Friday, March 14, 2014

Gift your gear with Rohan


What better way to get breathe some life back in to your old gear - Gift Your Gear is an ongoing campaign to get those os us with wardrobes and drawers full of gear that's not being used anymore,  but still has plenty of life left in it.

Its dead simple - take any of your unwanted gear along to your nearest Rohan store and they give you 15% off anything you buy at the same time. Simples!

And all the gear donated will make a real difference to the community organisations, youth groups and charities who receive it. Enabling others to benefit from life changing experiences in the great outdoors regardless of their circumstances. Read more about it here.

So, just look at the bag of goodies on there way to Rohan Stamford -

Lowe Alpine Orbit 30 rucksack - brand new with tags - how good is that!
Paramo Taiga fleece jacket - one of the all time best fleeces ever in the history of outdoor clothing - you get it ;-)
Vander full length waterproof jacket
Vander waterproof trousers
Rohan T-shirts x2
Rohan l/s fleece pullover
Rohan summer zip-off trousers
Craghoppers s/s T-shirt
Country Innovation sleeveless jacket
plus some gloves and socks!

So what you waiting for! Get rummaging in those clots, wardrobes and drawers and put some life back in to your unwed gear.

For more info see the Rohan site or the Gift Your Gear site.

You can also follow on Twitter at @Rohantime and @giftyourgear.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

FOR SALE - Leica binoculars, camera and iPhone 4


I have the following items for sale.

Four pairs of Leica binoculars (all brand new) -
- Leica Ultravid 10x32 BR
- Leica Ultravid 10x25 BR
- Leica Ultravid 8x20 BL
- Leica Geovid 8x42 BRF-M
Leica D-Lux 2 compact camera (second-hand)
iPhone 4 (second-hand)

Read on for more details.

LEICA BINOCULARS

All the binoculars are brand new and have never even been opened from their respective protective bags they come in (boxes opened to check that everything is present and correct). They originate from Leica Germany (for whom I used to work as a freelance consultant). They are not the current lines but the last but one version of what is available in shops and online at the moment (and you're unlikely to find any of these models new any more and they are all rare second hand).

Price includes insured delivery by courier in the UK.
Non-UK I will give you a quote for additional delivery costs.

Email me if interested (please, no time wasters!)

Leica Ultravid 10x32 BR black rubber armoured binoculars 
Brand new, boxed, never used.
Comes with neoprene strap, rainguard, cordura case
One of the top x32 binoculars on the market (as rare as hens teeth second hand too)
For more info and specs on this model see -
http://www.leica-camera.lv/pdf/ultravid_32-50_en.pdf
Model no. 40259
Price £950

Leica Ultravid 10x25 BR black rubber armoured compact pocket binoculars 
Brand new, boxed, never used.
Comes with strap, lens caps, cordura case
One of the top compact binoculars on the market.
For more info and specs on this model see -
http://www.leica-camera.lv/pdf/ultravid_20-25_en.pdf
Model no. 40253
Price £425

Leica Ultravid 8x20 BL black leather compact pocket binoculars 
Brand new, boxed, never used.
Comes with strap, lens caps, cordura case
One of the top compact binoculars on the market.
For more info and specs on this model see -
http://www.leica-camera.lv/pdf/ultravid_20-25_en.pdf
Model no. 40256
Price £405

Leica Geovid 8x42 BRF-M black rubber armoured laser range finder binoculars 
Brand new, boxed, never used.
Comes with neoprene strap, rainguard, cordura case
Again, these are top end optics with built in laser rangefinder.
For more info and specs on this model see -
http://www.leica-camera.lv/pdf/geovid_42-56_en.pdf
Model no. 40026
Price £1175


SECOND HAND ITEMS

Leica D-Lux 2 silver compact camera in excellent condition. 
An excellent digiscoping camera or for general photography.
In excellent condition.
Boxed, camera, charger, cables, battery, etc, many items as new (e.g. all cables unused).
Model no. 18271
Price £150

iPhone 4 8Gb black locked to Vodafone
Excellent condition both front and back have always been protected with screen protector film and always used in a slip case.
Boxed, phone, earbuds (unused), charger (unused), etc all there as new.
Price £125


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gear review - multi-pocket vests


I'm frequently asked about the gear I wear and why I wear it. I buy all my gear so I can give a truly honest, unbiased appraisal of the gear I choose and what makes me part with my money.

