Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Comet Lovejoy

Well its the last day of 2014, and I have done absolutely nothing in the way of birding since I went down to Cheshunt the weekend before last. I have had to go out a couple of times to do some shopping-kept my eye open for the Town centre Peregrine, not sure if it's still around and all I saw were feral pigeons and a Pied Wagtail. The garden is busy as usual, with a few House Sparrows coming in, two Robins, one or two Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits and Wood Pigeons. Have not seen a Collared Dove anywhere for a good four weeks now. Bit of a mystery as they have been ever present locally since the 80's.
The last couple of frosty nights has been useful, despite the bright Moon. Low down in the south, Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 is slowly moving north, and on Monday night was some twelve degrees above my light polluted horizon. Managed a couple of poor images with the 300mm F4 lens, with ten second exposures at iso 2000. Currently naked eye from a dark location, it is difficult for me in my 7x42 binoculars, but is likely to be quite nice later on in January.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Astronomical Imaging

I have been dabbling in astro-photography again. Last year I picked up a small tracking platform, and the early tests out in the countryside were pretty successful. The only real problem, apart from the hassle of packing everything up in the car and driving to a dark site was finding a suitable surface to put the tripod-soft ground is not good for accurate polar alignment.
For some time I have been discussing light pollution filters with some of the LDAS members and I finally purchased a 77mm diameter one made by Hutech. The idea was to enable me do do some sort of imaging from my badly light polluted Stevenage garden. Back in the 80's I used to do quite a bit with lenses ranging from 35mm to 135mm, generally using Fujichrome slide film. Even from the garden I could run to several minutes exposures, but as Stevenage expanded to the north and east it became more and more difficult. My last images on slide were of comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. When I went digital in 2003 I did a few trials with the D1x and later D2x but rapidly came to the conclusion that anything more than a few seconds would produce bright orange-brown backgrounds, limiting the amount of information recorded.
The filter arrived last week and I have had two brief sessions in the garden. With the first, the tracker was not polar aligned as I was on the patio and Polaris is hidden. I just set it up so the axis was pointing in more or less the right direction. The camera was set between iso 4000 and 10000 and using the Zeiss 100mm at f2 I was able to get decent images using exposures of up to 8 seconds. I also tried my Sigma 100-3000mm F4 lens. This like many Sigma lenses was a bit fragile and after a lens motor repair, followed a few years later by the focussing lens assembly falling to bits no longer autofocuses, but being an ED lens is pretty good optically. The image of M42 the Orion Nebula is a stack of two ten second images at iso 4000 and 8000 with the lens at 300mm f4. Some Photoshop work brought out a lot of the fainter nebulosity.
The second session used the 300mm again. This time I was properly polar aligned, the iso was reduced to 2000 and exposures ran up to 30 seconds. The iOptron tracker has come in for some criticism regarding tracking accuracy and load carrying. Supposedly anything more than a 200mm lens is asking for trouble, and the pro body D3s and 100-300f4 is very heavy. Seems to work for me though as the images of M31 the Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades M45 show.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fishers Green

For a change today, I spent the morning  further down the Lea Valley and the Cheshunt complex. I went specifically for the wintering Goosander which were on Ashley Pit-not one I have ever visited before. Although the best access was from Turnford, I decided to park at Fishers Green and walk through.
Popped into the empty Bittern Hide on 70 Acres and had a quick scan before continuing north. A few Redwing were in the riverside trees, along with several tit flocks, but otherwise this stretch was a bit quiet. I had intended to cross the navigation using the northern footbridge, but the approach was flooded so made my way back to Cheshunt Lock and crossed there. I heard a few Redpoll in the trees alongside North Met Pit plus at least one Chiffchaff. The path alongside Turnford Pit was a bit tricky so I went back to the towpath and got to Ashley from the north. Immediately picked up a flock of Goosander-I think there were nine in total but they proved very flighty and soon went. I walked south a bit and found some of them and managed to get some distant images, though far from satisfactory.
The way back was pretty quiet again, and I got to 70 Acres fairly quickly. First wildfowl in the northern corner were a pair of Goosander! Much closer this time thought the low winter sunshine was a bit harsh.

I called into the hide again, now rather busy having missed one of the Bitterns by an hour. While chatting, someone picked up the red head Smew-a very long way off and only visible in scopes. Nice way to finish the morning.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Some Photos!

Its the fag end of the year and enthusiasm is flagging as usual. Not much point rushing out to see something which is still going to be around in February. Yes it's winter birding, nothing much is going to change for months unless something really ludicrous turns up, like last winters Brunnich's Guillemot.
Anyway the weather has been a bit up and down so in need of something to do I did the usual thing when things are quiet and went down to Amwell yesterday where it is really quiet. Took my camera-only just realised that I have not taken any photos for nearly a month now.
Bit surprised at the amount of ice on the lane when I got there. Had a bit of a frost at home but guess it was much colder in the valley. Some ice on the edges of Hardmead Lake as well. Maybe as a result, it was rather empty as wildfowl numbers were really down on my last few visits. The freeze has made Snipe more visible, with the odd one flying around every now and again-to the satisfaction of the female Sparrowhawk that seems to enjoy hunting them. Gull numbers low as well, with only a few Lesser and Greater Black Backs loafing. Bill was feeding the view point Robin with cheese as usual.

Went for a bit of a walk round the woods which seemed rather quiet and headed down to Hollycross. Picked up the Treecreeper near the river.

The Marsh Tit was seen near the feeders which were attracting Pheasants and tits but not much else. There are a few Redwing and Song Thrushes in the Hawthorns but the berries are running out.
Got back to the view point and had nice views of the Red Kites which seemed to be displaying and a few Buzzards. Picked up the Goldeneye which had been elusive earlier, and the Sparrowhawk came back, flushed a Snipe and we were treated to a great chase-the Snipe got away. Had a bit of a chat and
got some info on Goosander and Smew from Barnet Dave in the valley-something for a later day perhaps over Christmas.