Category Archives: Digiscoping

Digiscoping is the act of connecting a camera to a spotting scope to take photos or videos of subjects that may be too distant for conventional camera lenses, or require getting so close to the subject that it ceases the behavior you want to capture.

Kowa TSN-EX16 Extender Review

Kowa TSN-EX16 Extender exploded

Kowa TSN-EX16 Extender (exploded view)

Kowa TSN-EX16 Extender

Kowa America recently released the Kowa TSN-EX16 Extender. The extender is placed between the body of a Kowa TSN-880 or TSN-770 spotting scope body and the eyepiece and multiplies the standard magnification by 1.6x. This is analogous to photographic lens extenders that mount between a camera’s lens and body. With the current 25-60x zoom eyepiece (Kowa TE-11WZ) that fits these spotting scopes, the resultant magnification becomes 40-96x!

But what about the historical downsides of extenders? How does the optical quality hold up? Is there much loss of light? What about sharpness and clarity? I took out my trusty TSN-884 and Panasonic Lumix G6 to find out. An accommodating Peregrine Falcon stayed long enough for me to get some test shots. Continue reading

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American White Pelicans Feeding Behavior

 

American White Pelicans Group

American White Pelicans preening

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of two species of pelican in North America, along with the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). While occasionally seen in the same locations, American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans prefer different habitats and their manner of feeding is as different as their plumage.
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Magpie – Black-billed and Yellow-billed

Black-billed Magpie

This Black-billed Magpie was photographed in Denver Colorado. It is common to see either of the American Magpie species walking on the ground foraging for food.

Magpie Origin

The magpies of North America are very visually distinctive from other birds and thus easy to identify. Although the Black-billed Magpie is very similar in appearance to the European Magpie, it is larger and genetically unique. DNA analysis places our two magpies as separate from the European Magpie. Under the same DNA distinctions that the American Magpies were divided from the European Magpies, the Korean subspecies should also be divided as a unique species. The ancestral magpies, after dispersing across Eurasia and becoming isolated in Korea, then crossed over the Bering Land Bridge into the Americas at about 3 to 4 million years ago. Strictly speaking, using DNA comparisons our two magpie species could also potentially be merged as a single species. Continue reading

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Olive-backed Pipit

Christmas arrived early in Orange County this weekend when, on November 1st, local birder, Jeff Bray, made the find of a lifetime: an Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) at Yorba Regional Park. It may not sound like much, but it’s a really big deal.

Olive-backed Pipit – Previous Continental Records

Olive-backed Pipit 9565

Olive-backed Pipit, Yorba Regional Park, 01-NOV-14

For starters, there were only 3 previous records of this species in North America away from Alaska. (Here, North America is defined geographically as including Mexico – not the birding definition). Olive-backed Pipits had previously been found in Washoe, Nevada in 1967, in Baja in 1996 and on the Farallon Islands in California in 1998. So the take-home message is, these guys don’t show up very often! Whenever a call like this goes out, birders do their version of a ‘flash mob’, and the one at Yorba Regional Park on Saturday was very impressive! I was among the first 20 birders there, but soon birders began arriving from all over the map in minutes. And soon it was a who’s who of southern California birders. And why not? This little Olive-backed Pipit really put on a show! It led us a merry dance at first, flying from place to place within the park, landing in heavy cover and skulking around so low that often the only visible indication it was there was movement of the vegetation it was walking under. But eventually, it came out on the lawn between the picnic tables where it fed calmly for about an hour, giving everyone incredible looks. In fact, the bird was remarkably cooperative, seemingly oblivious to the constant whir of camera shutters and the quiet conversation of excited birders. Continue reading

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Red-throated Pipits Return to SoCal

