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In January 2015 a very special event happened.... for the very first time.....

Originally mooted as an idea by my good friend Robert Wilson of the U.S, many of the worlds leading digiscopers met up at Titusville, Florida for a collaboration of minds, pictures, and fun! 

What started as an "off the cuff" idea to help Robert meet some of his digiscoping idols from around the world came an experience that all of us would come to love for so many different reasons.......


Our departure & arrival....

The day of departure was Sunday 18th January, from Gatwick airport. My anticipation was great as this trip had been 6 months in the planning.

It would be my first major trip abroad, with my very good friend Justin Carr helping me as he was much more experienced in birding holidays abroad (I couldn't have done it without him)
After a long 10 hour flight we landed, and after 2 hours getting through customs and finding our hire car we finally found our hotel in Orlando.

We had been due to meet our good friend and Floridian Robert Wilson around this time, but because of our delay getting through the airport he had had to depart back to his home in Daytona Beach, which is about 1.5 hours away so the wait to finally meet one of our idols in person would have to continue into the next day :(

The Journey....

I had been told that birding in Florida would be very different to birding in the U.K as the birds in the States were much more confiding, and of course with my limited experience then every bird was going to be a lifer! 

The first 2 birds that I saw and heard were a Mockingbird (Florida's state bird) and the very common Grackle. Both stunning birds though, despite their common occurence.


Mockingbird



Grackle

After finally getting in touch with Robert on our first full day we met him by mistake in Daytona Beach after I missed a turn off!!

Driving on Florida's roads was a lovely experience in all honesty for me. The roads were big and smooth, and our hire car was a Chevy and very comfortable.

We met Robert for the first time in a car park of a lobster restaurant. He was everything that I thought he would be on first impressions, except that he looked younger than his Facebook profile picture!

A professional photographer for Lockheed Martin for 30 years, Robert knows his stuff and had been at the forefront when the digital photography revolution happened!

But basically speaking, the kind & supportive man that we had got to know through cyberspace turned out to be just the same and more in person.

So, instead of heading to our original destination, Robert showed us around his back yard, his patch, well, Daytona Beach and what an amazing place that is....Firstly, he took us to a trash dump............
and it turned out to be an amazing place to see birds! Here are a few of the first birds we seriously digiscoped in the States.



Little Blue Heron



Bald Eagle


And there were lots of Black Vultures


Carrying on with our guided tour, we went to the beach at Daytona Beach! This beautiful beach was sunlit, sandy and the sea seemed to roll in from miles out. Looking out over the water my thoughts were drawn to the fact that we'd flown in from this side of America, we really were "Across the Pond" Looking back at the U.K was a totally new experience. Big world or small world, I still can't make up my mind

As Robert explained to us, Americans are still able to drive on to the beach and park. We saw many groups of gulls, terns and plovers, and I for one was nearly falling out if the car trying to digiscope them!!

Here are a couple from the beach....



Forsters Tern



Royal Tern with never-ending ocean backdrop

Lunch in Daytona Beach

Yes, even lunch was a special experience! Robert took us to the "Our Deck Down Under"  

Even before we got inside, this Brown Pelican was on a jetty post!


Brown Pelican
In & around the restaurant there were Royal Terns, American Herring Gulls and Ospreys....Did I mention the Ospreys in Florida?

This happened at the entrance to the beach....


Osprey Headshot


Ospreys in Florida are everywhere, and very confiding, not at all like the Ospreys that we see in the U.K.

To put it into context, by the end of day 1 we were already ignoring Ospreys that we even only 20m away!!

Lucky Last!

As the day drew on, Robert took us to one final site for Red Headed Woodpecker and there was one there!

The light wasn't quite right for digiscoping, but we didn't pass up the chance to digiscope them!!


Red Headed Woodpecker


And then I found my best bird of the trip (but Justin had to tell me what it was!)

A White Eyed Vireo!


White Eyed Vireo


This bought our first day to a close and we headed back to Orlanda, where I got reasonably drunk and had a nice burger!!

The World Digiscoper Meeting Jan 2015

So, this was the reason that all this meeting of friends and digiscopers was happening. The first one of its kind, ever!

We met at the Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant (www.dixecrossroads.com) and as well as it being my birthday Justin and I were in a room with a lot of people we only knew by name!

