Our birdwatching gear. Part 1 : Eyes, books, binos, scopes and cameras

Cristina and I have been preparing for a lot of birdwatching and other wildlife observation. We are in the beginners’ end, which is worth sharing, I think.

If you look around the internet a bit for beginners tips for bird watching, you will find the tip not to gear up too much at the beginning. The equipment such as binoculars, cameras, and telescopes are available in a great price range, starting from not cheap to insanely expensive. If you ask me, the very cheap equipment is not worth your money because the quality simply does not suffice. So we have a mix of equipment with various qualities for wildlife observation.

We kept losing the pen. That’s solved now

We brought the following: a bird-identification field-guide, three cameras, three smartphones, a pair of binoculars (or ‘binos’ for short) and a telescope (a ‘scope’) with the tripod and a clip-on.

The field guide is the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica. A field guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, which by all references seems to be the book to use. I wouldn’t be able to judge, but it claims to describe ‘all 903’ species found in Costa Rica. It’s probably more than we need and it is unlikely that we spot a bird that is not in there. We write down in the book where and when we see a bird for the first time during this year.

Eyes

To the absolute beginners of wildlife observation, including photo safaris, walks in the forests, snorkeling and what have you, it may come as a surprise that nothing helps to spot animals better than your naked eye – well, perhaps you need glasses, but that’s it. One normally does not find animals with binoculars. It is too much work to scan your surroundings with them. Also, they limit your vision. More often than not, you spot an animal because you see something moving somewhere in a place that you are not focusing on, the typical corner-of-the-eye.

Once you notice an animal, you can bring in the binos or the (tele)scope for a better look. Or, you will use them when you are not sure whether that particular thing in the shade is an animal.

Binos and scopes

Binos and scopes are meant to magnify what you see. They do so in different ways. Binos usually magnify a lot less than scopes. Typically, they would magnify about 10 to 20 times, whereas telescopes start at 20 times, up to unimaginable (for the ones that look at the stars). However, binos are also smaller, lighter and you can look through them while holding them in your hands. Also, they allow you to see depth because each eye is being served. Telescopes magnify so much that they require a tripod to hold them steady enough. They don’t allow seeing depth but it is easy to get used to that.

Cameras

We want to spot the birds and identify them, but we would also like to make some great pictures and/or pictures to prove that we have seen them or to help identifying the bird. Sometimes, the bird is difficult to see or we see it only briefly. They don’t pose a lot for our convenience.

Obviously, you(we?) want a perfect image, which is sharp, light, and in true colors. That is possible but it comes at a high price in the shop, and the stuff can get so big and heavy that it becomes ‘equipment’. There is a whole science and a world of online forums about image quality, but I suggest you look that up yourself.

What is your favorite gear for photo safaris?


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