I'm a bit of a gear freak and I used to regularly review stuff (clothing, tripods, binoculars, scopes, books, etc) for Bird Watching magazine for many years. I've also been involved in birding kit innovation and development for over 20 years, primarily with Leica, but also with Craghoppers (pre-Risol buy-out and and attempted global domination) and latterly with Minox. So, apart from being a user I also know a wee bit about product development.

When it comes to clothing, I'm a long-time fan of several brands and my birding wardrobe is dominated in particular by Rohan and Páramo.

Multi-pocket Gear Vests
My use of multi-pocket vests (sleeveless jackets) has blown hot and cold over the years. This is almost certainly due to not yet finding the perfect one. I’ve tried several over the years (Panoramic, Regatta, Country Innovation) but the closest I’ve come to a usable vest is the old Rohan Cargo Vest. I’ve had mine for a few years and seem to fall in and out of love with. Why? Well, to be honest, this might be the best, but its still some way from being the perfect field vest. To be honest its nearly perfect. It has oodles of pockets that are bellowed cargo pockets and fits great. But the front zip is only a ¾ length and the collar is lousy. I cant wear my binocular strap over the slightly padded short collar, but have to wear the strap below it which just doesn’t work as well.

Two recent arrivals to the market, from my two fave brands Rohan and Páramo potentially offered me something better. Or did they?



Right: the old Rohan Cargo Vest. Nearly perfect with Velcro fastened bellow pockets and huge back pocket, but let down by zip and collar. I can carry up to 8kg of gear in this vest!


Rohan Freight Vest

£115

Photo © Rohan | www.rohan.co.uk

Fabric: 100% polyamide with 100% polyester lining.
Pockets: 9 plus two pen slots (2 front chest pockets with Velcro fastener, 2 front waist pockets with
Velcro and popper fasteners; 2 hand pockets; 3 zipped internal security pockets; 2 pen slots)
Zip: Full-length single-way zip with chin guard sat behind stud fastened storm flap
Other features: high collar (unlined)
Weight: 415g

WHAT ROHAN SAY
Rugged, durable and extremely versatile, our Freight Vest is ideal for the travelling professional or adventurous world traveller.It’s made from a lightweight, but very tough, polyamide in a rip-stop construction. It’s highly wind resistant but also very breathable so it’s perfect for both warm-weather and temperate use.It features four external cargo pockets and two hand pockets together with a selection of three internal security pockets and a couple of handy pen slots.The full-length front zip features a stud-secured protective flap.It’s very easy to wash – both in the machine or by hand – and will comfortably dry overnight. Needless to say, it requires no special treatment or ironing.

WHAT I SAY
This vest looks and feels great. A real quality feel as you’d expect from Rohan. I take a medium in Rohan, and this fits like a glove over a couple of other layers.


Front pockets
The four front pockets are not cargo pockets! They are flat stitched against the jacket – no bellows or expansion for when you want to store stuff in them. This is fine for maps, slip books, etc. but it makes them feel tight when being used and once you’ve loaded the vest with gear, it feels lumpy and bulky. For instance, I have no problem in using one of the chest pockets on my old Rohan Cargo Vest for my sunglasses. I wouldn't dream of using the chest pocket on this vest for fear of squashing them because the pocket is so tight when I slip my glasses inside.

But why the stud fasteners? Gear vests like this are about quick and easy access to your stuff in the field. Velcro is great as it needs less unfastening and re-fastening than stud poppers. Leave these stud fasteners unfastened and the pocket flap loose and they clatter, which is just irritating. I know Velcro makes a noise when you undo it, but that’s a trade-off for easier access and closing and no noise when moving around and you haven’t snapped a pocket shut. And I for one very rarely need to access a pocket in a situation where noise is such an issue.