Red-throated Pipits

Red-throated Pipit

Migration of Red-throated Pipits

One of the most amazing migratory flights is that of the Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus. This pipit breeds primarily in eastern Europe and Asia, almost completely above the Arctic Circle, and on the Kamchatka Peninsula. There are also some breeding grounds in Alaska’s northwest coast, Bering Sea islands, and possibly also in the Yukon. Most Red-throated Pipits migrate down the western Pacific and winter in China and as far south as Australia. Some of the more eastern breeders take a more easterly route. These 6-inch passerines fatten up on the islands in the Bering Sea and then head off on a 3,000 mile flight across the Pacific Ocean to the California coast. While annual each October in southern California in small numbers, mostly on sod farms, Red-throated Pipits are almost unheard of much north of the San Francisco Bay Area. This tells us that they rarely follow land and fly straight across the ocean. The Red-throated Pipits that migrate through SoCal winter in Baja California. eBird records show them wintering near La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Continue reading

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Dance of the Reddish Egret

When people find out I’m a birder, one of the most frequent questions is “What’s your favorite bird?” Sometimes I’ll give a flippant answer such as “My next life bird.” Other times, I’ll say that I love all birds and can’t pick a favorite – that each is special in its own way. I do have an affinity for Magnificent Frigatebirds, because seeing an adult male flying fifteen feet over my head while standing on a dock on Key West was the experience that triggered my choice to actively pursue the hobby of birding. But there are in fact some birds that are definitely cooler than others, be they prettier, uglier, sweet singers, or just plain quirky. One of these is the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufecens).

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Orange Bishop

Male Orange Bishop along San Diego Creek in Costa Mesa, California

Male Orange Bishop

Since we recently wrote a post related to the unusual occurrence of a Yellow-crowned Bishop it seemed logical to also address Orange Bishop here too. Orange Bishop is also native to Africa, yet in the case of this species it is already well established and fairly common here in Southern California. This bird is certainly no less striking than the Yellow-crowned Bishop although its behavior is quite different. Fortuitously, Orange Bishop was in the same location along San Diego Creek as the Yellow-crowned Bishop. Continue reading

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Getting Close to Bugs

Painted Lady - getting close

Painted Lady

The old saying goes “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” But those of us who like to study butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, or anything in nature that doesn’t quite require a microscope, know that many other things could work in the saying. Getting close looks at and/or photographing them requires optics that let you see these beauties in enough detail. That means being able to focus at very short distances. On the Optics4Birding website, a binocular’s close focus distance must be less than 8 feet to be considered close-focusing. The butterfly photos in this post were all captured with a lens that allows close focus as well. All these images are full frame. None of them were cropped, only resized to fit our page format. The Painted Lady (above) was feeding on nectar from these flowers. Continue reading

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Eastern Sierras – Handling the Expanse

One of the benefits of birding in California is the wealth of breathtaking scenery that we get to visit or pass by on birding trips. Well-known scenic wonders like Yosemite, Big Sur, Death Valley, and Lake Tahoe are just a few of the places that inspire awe. Driving around the state, I’ve developed an interest in geology as well, but birding is the main focus of my travels.

Minarets

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Wildlife Photography is like a Box of Chocolates

To paraphrase Forest Gump’s mother, wildlife photography, especially video, is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

After looking at shorebirds along the Los Angeles River last fall, we walked back to the car through a park along the river. It was late morning and butterflies and dragonflies were quite active.

Dragonflies have two main methods of getting food: hawking and patrolling. In hawking, the dragonfly perches on the end of a branch, stump, or rock and waits for its prey to come flying by. In patrolling, the dragonfly flies up and down an area, often a path or road, and searches out its prey. Patrolling dragonflies are notoriously difficult to photograph because they are hardly ever perched.

As we walked along, I noticed a Flame Skimmer sitting perched on a stick in the middle of a planted area. Fortunately, Flame Skimmers are hawking dragonflies, so I decided to digiscope some video through my Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope. I set up, zoomed in, and started recording, waiting for something interesting to happen. The first few times the skimmer flew off its perch, I stopped recording, but it kept returning. Interested in showing that behavior, I started a new clip and decided to let the video run until it came back. Was I ever surprised and happy.

When the Flame Skimmer returned to its perch, it was chewing away on a gnat! I never expected that. What a surprise! Isn’t wildlife photography fun?

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