Digiscoping greats such as Tara Tanaka, Kevin Bolton, Clay Taylor, Neil Fifer, Roy Halpin, Glenn Kincaid, Dale Forbes, Gudrun Kaufmann, Sharon Stiteler, Jim Eager, Jerry Jourdan, Tom Berriman, Jorg Kretchzmar and of course Robert Wilson were all there. 

It was great seeing my good friend and supporter Dale Forbes of Swarovski Optik Europe, and cool to meet Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optik North America for the first time. Clay had taken it upon himself to try and make the days spent together fun and informative. And, for me, it was very much these things.

I also got to spend time talking with my American digiscoping twin in Sharon "The Birdchick" Stiteler. We have so much in common, and for someone who is so well respected worldwide in birding and digiscoping circles she is one of the most down to earth people I know.

Meeting Tara for the first time was a little daunting, but in a good way! Like, come on, how often do you get to shake a two time Digiscoper of the Year winner by the hand?!!

Gudrun was uber cool too! "Gud with an iPhone" is what I cheekily call her as she has done some amazing digiscoping just with her iPhone, and in the last 12 months she has won many prizes!

An added bonus for me was seeing Michaela Leeb from Swarovski Optik Europe. I had met her when I first worked with Swarovski Optik at the Rutland Birdfair , and she had been very kind, so as she missed Rutland last year due to illness it was lovely seeing her. See you at Rutland this year instead Michaela!!

After this we went to see an actual rocket launch from Cape Canaveral! OMG! Look how it lights up the sky! What a way to end my birthday!!



Digiscoping Challenge Day!

Ok, so we had to team up with a buddy, I paired with Robert, and his gorgeous wife Tobey, who is equally as kind and lovely as Robert in every single way.

The idea was to take images and video in different categories and then to submit our best ones and for them to be judged by us all as a collective to decide the winners the next day at lunch.

Robert and I had a blast and he showed me so many different nature reserves that you drive around as they are so massive!

Here are a selection of some of the images I took that day :)



Osprey with Lunch



Roseate Spoonbill



Blue Scrub Jay


These are just a very small handful of the images Robert and I took. Robert came second with two of his images, so we got to hold our heads up high!

Special congrats go to my good friend Justin though. I gave Justin the nickname "Flight Shot" some time ago because of his remarkable ability to take digiscoped flight images. We always laughed about it, but there is often a true word spoken in jest and when Justin won the flight category with a DIGI-BINNED image of a butterfly in flight, well, I'd say I was justified to call him Flight Shot! Well done mate!!

The rest of the trip...

Other parts of the World Digiscoper Meeting involved us attending and providing lectures to our group and the general public.

We also spent time with others during the day, in the evenings and in the early mornings when we were trying to find Bobcats (which we didn't) but it was all great fun and just the most incredible experience that I will never ever forget. Oh, and Sharon's friend Jameson was great fun ;)!!

One place that we went to, on the day before the meet up was Viera Wetlands. This was another amazingly large reserve with lots of water birds and smaller stuff. 

It was here that I finally began to understand what makes the differences between American and English birders.


For me, the stand out moments were when our good friend Steve Blain found a Least Bittern, and when Justin suddenly shouted "SORA!!"

And what a beauty of a lifer it was.....


Sora

I also found the American cousin of a European bird that is very special to me...... 

The American Bittern.... is a splendid bird that is like our U.K Bitterns in so many ways but so different in size and plumage. When you look at this next image, just remember that I took this image in the open, no hides, the bird was just feeding and skulking. It didn't care that we were there.


The American Bittern



Common Yellowthroat


One of my best images of the trip was this Common Yellowthroat. Seeing so many was remarkable after the fuss is the UK when one turned up in Wales a few years back!!


Swamp Sparrow

There were lots of small birds at Viera such as Swamp & Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warbler, Eastern Phoebe and Catbirds. There really were opporunities to digiscope virtually non-stop!

We also saw a juvenille Crested Caracara. I didn't get to see these up close as when the chance arrived at another site, we had gone to chase some Great Horned Owls!


One of a pair of Great Horned Owls


And finally....

Justin and I had such an amazing time, and for all that we experienced I think I speak for us both when we say "Thank you Robert" for such an amazing idea and for being such a nice guy and guide!

We had 7 days of fun, friendship and photos. We will never forget the time that we had.

I could write about our experiences all night, but I have to bring things to an end, so I'll do it with an image of one of my fave kind of subjects, a gull headshot....


The Beautiful Ring Billed Gull

Thanks for reading, 

Danny :)