Monday, February 5, 2018

The Illustrated Queenfisher

  A short story I wrote, “The Illustrated Queenfisher” was just published in Abstract Magazine (
I'm digging that art they've paired it up with). Read it here:
  Fooled another one, heh heh. I just re-read it, and I hate it now – ugh, I guess that’s normal. I’ve written close to twenty of these “X-files/Twilight Zone” birding tales, it would be cool to put ‘em all together some day.
  The inspiration for this story came from the moment when I saw my first Common Kingfisher in Korea way back in 2005. It was hovering over a misty pond at dawn, a beam of sun lighting it up in shades of neon turquoise and orange. For a few seconds, I thought I was looking at an actual fairy.
  Admittedly, this story, while about birds, is not exactly about birding. There was a whole birding story arc in the original story, which rambled past 6,000 words and wasn’t close to being done. Not knowing where to go with it, I scrapped it and remolded the best parts into a “flash fiction” story, which generally means 1,000 words or less.
  For the writers out there, I would recommend writing a few flashes as a way of salvaging failed ideas, or just as an exercise in trimming the fat from your storytelling (I’ve still got a long way to go on that front). It can be challenging to tell a story in under a thousand words, so it forces you to cut to the chase. For example, in this latest story, I initially spent three paragraphs describing how a character was disheveled and downtrodden, and the troubled life that led him down that road. That cost me about 600 words, so I replaced all that with the word “unshaven,” hoping the reader would fill in the blanks. Another advantage to writing flash fiction is that if the story sucks, you’ve only wasted a day or two on it, instead of a week or two.

Birds Korea Checklist 2018

  Birds Korea has just come out with their 2018 Checklist, hurray! Download and/or view it here:
  Nial Moores and some other folks put a whole lot of work into this, and this time, I was able to put in a little of my own (editing/proofreading). While there were a couple of long nights, it was rewarding to get elbow deep into the mud of it, get an intimate feel for the list, and the changes since the 2014 checklist. The statuses of some species have shifted for the worse - more evidence of the disturbing downward trend of bird populations in Korea, and indeed all across our thin-skinned little orb.
  It was also a reminder of the species that have turned up in Korea for the first time over the past few years (Grey-sided Thrush! Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher!), and indeed, the huge repertoire of birds I’ve yet to see there. A good reason to go back, amidst a turbulent sea of reasons not to.
  Hey, I’m going to Cuba next week! Tody or not Tody, that is the question.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Oil spill headed for Jeju Island

Jeju's lovely southwest coast, one of my old birding haunts
That black pumpkin seed at center screen getting whacked by oil is Jeju Island (Reuters)
  The Sanchi, an oil tanker that sunk off China this month, is leaking oil, and that oil is predicted to reach Jeju Island in the following months. I lived on Jeju for four years, and it's a place I dearly love. Here's hoping that oil slick breaks up, changes course, or 'something.' The proper Korean authorities mobilizing immediately would be a good start towards preventing yet another slow-motion Korean eco-disaster. Birds Korea outlines the bird species that would likely be affected if the spill reaches Korea, and it's not pretty:

Reuters graphic of possible spread of the oil spill:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Mini-lens of last resort – first trial

Fits nicely into a small camera case (not included)
Goofy-looking, but fun
Taken with Canon DSLR with 100-400mm lens for comparison
Taken with cell phone camera without zoom, or mini-lens
Cell phone camera with zoom, without mini-lens
Cell phone camera without zoom, with mini-lens (oops, the mount slipped)
Cell phone camera with zoom, with mini-lens - verdict: better than nothing!
  I got this cute little clip-on mini-lens for Christmas, and I finally tried it out in the cemetery the other day. I’ll get the downsides out of the way first:
-It is NOT a telephoto zoom lens. It is a fixed lens which takes advantage of the zoom feature on the phone itself. The adjustable ring is just for focus. The claims on the packaging are fake news.
-Your subject will need to be sitting still – you’re not going to be snapping off skulking warblers or Peregrines in a stoop with this.
-You have to practice – practice deploying it from your bag and uncapping the lenses, practice putting on the clip and screwing on the lens, and especially practice zooming and focusing with the phone camera app.
-It’s not a Canon lens (I’ve dropped and dinged mine many a’time – the thing’s a tank), it’s basically a toy. It’s made of plastic, and cost 20$. It will eagerly break if mistreated.

-This won't take the place of your 'big lens'. It's strictly for emergencies only, when you're caught without optics.
  All that being said, it’s a decent and fun little bit of ‘optics of last resort’ toy to keep in your non-birding bag. I wrapped mine in an old Korean ‘cooling arm band’ and it fits nicely into a small camera case with the clip.

  The results actually surprised me, and kind of reminded me of the “World’s first digi-scoping” stunt I pulled off in the ‘80s with a Bazooka Joe spy camera and a spotting scope (Click here!). I didn’t mess with it too much, but when I saw a stationary squirrel, I whapped it on out.
  The lighting was poor, no doubt it would have done better with some sun. Also, I only just realized this now, but while I did focus using the cell phone, I forgot to fiddle with the little focus ring on the lens itself, so there’s a chance I could have gotten a sharper image. None of the images were edited or cropped in any way.
  I can’t wait to try this out on the next Western Kingbird I see sitting on a traffic light on St. Catherine street.