Today, Swarovski Optik announced its newest product - the BTX. Following the well-received ATX/STX system of modular spotting scopes, the BTX complements the product line with an angled, binocular eyepiece module to be used with the existing 65/85/95 objective modules. I had the opportunity to test the BTX during the last weeks in the field, and am happy to share my opinion with you. It's no surprise that the BTX comes with absolutely flawless optics of unbeaten quality. Hence, I will focus of aspects of ergonomics, usability and differences to the ATX system in this review.
Call the BTX a hybrid between binoculars and spotting scope. Its aim is to enable scope users to benefit from human vision in its most natural, binocular way.
Long-time watching, as birders do it when scrutinizing large flocks or during seawatching, is the target use of the BTX.
Clearly, the BTX has been developed to raise comfort during long sessions of wildlife watching over long distances. The concept of watching birds at high magnification with two eyes instead of just one is simple but astonishingly convincing.
The BTX comes with - obviously - two eyepieces of the same size as in EL32 binoculars. The forehead rest that helps support the user's forehead is a curved and padded piece of plastic. The height of the forehead rest is adjustable by a wheel located on top.
The newly designed aiming aid in form of a small black tube protrudes from the housing in the top right corner. Contrary from what you might know from Swarovski Optik scopes, it's not just a hollow plastic straw, but contains some optics and a sun-shaped target.
Both forehead rest and aiming aid are part of the black rear section of the BTX and can be easily taken off for cleaning and repairing purposes.
Making it as small and lightweight as possible were surely top priorities when designing the BTX. Still, it looks rather bulky at first sight, knowing just the slim ocular end of ATX/STX scopes.
But considering that it is built for two eyes, there might not be too much potential for reduction in the future.
The small eye pieces give a different yet comfortable feeling. Their distance to each other is adjustable, which is essential and logical but makes it more difficult to show what you see to someone else. Remember how easy it is to let someone else take a quick look through your scope - this becomes a bit more difficult, since people have different eye spacing.
The diopter correction is a ring located on the base of the right eye piece. Unfortunately, it’s missing a locking mechanism and was repeatedly randomly set after I took it out of my backpack.
Considering that the BTX is one half of a pair of binoculars attached to a scope, you might naturally grab it like binoculars and find the adjustment wheel of the forehead rest where you would usually find the focusing wheel (which is in fact the wide ring on the objective module).
The rather heavy BTX shifts the center of gravity of the whole combination quite far back. Regular tripod heads cannot balance this, so you will need a (video) head with very long lens plate. Swarovski Optik faces this challenge by introducing a new gimbal head, seen in the main photo above.
I tested the BTX on all three available objective modules - and the quality of watching with both eyes blew me away. For how the BTX performs on the different options, see below. I consider the 85 mm objective module the best partner for the BTX, so the following lines are based on my experiences with this combo.
Compared to the monocular versions, the BTX is heavier by about 600 g. Whatever you choose, owning a BTX will make you carry more in the field. With this in mind, I think of the BTX much less of as a walkaround piece of equipment, but a stationary device for hides, seawatching points or whenever you have a car close by.
The BTX has a fixed magnification, depending on the objective module: 30x on the 65 and 85 mm, and 35x on the 95 mm objective module. I’m not a fan of zooms (I’ve been a dedicated user of 30x
wide angle eye pieces back in the pre ATX days), so I’m not missing it. If this is not the case with you, there’s a new 1,7x extender!
The BTX is quite sensitive to shake, so a very sturdy tripod/head combination is a must to get the best out of it.
Not only the magnification, but also the brightness of the image and depth of field change with the available objective modules. Brightness is lowest and depth of field widest on the 65 mm,
intermediate on the 85 mm and the other way round on the 95 mm. While it’s clear that you want an image as bright as possible, I wasn’t aware of the significant difference the depth of field
makes when watching birds. Since it's smaller on the 95, you have to focus much more (often) than with the 85. So much more, that I would clearly vote for the 85 mm objective module as the ideal
partner for the BTX.
All I can say so far is that cell phones can be attached via the brand's own iphone adapter or third party products (which I use for my Samsung S5 and S6) in just the same way as they are combined with EL32 binoculars.
I consider the BTX to be a great new product that avid birders, spending lots of time watching birds, will just adore. The downsides are weight and size, so I think the BTX cannot replace a "classic" ATX scope, which is just more versatile and easier to carry/transport. If you're willing to make your watching experience more comfortable and intense and you want to spend the money - got get one, you won't be disappointed.
