Friday, May 7, 2010

Digiscoping, Birding, and the Things We Carry

Friday, May 7, 2010
From left to right: me, termite mound, Tim Appleton MBE on the savanna in Guyana with all of our gear.

During the 10th annual Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival in Cottonwood, Arizona (an event I highly recommend) I lead a trip, gave a talk, and did a bit of birding on my own. And I did this without the weight of a "real" camera hanging from my shoulder. My big lens has issues, it appears, and needs to be fixed.

With my Canon 300mm lens sent off for rehab, I've been limited to digiscoping. Well, perhaps 'limited' is the wrong word. Given relatively cooperative birds, digiscoping can result in some wonderful images. I'm using a Leica D-Lux 4 digital camera with a Leica digital adapter, and a Leica 85mm spotting scope. It's a pretty user-friendly set up, I have to say.

Digiscoping and birding go together really well. A professional photographer friend of mine once told me (and repeated this many times since) that you can either go birding or you can be a bird photographer, but it's almost impossible to do both well at once. Bird photographers, like my friend, tend to find a cooperative bird or spot and work it for an extended period. Birders can lose patience with this because they may want to move on to the next birdy spot.

Many birders are now avid digiscopers. Photo ©David Tipling.

Then there's the equipment. On my recent trip to Guyana most of us had all of our birding gear (binocs, guide, scope, small camera, etc) plus a big camera or two to take "serious" photos. After a dingle day in the field I stopped carrying my big Canon 30D with the 300mm lens and focused on digiscoping. The couple of serious photographers on the trip each had multiple cameras, lenses, plus their birding binocs, and a backpack for all of this. They eventually stopped carrying their scopes since I had mine. Not only was this melange of gear physically challenging for us, it was hard to keep it from knocking together, or from taking a beating from the climate and setting: dust, rain, humidity, heat, lack of power.

I'll write more extensively about digiscoping in Guyana in a future post.

Being without my big lens has felt somewhat liberating. In my two most recent festivals, in Arizona, and at the New River Birding Festival in West Virginia, I was solely digiscoping, which fits better with being a field trip leader, too, since I always tote and operate the spotting scope. After everyone has seen a bird in the scope, if the bird obliges, I snap a few shots with my digiscoping camera, which I carry on my hip in a small pouch.

If you'd like to find out more about digiscoping from one of the pros, I suggest you go to a birding festival where the field reps from the major optics companies often hold seminars on this subject. If you get a good camera/adapter/spotting scope arrangement, digiscoping is so easy it will surprise you.
Yellow-breasted chat, male.

I'll stop there for now, and drop a little Arizona digiscoped eye candy on you.

A pair of ring-necked ducks.

A grackle with a great tail...

Bald eagle, cue the red-tailed hawk scream.

Western kingbird.

Male black-chinned hummingbird, gorget not flashing.

Male Anna's hummingbird in all of its blurry gorget splendor.

Male painted redstart along Oak Creek.


On May 7, 2010 at 7:53 PM corey said...

Lately I've been loving leaving my scope and camera at home in the morning and just taking my bins. It practically feels like birding naked...hey, now there's an idea!

On May 8, 2010 at 12:56 AM Murr Brewster said...

I've always found it a fine life strategy to make friends with someone who shleps all that equipment around. They'll even send you pics.

On May 8, 2010 at 7:02 AM Chad said...

Thank goodness for birding vests! I typically use every major pocket to squeeze in something I "might" need because it never fails the time that I don't bring something is the time I end of needing it!

On May 8, 2010 at 10:47 AM OpposableChums said...

When I first heard about "digiscoping," I found it hard to believe that the practice would yield anything other than fuzzy, vignetted pix. I've been proven thoroughly wrong, which I should be used to by now.

On May 12, 2010 at 1:00 PM Arizona Business Bankruptcy said...

Wonderful collection of birds in this post. Thanks for sharing your bird knowledge.