The two hand pockets are also oddly placed behind the lower waist pockets. Your arms aren’t naturally positioned when your hands are in the pockets, and the pockets are internally Velcro fastened which just rubs against your hands and wrists as you put your hands in and out of the pockets. Also, try stuffing your hands in the pockets when the front waist pockets hold anything bulky – not comfortable. Not well thought out. 

Other features
The collar is very good. It sits up and around the neck well but is not lined. The top of the zip is protected and kept hidden from your chin/beard. But what’s with the single-way zip? Can any serious field jacket not have a two-way zip? I don’t think so. I do love the 'vine' green colour though - best colour I've seen on any of these jackets.

Verdict - 6/10 as a gear vest | 8/10 as a traveller vest
Compared to my old Rohan Cargo Vest this vest has two obvious advantages: the full length zip and collar. But the rest is actually quite disappointing functionally. Stud fasteners on pockets are a no-no for me, and the cargo pockets are not bellowed/formed in any way and simply don’t work for anything that isn’t flat – fine for maps, slim books, Kindle and mobile phones, but lousy for photo equipments, speakers, thick books (like some field or site guides), etc. that I carry in the field. The name 'freight' suggests a serious gear jacket which is misleading. But in Rohan's own blurb (above - what Rohan say) they refer to it themselves as a 'traveller' jacket and not a gear carrier. As good a travel jacket it is, a gear jacket it ain't.

I own the Rohan Field Jacket (which I rate 9/10 as a travel jacket) - which effectively the long-sleeved version of this jacket with a few differences. It seems to me that just as the Field Jacket is a great travel jacket (its not a gear jacket in my opinion as it too lacks bellows pockets to carry serious amounts of gear) this vest is also a good travel jacket, just not geared up for cargoing gear.

As a very long-standing (20+ years) Rohan customer I do worry about who designs and test some of their recent items. They sure as hell wear and use things very differently to me thats for sure, as I find fewer and fewer of their garments fitting my needs as a travelling birder-cum-photographer. A test is more than just sticking on a jacket to see if it fits. I often turn up to shops with a bag full of gear to try with garments I buy - its the only way to truly see what you're getting before you purchase. 


Páramo Halcon Vest

£100


Photo (right) © Paramo | www.paramo.co.uk

Fabric: Parameta A® Cotton+ (polycotton)
Pockets: 14 (4 front chest cargo pockets with stud fasteners, 2 front waist cargo pockets with stud fasteners; 2 waist hand pockets (behind waist cargo pockets), 2 large zipped pockets (behind chest cargo pockets); 2 zipped internal security pockets; 2 internal ‘drop’ cargo pockets with elasticated tops)
Zip: Full-length two-way zip with chin guard, no storm flap
Other features: cushioned shoulders; high collar with fleece lining; stud fastened side slits; draw cord waist
Weight: 420g

WHAT PARAMO SAY
The Halcon Waistcoat can be worn over a baselayer or outer layer for comfortable load-carrying for all outdoor activities. The Parameta® A Cotton+ fabric is rugged but quick drying, quiet and lightweight. The 14 pockets/ compartments allow a range of equipment to be organised, transported and easily accessible – ideal for wildlife watchers, photographers, fieldworkers and overseas travellers.

WHAT I SAY
Like the Rohan, this vest looks and feels great and is clearly a quality product. The medium was very tight on me but the large fitted brilliantly over a couple of layers.

Front pockets
The four main front pockets are true cargo pockets. They are bellowed and can easily take relatively bulky items such as camera lens extender, a bulky book, hats, scarves, etc - brilliant! Load up the vest and it performs brilliantly. The lumps and bumps are forward pointing and not digging in to you and feeling tight and lumpy like the Rohan. And, compare them to the Rohan pockets and these are cavernous.