Also watch out for the special new gimbal tripod head (PTH) and the balance rail (BR) that come with the BTX, as well as the 1.7x extender (ME)!
Check out Swarovski Optik's blog post on the BTX.
Surprisingly, I never managed to see a Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) at daytime in Vienna - until recently. Since Europe's largest rodent was reintroduced in the 1970s, it spread to most of the city's waters again. The series of photos, taken from a bridge, shows an individual crossing a large stretch of water, diving below the ice cover to meet another individual.
I've spent a larger part of december in Guatemala, el País de la Eterna Primavera ("the land of the eternal spring"). This Central American gem delivered what it promised:
Amazing birds and wildlife, breathtaking scenery and cultural highlights. Save the date: I will give a talk about my experiences as a backpacker searching for birds in Guatemala on 21 June 2017
at Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Museum of Natural History in Vienna).
St. Martins Therme & Lodge published a wall calendar with my photos again this year. It features some of the lodge's animals as well as wild species from the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel national park. The calendar is available exclusively at the lodge.
I just returned from a really fantastic trip to Guatemala to a winterly Austria, where I already spent my first day out birding in the cold of Central Europe. There's a lot of material to be edited from the trip - watch this space for more.
Am 12. November 2016 leite ich im Rahmen der Naturparkakademie Steiermark zwei ornithologische Exkursionen am Murstausee Gralla (Beginn um 8 bzw. 13 Uhr).
Weitere Informationen und Anmeldung hier.
I recently had the opportunity to take a look at a Long-tailed Skua (Sterocarius longicaudus, Falkenraubmöwe) in Illmitz, at the eastern shore of Lake Neusiedl. I didn't connect with
this arctic breeding bird since twelve years in Austria, so I was exceptionally glad to see it hunting and resting up very close. In fact, the bird didn't bother birdwatchers and passers-by at
all, resting just besides the footpath. Even though it hunted very effectively (skuas are parasitic and snatch prey from gulls and terns), it made an exhausted impression when on the
Long-tailed Skua is a rare visitor to Austria, with single records every year, mostly of juveniles. This bird is in its third calendar-year, so close to adult plumage.
I'm currently working in a raptor migration survey in the alps of the Austrian state of Steiermark. The first five-day census took place last week to monitor the expected peak of Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) migration. I recorded nine species of raptors, two Dotterels (Charadrius morinellus) and around a dozen of Honey Buzzards from my lookout on Mt. Speikkogel (1988 m. a. s. l.) in the Gleinalm area.
I have finished two new posters, illustrated by Szabolcs Kókay & Márton Zsoldos again and published by the Energie- und Umweltagentur Niederösterreich (eNu).
They show rare and typical animals and plants of two endangered habitat types: dry grassland and fens in the state of Lower Austria.
Für das Magazin "Servus Krone" hat Johanna Aichinger einen gelungenen Beitrag über die Vogelberingungsstation der St. Martins Therme & Lodge gestaltet.
Two short scenes of raw material from a Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) nest. First you see the first hatched chick out of a clutch of four getting its first meal inbetween the other eggs. Later two of the siblings being fed, about one week later. Switch on sound! Filmed by Mario Kreuzer.
I can't say how often I've written this or something similar here or elsewhere. The coast and islands of the German wadden sea keep attracting me. On a recent trip through Germany, I paid the Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer another visit to see friends, beloved places and birds. And I brought home some pictures.
With a lot of luck and the generosity of a friend, I got my hands on a Nikkor AF-S f4/600mm. I tried it this evening, attached to a Nikon D810, on some Black-winged Stilts in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel national park. Not too easy to handle (it's so heavy!) and especially tough in low light, since it lacks a vibration reduction, but still - I'm very happy!
Überfahrenes Kiebitzküken / Overrun lapwing chick, Seewinkel, May 2016
Dieses traurige Bild hielt ich kürzlich im Seewinkel fest. Die Kiebitz-Mutter stand noch rufend neben dem frisch zerdrückten Küken auf der Straße, als ich mich der Szene näherte. Wie viele andere Paare brütete auch dieses in einem Acker. Zu Beginn der Brutsaison finden Kiebitze auf Ackerflächen oft gute Bedingungen vor und legen dort ihre Nester an. Das rasche Wachstum der Kulturen ändert die Qualität dieses Lebensraumes für die Kiebitze aber schnell. Sie finden in den dichten Pflanzenbeständen keine Nahrung und fühlen sich nicht wohl. An offene Habitate angepasst, verlassen die Vögel mit ihren frisch geschlüpften Jungtieren die Äcker, wo meist übergangslos Verkehrsflächen angrenzen.
