Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dragon and Damselflies Up Close and Personal

Lately, we’ve been digiscoping insects while field-testing the Swarovski ATX/STX modular spotting scopes. One of the stand-out features of these scopes is their superb digiscoping capabilities. The scope’s 65-mm objective module close-focuses to 6-feet, meaning it works almost like a macro lens.  We played with the scope to see how it would perform taking pictures of dragon- and damselflies. All these odes inhabited a quiet little stream less than a mile from our store!

Blue Dasher

Digiscoping a Blue Dasher Dragonfly

Digiscoping a Blue Dasher Dragonfly

This is a male Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, a common dragonfly of southern California. Note the blue abdomen, sea-green eyes and white facial plate, and subtle amber patch on the hind wings. Females are browner on the thorax and abdomen, with cream markings for accent, but they still have the green eyes and white facial plate. Territorial males frequently chase each other around. We commonly find Blue Dashers, members of the skimmer family, over rivers, ponds and streams. They tend to hunt from perches, which means they’re often stationary, making them much easier to photograph!

 

California Spreadwing

California Spreadwing damselfly

California Spreadwing damselfly

This blue-eyed beauty is a male California Spreadwing damselfly, Archilestes californica. Spreadwings are unusual among damselflies in that they often perch with the wings wide open. The California Spreadwing is told from the Great Spreadwing by the white markings on the thorax flanks, and the two-toned pterostigma. Like the Blue Dasher, this spreadwing is a sally hunter. That means it hawks prey from a perch to which it often returns. To photograph them, we focused on the perch and waited for the hunter to return.

Vivid Dancer

Vivid Dancer damselfly

Male Vivid Dancer damselfly

Lastly, here’s a brilliant blue male Vivid Dancer damselfly, Argia vivida. Distinguish these gorgeous little damselflies from other similar species by the carrot-shaped black marks on the abdominal segments. This species occurs in every single county in California, making it our most common one. When Vivid Dancers emerge from their nymph forms, a pale gray pruinescence coats them. That wears off with time to reveal their brilliant color. Vivid Dancers often perch away from water, on rocks, logs and shrubs, as these were doing when we found them.

 

All these pictures were taken with the Swarovski ATX-65 spotting scope, equipped with the TLS-APO digiscoping adaptor, using a Canon 40D camera.

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Bright or dark, close or far – ATX/STX spotting scope

It seems that the guys here have been writing quite a bit lately about the Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope using the 85mm objective. This scope performs remarkably well in comparison to most other 80mm class scopes. It makes sense to me they have had it in the field this much. The performance of the 85mm objective is really impressive but the scope also offers the advantage of simply switching out the objective to either a 65mm or 95mm objective for different conditions or preferences. What this means is that by simply changing the objective you have a completely new scope!

The ATX/STX Spotting Scope

I’ll have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when the new scope design was announced by Swarovski. Their design allowed switching objectives to different sizes. All the same, the different sizes offered interesting possibilities and some really impressive capabilities. The guys have written about digiscoping with the 85mm objective using both point and shoot and micro 4/3rds cameras.  I thought I would test the other modules using my Canon 7D DSLR camera.

As a note before I discuss these other two modules, at this time there is no other scope on the market that has digiscoping adapters that are as simple and complete. This means that you can easily take a photo of what you are looking at through your scope. You can do this with any of the aforementioned camera types. I won’t go into detail about that here as it is discussed in detail in the scope review.

The 65mm Objective

close-up photo taken with Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope

Close-up photo using Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope

When Swarovski originally brought in their new ATX/STX spotting scope to show us, they brought the 65mm objective and the straight STX eyepiece module in a binocular field bag! This combination is extremely compact and opens the possibilities of traveling with a spotting scope like never before. I took the photo at the left with the this combination. The intent of this picture was twofold. First is brightness, color, and sharpness. I’ll let the image speak for itself. Everything is even brighter and sharper when you look with your eyes.

Second is closeness. The Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope with the 65mm objective will close focus to 6.9 feet! That is closer than most binoculars. This means that the whole world of small is now possible at up to 60 times magnification. I could go on about this little scope but with the same camera I figured I’d see what the 95mm objective was capable of. Continue reading

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Looking for Love – Is This the Right Place?

Ridgeway's Rail at Upper Newport Ecological Reserve.

Ridgeway’s Rail at Upper Newport Ecological Reserve.

Light-footed Ridgeway’s Rail (formerly known as Clapper Rail), are federally listed as endangered. They can be difficult to see here in Orange County California. Unless you know when and where to look, you will rarely get a close-up. They occasionally appear at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. But until recently, they have been few and far between. They still are not seen at Bolsa Chica with the regularity, quantity, or visibility of Upper Newport Bay during winter high tides.

Even though this Ridgeway’s Rail had been reported, I was surprised to drive into the parking lot at Bolsa Chica and hear it calling loudly, looking for love almost continuously in early July. I could barely see him through the vegetation lining the parking lot, so I walked around to the far side of the mule fat to see if I could get a decent look. There he was, looking for love, at almost point blank range (about 20 yards from me and about the same distance from Pacific Coast Highway). What an opportunity to take some video to try out the new Kowa TE-11WZ 25-60x wide angle eyepiece on my Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope! You can see the rail’s body shake with every call, and if you look closely, you can see his tongue.

Continue reading

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