But more stud poppers? Yep, not a fan of these front cargo pockets being poppered – Velcro works so much better in the field.


The two hand pockets are perfectly positioned behind the waist cargo pockets, and because the cargo pockets aren’t tight, your hands actually fit behind them. The draw cord for the wasit sits in the top of the pocket entrance and can be a little irritating, especially when its pulled tight so there is more cord end hanging down in to the pocket.


The two large zipped chest pockets are huge – great for maps and travel documents.


Internal pockets: I love the two ‘drop’ pockets. These allow you to have the bottom of the jacket open (thanks to a two-way zip) and access gear instantly. Great when switching between camera lenses, or extenders.

Other features
The collar is excellent. A perfect fit and that fleece lining just makes it so much more comfortable. The top of the zip is well protected and kept hidden from your chin/beard. Draw wasit cord is a nice feature to help improve fit, especially when the vest is loaded with gear.

Verdict - 9/10
Like my old Rohan Cargo Vest this vest is nearly there. If it wasn’t for the poppered front cargo pockets I’d say this would be my perfect field jacket. 

I'm also a long-standing Páramo user (15+ years). Over the last ten years I think they've cemented themselves as the number one choice for many birders and quite a few photographers. Their Pajaro and Halcon waterproof jackets and Taiga fleece are all seriously great bits of kit. I don't get on with their shirts/tops (I'm, not a fan of the Parameta A and S fabrics they use for these items). So you could say I have a marmite relationship with them as a brand. This Halcon Vest adds to their range of very usable items for birders and photographers.

Postscript
I'm just back from a three-week birding trip in Peru and the Páramo Halcon vest was worn daily. It performed brilliantly! The only problem, as predicted, was those poppered pockets. They're fiddly and a hassle in the field and on a couple of occasions I didn't popper shut pockets securely only to have things tumbling out when I leaned over. But the cargo-capacity of the pockets, especially the external waist pockets and the inner drop pockets, is seriously good. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Northern Greece - 11 - 18 May 2013

Steve & Liz Dudley


Hotels
Dadia Forest/Evros delta area - Hotel Thrassa in Tichero, three nights at €40 per double room per night.
I've used this hotel a couple of times before. Its very welcoming and comfortable. Good breakfast, limited evening meal option (check when booking for availability), but excellent when offered. Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel.

Kerkini - Villa Belles Hotel, Akritochori, four nights at €40 per double room per night.
A new hotel with stunning views of Lake Kerkini (see photo below) from all rooms. Wi-Fi in the reception area only. Breakfast OK but limited evening meal and poor value for money. But finding decent eating places in the area is difficult.

References
Miils, S. Birdwatching Guide to Northern Greece (2nd edition).
Map - Thrace 1:250,000 (Road Editions no. 1)
Map - Macedonia 1:250,000 (Rod Editions no. 2)
Map - Greece 1:500,000 (Freytag & Berndt)



Day 1 - Travel day

I travelled up from Lesvos to Thessaloniki (€71 one way) and Liz flew BA from Gatwick (£180 return). I had a couple of hours to chill, have lunch and watch Pallid Swifts whizzing around the airport building - fabulous! Also Booted Eagle at the airport.

We collected the hire car, a Suziki Grand Vitara 4x4 from Alamo (€407 for the week). We went for a 4x4 with full cover as we knew we would be going to some dodgy areas and we weren't wrong!

We drove arriving in Tichero after the five our drive with two stops, one for fuel the other for a stretch and picking up a Roller for our efforts.


Day 2 - Dadia Forest

We spent our first full day out in the Dadia Forest with, despite a big thunder and lightening storm at lunch time and overcast and cool weather through the afternoon, we racked up 15 species of raptor plus a host of other goodies.

Spur-winged Plover was a real surpise this morning less than five minutes from the hotel at Thermaria Pools near Tichero and Provatonas. I wonder how many records for the Dadia area there have been?



One of many Black Vultures seen today in the Dadia Forest.

