going to have to improvise), then do the eyepiece. It's coming together--slowly.