Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Advanced Birding and the Spotting Scope

Most of us begin birding with a field guide and a pair of binoculars. Yet, we eventually realize that certain situations demand our acquisition of a spotting scope. It may be that we find ourselves at the wetlands and can not quite tell if we are looking at a White Faced or Glossy Ibis. Or, we spot a raptor across the canyon and can not say if it is a Red Tail or some other hawk. Or, maybe, we just would like a better look at the Black Throated Green Warbler high up in the oaks.

Your advancement in birding does not mean you are becoming an elitist. Your expertise is growing and should be cause for celebration. Owning a spotting scope doesn’t make you an elitist either. In fact, many manufacturers have improved their processes to accomplish advances in construction and image quality while making their product more affordable. The spotting scope is now considered as essential as the binoculars.

There are many elements in the choice of a scope. Many are personal preferences. One such is whether to buy a scope that is straight through (ST) or angular (AN) sighted. It is probably easier to find and focus on some distant bird using the ST configuration. With practice, one can adjust to an AN scope and become just as proficient. However, if you find that you are often in a group and sharing a scope the AN may be the better choice. You can set the height to the shortest person in the group and everyone can easily view whatever bird is the subject of inquiry.

Light gathering ability is a major consideration in a scope. Generally, the larger the objective lens the greater the ability to gather light. An 80 mm objective gathers more light than a 60 mm lens. However, with a larger lens also comes added weight and cost. For most of us, and in most circumstances, objective lenses in the 60 to 65 mm range are quite adequate.

The eyepiece, or ocular, can be fixed or variable. A 20x ocular is good for fixed eyepieces, but variable magnification are either 15x-45x or 20x-60x. The lower magnification on the variable ocular is used to locate and focus the bird while the greater magnifications can be zoomed in to gain detail for a sure identification.

Eventually, one has to make a decision as to what amount to spend. For those whose budget is limited the Cornell Laboratory Scope Quest 2008 becomes an excellent source of information and advice. Ken Rosenberg organized this event and compiled data on a number of scopes. In this, the Stokes Sandpiper Scope did quite well. Ken writes, “An even nicer surprise was the Vortex Stokes Sandpiper, which at $359 or less could be the best buy of any model we tested. This small, lightweight scope is fully waterproof, works well with eyeglasses, and provides an image nearly as nice up to 45x as the more expensive [models].”

Considering image quality, ease of transport, magnifications, objective lens size and, of course, cost, it all comes down to what fits your personal needs and preferences. Once you have made your choice, enjoy it to the fullest.

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