Category Archives: Insects

When the days get hot and the birds go to hide, many birders turn to the study of butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies. Their vivid colors and intricate patterns can be quite fascinating. With the help of binoculars and spotting scopes, you can get close enough for a good view without scaring off the subject.

The Death of Planet Earth

NASA 'Epic' Earth image

NASA Captures “EPIC” Earth Image

Has mankind really driven the planet to the edge of a catastrophic crash of life? Is greed blinding us to what is right in front of our faces? Some would say maybe these claims are a little too reactionary.  Okay, so a bit of Florida gets wet, and maybe some people will have to move inland. Can’t science just come up with new technologies to solve the dilemmas we face? Does industry just need to develop a practical and economical electric car? What would happen if we just did “business as usual”? The claims of doom are a bit extreme and, if we accept them at face value, they are really inconvenient to living our lives. What is science telling us about what is happening right now, what we face in the very near future, and what can be done to avoid it?

Earth really is exceptional. From our naturalist point of view, this planet’s life is unimaginably beautiful and breath-takingly diverse. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that Earth’s abundance and diversity is disappearing. There is a point at which this decline becomes mass extinction, and that point is much closer than you may think. Our own survival is indeed inextricably tied to the health of our world. If we expect science to save us, then we need to listen to what science is telling us. A brief yet preliminary look at our origins will help. First let’s cover some basics. Continue reading

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Filigree Skimmer 3rd record in CA


Filigree Skimmer face on

When the dog days of summer become the birding doldrums, some birders turn to other flying creatures. The most accessible of these are butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies, all of which require binoculars with excellent close focus. It was unusual recently that a birder birding San Timoteo Creek in Redlands, Riverside County, CA discovered a pair of Filigree Skimmer dragonflies (Pseudoleon superbus). As the species has only recorded twice before in California, we went to take a look. 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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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. Animals do things on their own volition, so it always pays to wait and watch.

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. Although we are primarily birders, we are interested in all of nature. So, we stopped to see what we could find.

Dragonfly Feeding Behavior

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 stationary.

The Wildlife Photography Surprise

As we walked along, I noticed a Flame Skimmer. It was 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 with my micro four thirds camera. 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.

Letting the video run really paid off. 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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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. As they compare this with other 80mm class scopes, it performs so well that 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!

When Swarovski first announced their new design that allowed switching objectives to different sizes I’ll have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. All the same, the different sizes offered interesting possibilities and some really impressive capabilities. Since the guys have written a bit about the 85mm objective in other posts here and have shown some impressive results with 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 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.

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 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 65mm module. The intent of this picture was twofold. First is brightness, color, and sharpness. I’ll let the image speak for itself and just say that if I can get this photo through the scope with a camera, what you see looking through the eyepiece is really bright and sharp. 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.

Most of us know that the more light you let in through the objective end of a scope the more potential clarity, resolution, color and contrast you can get out the eyepiece to see stuff. The problem in the past has often been size limitations of what was reasonable to carry in the field. The balance was to have objectives in the 80mm range so you weren’t trying to carry around a big astronomical telescope (not mentioning the inverted image) that had a large objective to let in lots of light so you could get great detail even in poor lighting conditions. A larger objective opens a world of distant viewing in tough lighting conditions. My poor man’s test of this was to walk out in front of our store after work at night, in the bright street lights (light pollution), and take a picture with the 95mm objective.

distant photo taken with Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope

Photo of the moon using Swarovski ATX/STX spotting scope

The picture at the right is my attempt of low light, distant viewing. The ATX/STX scope with the 95mm objective, having a zoom range of 30-70x, also opens a possibility of zooming out at greater distances (most scope zoom ranges are 20-60x) and still seeing sharp images. The photo above was shot at about 7 feet away and in this photo my subject is about 240,000 miles away. So my quick test here might be more appropriately titled “Big or Small, Day or Night, Really Close or Way the Heck Out There”. If versatility and top performance are the deciding factors, then this scope is really hard to beat.

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