Many butterflies around Dadia Forest today including this Black-veined White.

Our raptor list for today (very few birds on the wing midday to c.5pm due to thunderstorm and cool temps in afternoon) -
Black Vulture 6 at Dadia Centre (am) and 6+ at Kapsalo (pm)
Griffon Vulture 1 at Dadia Centre (am) and 1 at Kapsalo (pm) 
Egyptian Vulture 1 at Dadia Centre (am)  
Lesser Spotted Eagle 2
Short-toed Eagle 6+
Marsh Harrier 3
Honey-buzzard 1 male
Black Kite 1
Common Buzzard 3
Long-legged Buzzard 2
Levant Sparrowhawk 1
Goshawk 1
Peregrine 1
Hobby 1
Common Kestrel 5+


Day 3 - Dadia Firest and Evros Delta
Purple Heron, Evros Delta


We spent the morning up Kapsalo enjoying the raptors as the temperature rose. Our tally for the 1.5 hours we were there was -

Black Vulture 8+
Griffon Vulture 7+
Lesser Spotted Eagle 2
Short-toed Eagle 4+
Long-legged Buzzard 2
Common Buzzard 3
Honey-buzzard 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Hobby 1
Peregrine 1

In addition we had great views of Blue Rock-thrush, Crag Martin and Subalpine Warbler.

We lunched near Tichero (by the BP garage on the main road north to Dadia) then coffeed in Alto Ego in Tichero where we enojoyed the three stork nests right by the cafe and had a Collared Pratincole fly over the town!

In the afternoon we went down to the Evros Delta - superb! Birdies included Calandra Lark, hundreds of marsh terns, Bittern booming, herons, egrets, Glossy Ibis (hundreds) etc, etc. Just a fantastic afternoon. My best on the delta.


Day 4 - Nestos Forest and Mt Paggaio
Roller, Nestos Forest

Travel day today, but you wouldn't have guessed with the amount of birding and quality birds we saw!

We drove from Tichero to Nestos Forest where we were wowed by the riverine forest. After a drive by Roller we drove right in to a Black Woodpecker by the roadside! What views. It was too quick for the camera though. We had more flight views of the same bird as we birded the forest as well as masses of Red-backed Shrikes, Golden Orioles, Hawfinch and some fly-over woodpeckers - either Great Spotted or Syrian (we heard Great Spotted for certain).

Rock Partridge, Mt Paggaio

We then headed up Mt Paggaio where we scored Rock Partridge - a tick! Third time lucky in this area for me.


Water Pipit, Mt Paggaio

Further on up the mountain we found this gorgeous bathing Water Pipit.

Horned Larks at the top (boy was the track rough!) were seen distantly and heard singing, but no Alpine Chough or Common Rock-thrush. We did manage Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, a Honey-buzzard and a single Rock Bunting.

The track up from the ski area to the top of the mountain was the roughest I've experiences and was only just manageable in the Suziki. A true off road 4x4 (e.g. Land Rover) wouldn have made better work of it, but it was rough and would have been daunting for anyone without good off-road 4x4 experience.

We ended up at the Dolcetto cafe in Efleutheroupoli - just the pickup we needed after the slog up and down the mountain!


View from our room at the Villa Belles hotel above Lake Kerkini

We arrived at Lake Kerkini around 7.15 pm. We birded from the balcony until 8.30 enjoying the fabulous view and the hundreds of birds on the lake including pelicans, cormorants, egrets, herons, spoonbills, etc. Can't wait for the morning now!


Day 5 - Lake Kerkini

White Pelicans, Eastern Embankment


We spent the whole day around Lake Kerkini enjoying the wonders of this fabulous area.

We only scored two woodpecker species in our search of the Vironia tracks in the morning, a fly-over Lesser Spotted but good perched views of Syrian. Great Spotted was heard.

Night-heron, Mandraki Harbour

Only a few present along the east embankment this morning but eventually found them at Mandraki Harbour this evening with a few dozen seen.