Three new posters are out! Szabolcs Kókay did the amazing illustrations again.
Totally new are Feldvögel/farmland birds and Waldvögel/woodland birds and the popular Gartenvögel/garden birds has been redesigned.
The posters can be bought (soon) e.g. at Schwegler, St. Martins Spa & Lodge or the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel national park information center.
I started working on a film project with Mario Kreuzer. Looking forward to an intense time! We just put a clip
of raw footage online.
It shows a male Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) keeping a live Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) as a "wedding gift" for its partner.
The April issue of "Der Falke - Journal für Vogelbeobachter" features an article I wrote about birding in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel region. You can read it here.
Invitation/Einladung to the opening of the exhibition The birds of paradise by Szabolcs Kókay in the Naturmuseum Neuberg, Neuberg an der Mürz on 1 May 2016, 16:30h.
The exhibition can then be visited daily until 26 October (10-12h / 14-16h). It focuses on the paintings the artist finished after an expedition to the see these magnificent birds himself and on the plates that he created for the book "Birds of New Guinea".
Back from a great tip to the Middle East. We visited Qeshm island in Iran, the emirate of Dubai and tiny parts of Oman in the past weeks. I already posted some first images from Qeshm island in
the Persian Gulf below. But there's so much more. This post just shows some more highlight images, but I plan to prepare a page with the less beautiful record shots of interesting taxa.
As you might have seen in the previous two posts, it's nearly all about birds, no landscapes, people, macros.. This comes absolutely unintentional. I usually try to capture at least some additional impressions of my trips, besides the birds. On the way to Dubai, the lens release button of my Nikon D800 broke, so I couldn't change lenses for the whole trip. I didn't bring a spare body to save weight, due to my never-ending cabin luggage issues. Tied to a 500mm lens for four weeks, carrying a full bag of equipment, just to strengthen my back. During the very last days in Oman, even the autofocus system of the lens went down, technically carrying me back into the dark ages of manual focus. All pictures were taken hand-held, without tripod.
On our way to Iran we had a layover day in Dubai. We used it to visit one of the parks closer to the aiport as well as the Dubai creek, where we surprisingly found two Black Drongos
(Dircrurus macrocercus), a Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) and many of the more common urbanized/introduced bird species of the emirate. When leaving Iran, we spent some more
days in this crazy, over the top city. Birding was not outstanding in most places, except for Ras Al Khor wildlife sanctuary, where we counted more than 16 Greater Spotted Eagles (Aquila
clanga) including one marvellous juvenile fulvescens.
At the jetty in the mangrove forest near Tabl on Qeshm island, Iran, we found this dark morph Western Reef Heron (Egretta gularis) successfully plunge diving for fish from boats.
The thoroughly positive experiences of a trip to Iran in 2014 drew me back to this wonderful country. This time, I wanted to add some research to the regular birding, dig deeper into some
taxonomic subjects and so I'm out with Christian and Martin on the desert island of Qeshm in the Persian gulf, to take a close look at the local bird life, in a country visited by very few
We are still out there - doing very well - but there's so much to see and so many photos worth sharing remain on my camera every day, that I put on this first set already now.
Landender Engel / Angel landing, Lachmöwe / Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) | Salzburg, December 2015
I recently connected with a rather showy (and late in the year!) Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in Seewinkel. Far from perfect, but surprisingly my very best photos of this species - you
have to take what you can get. The set was taken before sunrise, so I was once again in a high ISO dilemma and - torn - pushed it up to ISO 1250..
Kommen Sie mit auf die grüne Insel! Im Oktober 2016 leite ich für BirdLife Österreich, in Kooperation mit Kneissl Touristik eine 8-tägige Busreise entlang der Küste Südirlands, auf der Suche nach
nordischen Wintergästen (z.B. Grönländische Blässgänse), Spezialitäten (z.B. Schottisches Moorschneehuhn), Ausnahmeerscheinungen und endemischen Unterarten (Tannenmeise, Eichelhäher,
Wasseramsel). Den vorläufige Reiseablauf finden Sie hier. Weitere Infos und Buchung über das Formular hier.
