Consolidating My Birding Tools On My Bike

In my effort to find ways to incorporate more exercise into my daily routine and cut back on using my car, I've been bike birding when I can. I've written about it before and how I attach my spotting scope to my bike so I can tote it around.

Since I've been playing around with using my iPhone instead of my SLR for digiscoping, it leaves a bit more room for toting in the backpack. In the past I have had to attach my tripod to the back of the bike with bungee chord because my backpack had the scope and the SLR. But if I leave my SLR at home I can slide the tripod into my backpack. The backpack doesn't close all the way around, but enough that it holds the tripod and scope securely in place, especially when wedged into my bike basket.

Although my bag did have one tragic accident this week.  Our rabbit Dougal decided he wanted to give chewing zippers a try and he's damaged one of the zippers on the outer pocket. Just like a bunny, they wrap you around their little paw and then when you have fallen for them hook, line and sinker they begin their chewing siege on your home. But thanks to Twitter, I have leads on someone who can repair it...can I get fixed before The Biggest Week In American Birding and Point Pelee Fest though? I love that above photo, he looks like he's been caught trying to use my iPad.

Here's a shot I got iPhonescoping while biking last week of a horned grebe and pied-billed grebe while biking the lakes around my home. I like how having a smart phone reduces what I take in the field. My phone has the ability to hold multiple field guides, the ability to submit sightings directly to eBird from the field and is a camera. The only thing it's missing is the ability to use it as a binocular and a bottle of water.

I will say, it's not quite as easy as getting shots with an SLR, it's similar to getting photos with a point and shoot as far as burst mode goes. But most of my photos end up here or on Facebook and Twitter and for simply sharing shots, I like the portability of using my phone instead of a large camera in the field.  When I need serious photos for a book project, I can still take my SLR out in the field, but for general birding or light birding, the iPhone set up works well (although some of my iPhonescoped shots will end up in my next book).

I'm still pining for an adapter to hold my iPhone to my scope.  I had high hopes last week when I was sent a prototype for a planned Kickstarter project for an iPhone adapter.  I knew it was too small to work with my scope, but it looked like it would work for my binoculars.  Alas, my Swarovski ELs are just a hair too wide for it.  But it if you have smaller eye cups, a microscope or telescope, it could work well for you.  I hope their Kickstarter is a success...maybe it will encourage them to work on another adapter that works with modern field optics with large eyepieces.

But, I do hear there are more in the works, so my dream can't be far off of securing my iPhone to my scope.  When that happens, I'll be able to take video and I have a dream of taking off and doing daily birding shows based on what I can get with my scope and phone.


Bike Birding In Israel At Agamon Hula

I've blogged already that the Agamon Hula is fabulous for common crane watching but that barely scratches the surface of all the bird life that can be found at this birding hotspot. The refuge has a little over 5 miles of trails that can only be accessed on foot, bike or electric golf cart. I love a place where one can safely and easily ride bikes for birding (biking is awesome, even if you dip on a bird, you still win by getting exercise).  The trails are well maintained and it's relatively flat so even if you don't consider yourself a hardcore bike rider, you should be able to do it.

And there are a variety of bikes to use and rent out from the refuge (as well as the electric carts visible above).  If you want to take out some scopes or cameras, these are perfect.  I especially like the three seater bike above.  Your optics can go in the middle seat and with two people you can share the pedaling.  There's also space in the back of the above for more people to ride or to store a cooler with beverages and snacks. The birds are accustomed to the bike and cart traffic so don't worry about flushing birds when you pedal up. I did have a big giggle moment while we were at the Hula.  As I traveled with our posse (all men and me the only female) some teenage women biked past our group they were all dressed very modestly but did indeed bat their eyes at the male birders--where else will male birders get hardcore flirting from young women?

The trails weave around the wetlands that in November are chock full of waterfowl.  You'll also find snipe and even a crake or two if you are really observant.


I never cease to be amazed by seeing birds I would see in the US--like the above coots alongside a spur-winged lapwing (say the name of that bird five times fast). There were also mallards, gadwall and green-winged teal.

Or I see odd variations of common birds at home.  Above is a pygmy cormorant.  It looks like the cormorants we have here in the US but is about the size of a duck--a surprisingly cute cormorant...though I doubt very cuddly.

This handsome fellow is a male Eurasian wigeon (a cinnamon colored counter part of our American wigeon).  Whether you are on foot or on a bike or cart, it's fairly easy to get great views of the birds.

And it's not just waterfowl, there are tons of songbirds like the above white-spectacled bulbul--which I was delighted to learn that bulbul is Hebrew for penis.  Brings a whole new meaning to announcing, "There's a bulbul in my bush!" I don't quite see why you would name a bird of that body part, not sure I see the resemblance...