We ended up in the late afternoon at Mandraki harbour with great light on the drowned forest.


Squacco Heron, Mandraki Harbour


Nettle-tree Butterfly, Veronia

Thousands on the wing this afternoon - everywhere!

We had an early dinner at the hotel then headed back out for a dusk watch for Eagle Owl near Vironia. Calling birds and five views in flight as well as  a couple of churring and displaying Nightjars.



Day 6 - Lake Kerkini

After a morning spent running around the mountains in search of peckers (Black and Grey-headed Heard but not a single bird seen) above Lake Kerkini, we headed down to the lake for a three-hour private boat trip out on the lake and in particular, to the drowned forest. And wow! It was simply amazing. One of the best bird spectacles I've ever enjoyed. The sights, sounds and smells are just fantastic and rival any seabird colony experience I've had in Britain or the Arctic.

The boat trip cost us €80 - a boat to ourselves for three hours. The standard 1 hr 15 min trip costs €20 pp, so this was excellent value for money. 

With over 1500 hundred images from the three hours in the drowned forest, here's just one of the many fabulous sights we enjoyed this afternoon.

Spoonbill feeding young, drowned forest of Lake Kerkini


Day 7 - Sidirokastro area
Our last day in Northern Greece and we took it a little easier. It might have been a recce week, but its also a holiday!

We spent the morning away from Lake Kerkini checking sites in and around the town of Sidirokastro and bumped in to at least six Rollers at two sites. Saw some woodpeckers and a Masked Shrike too, plus a pair of  Rock Nuthatches visiting their nest and stuffing all sorts of stuff, big and small, dawn some very noisy young throats.

After lunch and ice creams in Sidirokastro we drove around the south and western sides of Lake Kerkini with little to show other than half a dozen banjo-bills.

Back home tomorrow!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Northern Greece - Day 6 - a quieter final day

Our last day in Northern Greece and we took it a little easier. It might have been a recce week, but its also a holiday!

We spent the morning away from Lake Kerkini checking sites in and around the town of Sidirokastro and bumped in to at least six Rollers at two sites. Saw some woodpeckers and a Masked Shrike too, plus a pair of  Rock Nuthatches visiting their nest and stuffing all sorts of stuff, big and small, dawn some very noisy young throats.

After lunch and ice creams in Sidirokastro we drove around the south the and western sides of Lake Kerkini with little to show other than half a dozen banjo-bills.

Back home tomorrow!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Northern Greece - Day 5 - Lake Kerkini

After a morning spent running around the mountains in search of peckers (Black and Grey-headed Heard but not a single bird seen), we headed down to the lake for a 3 hour private boat trip out on the lake and in particular, to the drowned forest. And wow! It was simply amazing. One of the best bird spectacles I've ever enjoyed. The sights, sounds and smells are just fantastic and rival any seabird colony experience I've had in Britain or the Arctic.

With over 1500 hundreds to go through, here's just one of the many fabulous sights we enjoyed this afternoon.

Spoonbill feeding young, drowned forest of Lake Kerkini

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Northern Greece - Day 4 - Lake Kerkini


White Pelicans, Eastern Embankment

Hundreds seen on and over the lake during the day.

We spent the whole day around Lake Kerkini enjoying the wonders of this fabulous area.

We only scored two woodpecker species in our search of the Vironia tracks in the morning, a fly-over Lesser Spotted but good perched views of Syrian. Great Spotted was heard.

Night-heron, Mandraki Harbour

Only a few present along the east embankment this morning but eventually found them at Mandraki Harbour this evening with a few dozen seen.

We ended up in the late afternoon at Mandraki harbour with great light on the drowned forest.


Squacco Heron, Mandraki Harbour


Nettle-tree Butterfly, Veronia

Thousands on the wing this afternoon - everywhere!

We had an early dinner at the hotel then headed back out for a dusk watch for Eagle Owl. Calling birds and five views in flight as well as  a couple of churring and displaying Nightjars.