Coming soon: The new St. Martins Therme & Lodge wall calendar
2016, featuring 13 of my images of both wildlife and typical farm animals of the Seewinkel region. The cover photo was the latest addition to the final selection, taken at sunrise, just two weeks
ago on the lodge's pastures. It features the Austrian White Donkeys Freddy, Franz and Heck. This rare, cream-coloured and blue-eyed breed was kept as a decorative pet, mostly in the 17th and 18th
centuries within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
The calendar is available in a week or so, exclusively at St. Martins.
Even though birding has been great in the Seewinkel in recent days, I uploaded some shots of totally different subjects: Austrian-Hungarian white donkeys ("Baroque donkeys"). This old, blue-eyed
breed was kept as a pet more than a working animal in the Baroque and Rococo periods in Hungary and Austria. Today, it is a highly endangered variety that's still being bred in the Neusiedler See
- Seewinkel national park, where it's also used as a grazer within the park's habitat management.
The St. Martins Spa & Lodge also keeps four of the White Donkeys, which I visited for a sunrise photoshoot recently. One image of the series is supposed to decorate the front cover of the 2016 St. Martins wall calendar.
As part of the search for sites in the Austrian alps, that could be suitable for long-term bird migration studies through bird ringing, Tobias Schernhammer and me explored Hochwechsel (1743m
a.s.l.) in the past eight days. This mountain pass is part of the easternmost ridge of the alps and has to be crossed by lots of migrating birds on their way south-west.
Unfortunately, we experienced very unfavorable weather conditions for mist-netting, with lots of rain, heavy winds and temperatures below 0°C. Still, the few (half) days we could open up our 300m
long mist-netting setup and one night session proved the mountain to be a true migration hotspot with roughly 300 birds ringed (180 Robins between 23:30h and 3:30h in the night of 9./10. Oct).
The main species ringed were Robin, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit and Black Redstart. Other trapped species included Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Black Grouse, Goldcrest, Common Redstart,
Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Siskin and Chaffinch.
Daytime migration across the ridge in the few dry hours included up to 15 Red-throated Pipits, Hen Harriers, Marsh Harrier, Common Kestrels, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Ring Ouzels, Common
Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Nutcrackers and lots of passerines (pipits and finches).
Thanks for their valuable support go to Vroni and Matthias of Wetterkoglerhaus, C. Nagl, F. Bittermann, E. Guariento, K. Bürger and M. Milchram and all the others who wanted to help but couldn't
because of the weather-realted, earlier end of the project.
Unter dem Titel "Unsere Gartenvögel" (A6, 64 S.) habe ich in der Reihe "Das große kleine Buch" des Servus Verlag ein kleines Büchlein verfasst. Es ist u.a. im Buchhandel, sowie in den Filialen der Post erhältlich.
A visit to South Tyrol and its amazing Dolomite Alps produced beautiful and instructive sightings of mountain birds, some photos and very good mist-netting (bird ringing) at Val Gardena with some of the certainly very few Ladin speaking bird ringers in the world!
There were many highlights of our two days up at Gardena Pass/Jëuf de Frea/Grödner Joch/Passo Gardena. What struck me the most was the never-ending traffic of seemingly hundreds of Nutcrackers
(Nucifraga caryocatactes) transporting throat sacs full of seeds of Swiss Pine (Pinus cembra) across the pass from southwest to northeast. We caught around 30 of them in the
mist nets (all but one adults!), nearly all of them with dozens of pine seeds in their sublingual pouches.
Dilan to Iacun Prugger for making this possible and for your overwhelming hospitality!
After a spring with exceptionally high water levels in the temporary salt lakes of the Seewinkel, some bird species in the national park were breeding in very good or even record numbers (e.g.
Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Stilt etc.). The huge breeding success is now particularly visible in the Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida), which started to breed in
the region (and Austria) only in 2009 with then around 40 breeding pairs (Dvorak et al. 2010, Egretta 51; 51-59). Around 300 pairs were counted breeding in 2015 (B. Wendelin & M. Dvorak in
lit.; exact number yet to be figured out) and their noisey and often confiding offspring can now be seen in many places, when birdwatching in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel area. The youngsters
already fly and hunt on their own, but do still beg their parents for food.
The photos below were taken some days ago, minutes before the first heavy rain for weeks, which marked the sudden but long-awaited end of a searing heatwave here in eastern Austria with daytime temperatures constantly above 33°C.
While late summer is a great season for birding, with fall migration in full swing (17 species of shorebirds today in Seewinkel!) and plenty of topics one could write about, I just want to report
shortly about an encounter I had yesterday, when birding around my hometown Graz.
