Category Archives: Spotting Scopes

Spotting scopes are terrestrial telescopes that pick up where binoculars leave off. They have much larger magnifications and are usually mounted on a tripod or other support device. In these configurations, potting scopes make it easier to share a view with others without having to give complicated directions about where to look.

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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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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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.

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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Blood Moon in Southern California

The first of four total eclipses of the moon was visible late in the evening of April 14, 2014. A total lunar eclipse may also be known as a blood moon because the only light that hits the moon is that which has been refracted towards the moon while passing through our atmosphere. In essence, this has the effect of casting a red sunset onto the moon. Going forward, one of the remaining three total eclipses of the moon will occur each 6 months. This frequency of total eclipses has not occurred in over three hundred years.

The events are also unique for multiple other reasons. The first reason is because all four eclipses will be visible from somewhere in North America. This first eclipse had the added attraction of also being on the same night as the closest approach of Mars to the earth since 2008. The blood moon was just below the red planet. A celestial event that will not happen again in our lifetimes.

Having a telescope made the event special although it was clearly visible with the naked eye (or good spotting scope / binoculars from Optics4Birding!). The video below was taken from my home. You may notice that in these photos the moon is oriented the same as what you see with your eyes. It has not been flipped or rotated as images are in most astronomical telescopes. This is a unique advantage of spotting scopes in both photography and viewing. These photos were shot using an 85mm Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope and Canon 7D camera with the appropriate digiscoping adapters. A very simple and quality setup that we have showcased in other posts here on our blog.

 

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Black-headed Grosbeak: Video using Swarovski ATX 85

Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park in Laguna Niguel, California is a wonderful place to go in the spring to see summer resident breeding birds. The habitat is a combination of coastal sage scrub with willow and cottonwood riparian areas along the creek that runs down the center of the canyon. Late March and early April is the perfect time to see and hear Greater Roadrunner, Least Bell’s Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Knowing this, I headed there one morning to try digiscoping with my micro 4/3 format camera through the Swarovski ATX Modular Eyepiece with the Swarovski 85mm Modular Objective. The Chats weren’t in yet, and the only Blue Grosbeak I encountered was high in a willow against bright marine layer clouds – a difficult background to work with.

As luck would have it, this Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus was posted up and singing with foliage in the background. The bird was so vivid and singing so beautifully that I immediately decided that video was called for. Mounting the camera to the scope was effortless, thanks to the Swarovski TLS-APO adapter, and I was rolling seconds after I had focused on the Grosbeak with the scope.

The pale gray downy feathers are part of the Grosbeak’s insulation system and the chill from the previous night had not yet left the air.

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A New Bird Species for San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

imagehawkOn a routine weekend in late November, we went to look at a Harris’s Hawk reported recently at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, California. Even though this bird is likely to not be accepted by the Orange County Bird Records Committee due to questionable origins, you just can’t miss a bird that cool in a location like this. We arrived at about 8:45 on a sunny Saturday morning. There had to be at least 200 Cedar Waxwings calling from the parking lot as we got set up and headed out. We walked to the end of the boardwalk, and there was the hawk, sitting regally in a bare branched tree. After taking numerous photos of him, we headed back towards the main pond area. Our walk was interrupted by a nice male Sharp-shinned Hawk who posed obligingly in a sycamore some 200 feet away. Next up was what seemed like at least 7-8 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, all fussing away like tiny, angry felines. As we got back to Pond D, one of the birders with us asked “Isn’t that the Vermilion Flycatcher?” He was right! It was, and a nice bright male at that.

Blackbird-Rusty-2011-11-26-012While that bird was being photographed, one of us noticed what appeared to be a Brewer’s Blackbird, walking along the shore of Pond D in the stubble of sedge stalks. Closer examination revealed that this bird had a tremendous amount of cinnamon plumage on the crown, nape and saddle, a bright pale supercilium extending well behind the pale yellowish eye, and pale gray between the wings and on the rump. This was an apparent female Rusty Blackbird, a first for San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and only about the third for Orange County. Further observation revealed the handsome rufous edging to the flight feathers contrasting with the shiny black wings. The bird showed a paler brownish gray chest with faint, short vertical streaking across the chest and belly, all consistent with a female Rusty Blackbird. Rusty Blackbird is a species of special concern in the United States at large, where its population has been in precipitous decline in recent years.

Blackbird-Rusty-2011-11-26-042All images were taken with a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope with 20-60x zoom eyepiece and a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera attached using a Kowa TSN-DA-10 digiscoping adapter. The optics were mounted on a Manfrotto 701HDV,055CXV3 carbon fiber tripod with digiscoping head. The two Rusty Blackbird photos are of the same bird – one in direct sun at 160 feet, the other in shade at about 40 feet. The difference in these two photos illustrates how much lighting can alter the appearance of a subject.

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