An Exclusive Interview with Paul Cozza
by Peter W. Thayer
Paul Cozza - Techno-Birder
In March, 2010 I returned from a 16-day birding trip to the Andes Mountains of central Colombia, led by Steve Hilty of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. In addition to seeing my 4,000th species (Chestnut Wood-quail), I also found the most gadget-ladened birder I had ever seen! (I say this in a good way… an envious way!)
Meet Paul Cozza, a retired computer programmer from Concord, Massachusetts. Some of the gadgets he had were extremely useful. You may want to look into acquiring a few of these for yourself before your next big birding trip!
Camera & Lens – bird photos: On this trip the camera lens of choice was the Canon 100-400 IS USM telephoto zoom lens. Paul and another photographer (Ken Havard from Calgary, Alberta) were both using this. At over $1,500 it better be good! Paul’s camera body was a Canon EOS T1i Digital Rebel and Ken was using a Canon 40D DSLR. Both were very happy with their cameras. Paul suggests taking extra rechargable batteries and memory cards. He had two 16 gig memory cards as well as a number of extra 4 gig and 2 gig memory cards! Each jpg image he shot was 3-4 MB in size and was 4752 x 3168 pixels. See some of Paul's bird images from this trip.
Paul's helpful hint to other photographers - "Decrease exposure to capture moving birds. The image is darker, but this is easier to fix in Photoshop." He recommends a camera body with center focus capability for bird photos. Paul also highly recommends that you go out for 2-3 days at home to test your new camera and lens - and take your user's manual with you!
Camera – scenery and digiscoping: Paul also carried a small pocket camera as well for digiscoping, and also to capture scenery and wide-angle shots. In order to use this camera with the tour leader’s new Leica APO Televid 82mm scope, Paul had fashioned a small wooden ring in his workshop at home. This fit neatly inside the Leica eyepiece. By resting his smaller camera lens on this wooden ring, he got great photos, without the fear of hand shake or of scratching the Leica lens. See some of Paul's scenery images from this trip.
Camera Carrier: Most of the time Paul carried his camera on his hip in a unique and very handy holster-like device called the "Spider Camera Holster." This system allows extremely quick and easy access to a camera, while supporting the entire weight of the camera on the hips. You can see this demonstrated on Spider's web site.
Laser Pointer: A pen-sized green laser is used to point out the location of birds in shaded forests. It can help other birders to start looking in the right direction and get on a bird faster. Both our tour leaders and Paul had green lasers on this trip. Lasers can blind people, so be very careful. A 5 milliwatt or 15 mW lazer is best for birding. 15 mW are more intense and easier to see in daylight, but they often spook the birds if you shine it too close to them. Don't even think about a laser stronger than 15mW for birding. Lasers come in red, green and blue beams. Green is much better than red for birding. Blue is probably the best, but it is terribly expensive. Make sure the laser's milliwatt rating refers to continuous and not peak output. (Lasers are awesome for star-gazing!)
The larger, 15 mW laser pointers are possibly illegal to own, depending upon your profession. If you qualify, they can be obtained from overseas sites. In any case, whatever laser pointer you own, if you are taking it with you on an aiplane, do not pack it in your carry on bag. It can be taken away by security personel at their discretion! Pack your laser pointer in your checked baggage.
iPhone: Every cool Techno-birder, including Paul, has an iPhone - filled with apps. With an iPhone, it is easy to download over 700 songs and photos from your Thayer Birding Software CD-ROM. Paul had another brilliant idea relating to the iPhone - put the User's Manual for anything electronic (camera, recorder, etc) on your iPhone as a pdf file. That way you can read it anywhere and answer your questions. You can also store articles, books and crossword puzzles in your iPhone and read them when you have some free time.
iPhone Apps: Here are some of Paul's favorite apps:
iBird - field guide for your iPhone.
Skype or TruPhone - free calls from your iPhone to anothr Skype or Truphone user, or calls to landlines anywhere on earth for pennies a minute (these require a wireless internet connection)
Navigon - Navigation tool for the iPhone
Spanish - English Translation for the iPhone
Flashlight - turn your iPhone into a flashlight!?!
SodaSnap - send postcards from your iPhone
GPS Lite for GPS positioning information
Red Laser to scan barcodes from your iPhone and find the best price
Wi-Fi Connection: Most birding trips have at least a few overnight stays in hotels with Wi-Fi. For about 30% of the nights in Colombia, we had internet access. (Ask the hotel clerk for the network password when you check in.) Paul used his iPhone to connect to the internet. This was my first birding trip where I took a computer with me. I used my small netbook computer to send and read emails. It was great! If I had not been so tired each night, I could have updated my Blog as well. You can also use a netbook to update your sightings in Birder's Diary each evening. Programs like Skype will let you call anyone that is also using Skype and talk for free. If a bird question arises, you can even access AviBase at http://Avibase.bsc-eoc.org from your iPhone.
Satellite Phone: I will admit that I had never seen anyone do this before. Paul had a satellite phone that could be used to call the United States. It required a clear line of sight to an overhead satellite. (They must not be in geosynchronous orbit, since it was possible to loose the connection when the satellite went below the horizon.) You can rent these for about $35-45 per week and pay $1.50-$2.00 per minute. On certain birding trips to very remote locations, this may be worth it to some folks, especially if there is important news you are waiting to hear. He was kind enought to let me use it to call my wife as we ate in an outdoor restaurant at the base of the eastern Andes.
Digital Voice Recording Device: Olympus DS-61 recorder. Paul recorded all his sightings using this tiny device. It holds over 500 hours of recordings and stores highly compressed WMA (Windows Media Audio) format in flash memory. It also stores and plays back WMA and mp3 music files and plugs into your computer for easy downloading. It operates for over 30 hours on two AAA batteries. Since voice recordings are time-stamped and the photos Paul took are also time-stamped, this devide helps him identify each bird when he returns home and is editing his trip photos. You can also store birdsong mp3's on this device and play them back at a reasonably loud volume in the field.
Birding Vest: Paul's Exofficio Buzz Off Ultra Lite Vest had eleven pockets for all his provisions: small camera, umbrella, snacks, camera adapter, water bottle, lens cover, recorder, lens cloth, extra batteries, plastic camera cover, lazer pointer, etc.
Foldable Seat: Paul had a light-weight foldable 3-legged stool from Vanguard that he fastened to his belt. This came in handy a number of times. Traveling in Madagascar with Terry Stevenson a few years ago, our group included many birders who had similar stools -- all with blue seats. At lunch one day, having discovered a shady spot - but in high grass, Terry said "Everyone with a blue stool can come over here and eat." So I hollered out, "My stool is usually brown. Where should I go?" Terry promptly told me where to go!
Tilley Hat: While hardly high-tech, it is worth pointing out that a company named Tilley makes a wide variety of hats for the outdoors. A wide-brimmed hat like Paul is wearing keeps the hot sun and UV rays off your face and neck. I highly recommend Tilley hats for birders.
Binocular: Paul carried the Swarovski 8.5x42 EL binocular. As a point of comparison, here is what the other folks on the trip were using:
1 person used Swarovski 10x42 (me)
2 people used Swarovski 8.5x42
3 people used Leica 10x42
1 person used Leica 8x42
2 people used Zeiss 10x32
It is interesting to note that when I traveled to Bolivia with Steve Hilty in 1994, every single person on that tour had a Zeiss 10x42 B binocular. I have always used a 10 power binocular. But having passed 60, I am seriously thinking of switching to the 8.5x42 for their brigher image and wider field of view. Recent advances in coatings of binocular lenses have improved quality tremenously over the past decade.
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