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Best way to get documentation photos seawatching (1 Viewer)

connorco

Well-known member
United States
I'm not sure if there has already been a topic like this, but I'd be interested in seeings people opinions on this. One thing I struggle with when seawatching is obtaining documentation photos of something interesting. I'm guessing the best way is just try to digiscope and hope you can stay on the moving bird. I was wondering if anyone else had methods that worked better.
 

Dave Ball

Well-known member
I'm not sure if there has already been a topic like this, but I'd be interested in seeings people opinions on this. One thing I struggle with when seawatching is obtaining documentation photos of something interesting. I'm guessing the best way is just try to digiscope and hope you can stay on the moving bird. I was wondering if anyone else had methods that worked better.
When I was considering retiring to somewhere I could seawatch regularly (I ended up staying in Bedfordshire where the seawatching isn’t great), I thought about creating a multi-headed tripod, with observation binoculars (15x80 or similar) up on top in the natural position to rest your eyes against, a high-powered scope (60x or more) lower and to the right, zeroed to point at the same spot as the bins, used by bending your head down and forward to the right, and then a digiscoping camera positioned to swing down onto the scope while you track the bird with the bins. Should work, though to be stable the mount would have to be heavy and it would be a lot to lug up to Gwennap Head (probably too much for me these days).

It would obviously cost a bit as well, and the dual head might need to be custom built (there could be film or astronomic mounts that might be adaptable, but if not it would only basically be metalwork).
 

Mono

Hi!
Staff member
Supporter
Europe
I would have thought that the obvious thing would be video. Just run it continuously, dashcam style, and then when anything interesting comes by dump the video to memory.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
I thought there was a scope you could buy with camera permanently attached which could film - both at once?
 

Stephen Dunstan

Registered User
Probably better with pen & paper . . .

Are you? That bird was also video recorded and seen by several observers along the coast.

I had a seabird which was a national first and if I hadn't got an image I wouldn't even have submitted it.
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
Are you? That bird was also video recorded and seen by several observers along the coast.

I had a seabird which was a national first and if I hadn't got an image I wouldn't even have submitted it.
Yeah, I've seen the photos of it - grainy smudges πŸ˜‚
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
This isn't an easy question, as evidenced by the replies so far!
The key problem is when seawatching you are trying to find a moving target often at considerable range (i.e. 1km or more), against a backdrop of a turbulent sea, often with accompanying rain with a strong onshore wind (given the typical conditions likely to move birds close in shore and turn up something worth recording). It is difficult enough to get onto a distant procellarid and follow it with a 'scope, let alone aim and focus a digiscoping setup or camera and get a usable image or video, amidst the excitement of something rare - so kudos to those who manage it. In a seawatching scenario, it ideally demands a team effort, insofar as you'd need the 'scope viewers to guide the photographer / videographer onto target, and the latter to forego the pleasure of viewing the bird in order to concentrate on getting a usable image (ideally video, as Stephen points out).
If you are seawatching alone then I don't think digiscoping is the answer as you need the full functionality of the 'scope to find the birds in the first place, not least the ability to finely adjust focus (does a terrestrial 'scope which allows you to use the eyepiece for observations whilst recording video exist??). So, you either need a rig like the one Dave was planning, or a camera to hand with a decent reach you can pick up, point and shoot without too much prior thought. Perhaps something like a Sony RX10? Bigger sensor than the average superzoom, apparently good video capability, and small enough to sit in a waterproof bag next to you until needed.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
I have taken my only photos of a Leach's Storm Petrel using a 400mm lens. I did not see the bird in the viewfinder, but my wife was standing next to me and giving me descriptions of waves around which it flies ... The bird turned out clear on the pictures, but I don't think this is a reliable method :) Probably the best would be to prefer places with some ... seamarks? :) But that's not available all the time. Still I think that a camera with a long lens will always be better for a fast moving target than digiscoping, it's really just about getting it into the field of view. Maybe for this it's worth chipping in for a big body with a large viewfinder, where you see the things better - and there are also these extra optical thingies that you can put in front of the viewfinder to increase magnification, that may be useful as well.
 

Mark Newsome

Born to seawatch...
There are many variables in this subject - money is a big one. If you have the cash, getting a more distant but very sharp image using a DSLR with 500 or 600mm lens would be preferable to a blurred larger image from digiscoping/inferior camera. But not everyone has a few grand to buy such a lens or the will to carry it down to a seawatching point every time. I often try with a 500mm Sigma lens, but can't always be arsed in carrying it. Friends have 'superzooms' like the Sony and get very good images at distance too (def good enough to get a record shot if it was something really rare). Other friends have tried the side by side scope/video option to good effect. There are birds I wouldn't even bother trying for - storm-petrels and phalaropes would be near impossible to get shots of where I watch from, so I'd just enjoy them. But with possible White-billed Divers, even poor record shots can be conclusive for ID one way or the other.

I saw the giant petrel off Whitburn a couple of years back and got some (very) poor video by hand-holding my mobile phone to my scope. But it was better than nothing. With something really good, there'll always be a balance of studying the bird to get as much detail as possible and grabbing hasty photo/video which may or may not help in the ID. Good when it works, but you can miss birds by messing about too much.

Mark
 

cafe birder

Well-known member
Supporter
A couple of years back I saw someone at pendeen with two scopes mounted side by side on a T bracket. One had a camera attached with a cable release. He watched through one scope and triggered the camera each time something interesting came into his scope. It seemed a great solution but I've no idea as to the results or indeed, who he is. Regular Cornish seawatchers will presumably know.
 

Stonefaction

Stuck in Dundee.....
Scotland
At Fife Ness (usually from the relative comfort of a hide) I tend to scan with binoculars, usually working from the direction most birds are moving and try to get on birds as early as possible with plenty of sea ahead of them - when I pick up a Diver/Shearwater/Skua (or wildfowl/waders), I switch quickly to camera (DSLR with 500mm zoom lens) and usually have an idea of roughly where I was looking and try to pick up bird from there. For Shearwaters it can be tricky depending on sea-state, so for those I move well ahead of where bird last was and work back towards it, in the hope I can pick it up again. So far, the best I've had have been 2 White Billed Divers which were ID-d from the resultant pics, and a Cory's Shearwater that I failed to get onto with camera, but thankfully had a more experienced birder sat next to me who got onto the bird with his scope and ID'd it and submitted description - which was accepted. I've started to use a scope more often than bins but I find it harder to judge how far out I was actually looking. Using bins does mean I miss a LOT of birds well out towards the horizon but no matter how I do it, I'll always miss something, but getting the photos does mean there's a better chance to get a positive ID/acceptance of a record than not getting the pics.
 

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