At the famous birdwatching (and duck-feeding site) in Gralla, along river Mur, I found a bird that I'm irregularly observing since nine years now. I wrote about this and similar birds in the area already here (in German) and posted photos of this exact bird here, here and here.
So called "intersex" Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are females, which develop male (plumage) features as they're getting older or when having a troubled hormonal balance. The reasons for this are not fully understood. While it seems that there hasn't been any new research on this topic, a quick google search revealed some new things dealing with intersex birds and plenty of new photos on the net. Look here.
This time, I couldn't take perfect images of the bird, but the first ones I got at a time of the year, when the bird should be in eclipse plumage, like all the other mallards around. Surprisingly, it was already much further advanced than the others, with a largely green head etc.
In the course of the years, the bird developed a more and more perfect male plumage, but with the eclipse feathers on belly, flanks, scapulars and head, it's hard to judge if there has been any advance now. Some female-like spots in the rectrices remain, but the tail curls are already perfectly masculine!
September 2015 sees the release of the new Swarovski Optik EL family of binoculars - the best binoculars out there, Austrian-made, now even further improved!
I had the honor to act in a short film, promoting the passion for birdwatching and the new products. We filmed in April and June 2015 in Seewinkel, Austria, as well as Varanger, arctic Norway.
Thanks to Swarovski Optik and Mario Kreuzer for the great collaboration!
In Norway, although we were very busy filming, I could take some photos of the amazing bird life of this outstanding birding destination - you'll find a selection below. Sometimes it was really hard to concentrate on the acting, when Arctic Redpolls where hopping on the ground around me, or when Stellers Eiders were swimming right behind the camerman.. While shooting in Varanger, I could watch an amazing total of six bird species I had not seen before in my life.
To me, the genus Phalaropus is something extraordinary, within the already extraordinarily charismatic group of waders. Of the two species of Phalaropes occuring in Europe, only Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) breeds outside Iceland. Phalaropes are among the few sexually dimorphistic European bird species, with "more beautiful" females than males. The female's plumage is more contrasty and more intensively colored and they also behave a little macho-like compared to the quiet males.
On the recent trip to arctic Norway, I had the chance to spend some time with these astonishing creatures after work and to take some pictures in the never-setting midnight sun. The task was extremely difficult in the low light conditions with a monopod, 500mm lens and the Nikon D800's mediocre high ISO performance. I left the right gear (which would have been a tripod and the 70-200mm lens for this confiding species) at home, as I didn't expect too much time for photography on this trip.
I still managed to get some decent shots - enough to please me at least.
33 birdwatchers from Ireland just enjoyed a very hot, sunny and successful birding week in eastern Austria and adjacent parts in Hungary and Slovakia - what a lovely group!
Top observations on the 140+ species list included Eastern Imperial Eagle, Moustached Warbler (singing from the top of the reeds for several minutes!), Great Bustard, Syrian Woodpeckers, Bee-eaters and Hoopoes at their nesting sites, Squacco Heron, Tawny Pipit, Barred Warbler, a breeding record of Fieldfare (worth mentioning for the locals only) and much more. See some snapshot impressions below. Thanks to Niall and Steve for their valuable help in finding birds and the nice company, hope to see you soon in Ireland!
The short report of the latest trip to the Po Delta (in German) is online here.
I'm currently enjoying the fabulous birds of the Seewinkel with a group of BirdWatch Ireland. See a photo of tonight below, taken from the terrace of our hotel. White Storks are apparently doing well despite the recent period of cold and rainy weather (which changed into a veritable heat wave yesterday). The depicted pair on the main square of Illmitz raises three chicks and we've seen plenty of (so far) successful pairs in Marchegg today.
I've been visiting the Po Delta in northern Italy since 2003. For the last week, I was guiding a group of BirdLife Austria to this productive birdwatching destination again.
The thing that amazes me most about this region, besides the good birds, is the amazing number of birdwatching opportunities. There are plenty of walks and hides, some old and overgrown though. There must have been a time where the "Po Delta Regional Park" was heavily developed as a birding destination. But I didn't see any new hides and the site guide (the one with the Little Egret in front) is unfortunately very old. I found a new one here, which I used a lot this time. This PDF is apparently quite new, though it also lists very unproductive, disappointing sites (such as Canneviè) or sites with unusable hides (Valle Bertuzzi, eastern shore). Trip report coming soon!