If you are nervous about visiting the refuge and missing information, there are podcasts and cell phone tours.  Just watch for the Sassy Looking Cell Phone Gal for your clue to get info--audio tours are offered in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

For people who enjoy bird banding and ringing the Agamon has an active banding program. I had to smile, they were very excited to have this rare bird at the banding station when I arrived.  Recognize it?  It's a house sparrow.  North Americans appear to have an over abundance, but in their native lands house sparrows are on the decline!

Other birds they showed us up close included a pair of penduline tits (I saw these in Kazakhstan a few years ago and even got a picture of a penduline tit nest).  It was fun to see birds again that I thought I might never have the opportunity to chase again.

Here's a reed bunting...if you love brown birds this is the place to be!

Birds aren't the only highlight of the Hula Valley, mammals abound too.  Above was a friendly neighborhood nutria getting the full paparazzi treatment.  Some of you may be saying to yourself, "Hey, wait a minute there, Birdchick.  Nutria or coypu as they are also known aren't native to Israel.  They're from South America, what gives?"

They were introduced to be a booming fur trade.  Alas, after the nutria were released people suddenly realized that Israel doesn't get cold winters and the critters never grow that luscious winter fur and they remain unharvested.  Big score for the anti-fur movement, not so much for conservation.  Not many of the predators in the area eat the introduced nutria so their numbers swell.

Speaking of predators, we saw quite a few of the above jungle cats.  Our guide Jonathan Meyrev assured us that the numbers we were seeing was an unusual phenomena.  They kind of look like giant house cats with stubby tails.  But they stalk the cranes and other waterfowl in the area.  Another mammal that I was really excited to see but couldn't get a photo of was a jackal!  You get a little of everything in the Hula.

Agamon is also just lousy with eagles.  Above is a great spotted eagle and these birds cruise around watching for cranes that died in the night and chow down on the remains.  Black kites and pallid harriers frequently cruise the refuge too but several species of raptor can be found.

The Agamon Hula was incredibly proud of this black-shouldered kite, a pair nested there for the first time in 2011.  The young had recently left the nest when we visited in November but we still got to see the adults (that's one above) hunting with the young.

Depending on when you visit will determine the types of species you will see.  For example we saw a few storks but not the huge numbers the refuge has in other months--there's something different every time you visit.  This is a great area to get some European species, African species as well as Middle Eastern birds.  A perfect confluence that gives you a variety of species and also the spectacle of tens of thousands of birds passing through during spring and fall migration.  Whether you visit Agamon Hula in November like I did or any other time of year, you will not be disappointed.  I've been to a lot of places and I would put this on my list of must visit areas for any bird watcher around the world.


Attaching A Spotting Scope To A Bike

I've had a couple of question sent in via email and Facebook asking how I attach my spotting scope to my bike.  I had Non Birding Bill take a few photos to show what I do.  This is for my Swarovski ATM80 mm scope, Nikon D40 and Swarovski 8x32 ELs.  The set up that I'm going to show is primarily for traveling to a location and then walking around to observe and digiscope.

I have a Swarovski backpack (that is at least 5 years old) but any good outdoor backpack should work.  This one has fasteners that hold my scope firmly in place and is fairly weather resistant.  I've had it since 2006 and use it on a daily basis.  It has become my mobile office.  Anyway, if you have a good weather-proof backpack, that should work.  I also store my Niko D40 in here.

I have a basket that's attached to the back of my bike. I put the backpack in the basket and I slide one of the tripod legs through the straps on the pack.  I secure the tripod for the spotting scope to the back of my bike with bungee chords.  My reason to sliding the tripod legs through the backpack straps is to make it difficult for someone to just grab my backpack from my basket if I were stopped at a traffic signal.

When I get to my birding destination, I simply lock up my bike, undo the bungee chords, take my scope out of the pack and attach it to my tripod and go birding.

I wear my binocular harness while ridingon my bike.  It allows for me to comfortably wear my binos while I ride my bike.  I keep my spotting scope stored on the back of my bike.  I'm sure this isn't the only way to do it, but for those curious, it is possible to tote a scope, tripod and camera with you on your bike.  I'm not worried about damage, Swarovskis are good, sturdy scopes and meant to take on wear and tear in the outdoors.  It helps that they are waterproof and come with a lifetime warranty (though if the the glass on the eyepiece is scratched, I'll have to pay a minimal fee to get that repaired).  Otherwise, I feel safe with it on my bike.

This is just my method that I have come up with via trail and error.  If you have tips for toting scopes and cameras on a bike, feel free to share in the comments.

Incidentally, this is the set up I have used when biking to the owl nest in my hood and to observe the waterfowl on the area lakes near my apartment.