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I Hate Scopes

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, January 31, 2011 

This is not a response to Tim’s post, it is in regards to hawk watching only, but the timing is good because of Tim’s post and I already had it written. I hate spotting scopes for hawk watching (I mean birds in flight on migration, not sitting birds). Why? Because I think it hinders the learning process. Birders will learn much more taking notice of shape and flight style in binoculars than trying to notice some plumage marking in a scope. Every time I look through a scope it takes my eyes several minutes to focus again. I know you should keep both eyes open when you look through a scope, but it still doesn't help me. I think scopes are great for watching perched shorebirds, gulls, ducks, etc. but for flying raptors, scopes are for suckers! In fact, any hawk watching field trips I may lead in the future, there will be one rule -- no scopes. I wonder if anyone will show up? You’d be surprised what you could identify in binoculars when you steady yourself! Honestly, is it fun to stare at some speck in the scope for minutes on end? I’d rather just study birds with my binoculars, and if its so far away its “invisible”, then screw it….who cares?

I’ve been at hawk watching sites where there were spotting scopes lined up in a row. I think most people think they need a scope to identify birds, or they think they are going to miss something that someone else with a scope can see. I used to know a guy who would scan with his scope to find the most distant bird on the horizon, and then watch it for 10 minutes, only to misidentify it in the end and miss the rest of the flight in an attempt to impress someone. Some people just feel insecure without their scope. I’m not interested in being the first to name a distant bird. There are people who swear by scopes, and will tell me I'm crazy or just dead wrong about them…I’ve heard it all. And they are probably the people who have never watched without a scope. I know this post is biased, but just my thoughts and those who like scopes for raptors…more power to you. Besides, it’s much easier to carry binoculars. If you are going to use a scope for flying birds, make sure you have an eyepiece that has a wide field of view. If you can’t find birds in flight, you are wasting your time.

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Blogger Tim Avery said...

Jerry, I say do it! No scopes on a hawk watching trip is a great idea. I have never taken my scope to a hawk watch site, and have never seen a reason too. I do use one from the valley occasionally to scan the mountain, but that is only because I am usually a 1/2 mile or mile away and just want to see whats up there.

I always tell people to bring scopes on field trips where shorebirds, waterfowl, and gulls are involved. Also in places where there are large open areas that a scope is useful to scan the tops of bushes. But that's it.

I can't imagine lugging a scope up a mountain on my back either, I mean talk about overkill!

January 31, 2011 at 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Sometimes I leave my binoculars at home and just take the camera....laziness, and it gives a unique perspective to bird watching

January 31, 2011 at 2:03 PM  
Blogger Birding is Fun! said...

At the Idaho Bird Observatory Hawk Watch, they don't count hawks observed thru spotting scopes, only binoculars or bare eyes. Not sure why, but they don't. They sometimes have a scope on hand, but it is just to show guests the Broadwings.

I like a scope for shorebirds and gulls, but since mine was stolen, then a borrowed one got broken, I've been scope-less. I feel like I need one for upcoming Spring birding at Bear River refuge. Otherwise I don't enjoy birding with a scope.

I've gone birding with just my camera, but I feel I am betraying the spirit of birding and going to the dark side of bird photography. So I keep my binoculars on and look at the bird first then I allow myself to go the camera.

January 31, 2011 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Vic Berardi said...

Totally agree with Jerry on this. As he points out he is referring specifically to hawk watching, birds in flight. I can't tell you how many raptors I failed to identify because I thought I'd get a better look in the scope only to realize finding a speck in the sky with a scope takes away valuable time that could be spent rather than just figuring out the ID in your binoculars in the first place. As Jerry said, it (hawk watching, birds in flight), especially when it comes to learning, is all about shape and flight style anyway, not color or plumage. Additionally, on a difficult bird that lingers a bit, I'd much rather snap a photo or two of a raptor I'm having trouble IDing and spend time looking at the shot after the bird is long gone than use a scope. There is not much of an advantage to using a scope power-wise over binoculars except that it is on a tripod which holds it steady and may keep the image more stable. And the higher the power the more unstable the image becomes. I do like using a scope for perched raptors and other birds, but so rarely use it nowadays that I hardly bring it along with me anymore. And I only use a 20X wide angle lens when I do use it.

February 1, 2011 at 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

I agree, less power is more in regards to birds in flight with a scope. I only have one eyepiece for my old Bushnell spacemaster (don't anybody mock it, its a great scope dammit...with your Leicas and Kowas), its a 22x wide angle. The thing is so easy to locate birds with...I use it for work when surveying cliffs I can't get close to.

February 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM  
Anonymous M. said...

Hey Jerry, Got a Kowa - love it! Use it all the time for raptors! But...in the spring. When they're nesting. Can't imagine being able to do nest counts accurately without one. It's essential to unobtrusively find active nest sites early in the season, and keep track of behavior from a distance - mating, incubation, hatching, food deliveries, fledging, etc. But once the birds are in the air the thing is an overpriced paper weight. I brought it out to the Goshutes last fall and set it up once to check out a full moon, then brought it home the next time I had an empty pack going down. Good binos and an eye to the sky get way more fliers than a scope. But since Eagles are starting to sit together, it'll soon be scope season again.

February 2, 2011 at 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Will you stop with the "M" and just say "Mike Shaw said"...what are you afraid of, I'll protect you.

February 2, 2011 at 9:20 PM  
Anonymous M is for Mike said...

Just trying to out-hermit the hermit - LOL!
BTW: Speaking of birds starting to do the courtship thing, 2 Red-tails were sitting together early this morning on the south end of the Cottonwood Mall by BC Creek. One was the resident light western, and the other appeared to be a dark morph. Possibly the bird that frequents Wasatch Blvd. around the Tolcate area. If only I had my scope...

February 3, 2011 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Just My Take said...

I encourage everyone to bring their scopes so Jerry can say "stop monkeying the scope" and start prancing around like a gorilla.

February 6, 2011 at 6:43 AM  
Blogger Tim Schreckengost said...

I just started hawk watching this past year and tried using a scope, but found it is much easier to scan with binoculars.

February 6, 2011 at 9:16 AM  

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