Digiscoping The Meadows During Cape May's Autumn Weekend

I think my favorite place at Cape May is The Meadows, an area managed by The Nature Conservancy on the southwest tip of the Cape May peninsula. It has dunes, fresh and saltwater marshes, meadows, ponds, and a mile of beachfront. The lighting can be beautiful and during migration, you can get some great bird shots. There are plenty of ponds and marshes on either side of the trail so that you can get birds in both morning light and evening light if you take the time. Check out this swamp sparrow that was lurking in some of the bushes with some white-throats, the same area were I got the Carolina wren. In the morning or the evening, this place is just the best. Part of my fill in duties at the Cape May Autumn Weekend was to do Clay's digiscoping workshop. It was supposed to be both indoors and outdoors and the forecast was 100% chance of rain, lots of wind and probably some thunder and lightening. Most spotting scopes can take that...but not most cameras. Fortunately, it barely rained and the worse we had to digiscope in was some strong wind.

I had the pleasure of doing the workshop along with Cape May Bird Observatory volunteer Betty Lemley who does digiscoping workshops locally. She is a hoot and if you are going to be at CMBO and do any of their events, sign up for one of hers. A big part of digiscoping is just getting out there and working with your camera. I met one woman who was understandably frustrated with her digiscoping set up. She said that she could never get her photos to come out clear and sharp. She's seen photos on websites that are digiscoped images and were tack sharp, but hers did not turn out that way. I asked how many photos she took and she said not many and that she stopped because they weren't turning out like what she'd seen from others. I assured her for every photo that looks as good as the sparrow above, there are about 200 that look like this:

...or even worse. It takes a lot of photos to get one that looks in focus, even if you have great light, a great scope, and the best digiscoping camera on the market. Here's another example:

I can't tell you the number of duck shots that I have that are like this. It's tough to get them completely in the frame when they're swimming and feeding, plus figure out light settings and focusing. But with some patience and taking lots of shots, you can get a wigeon shot that looks like this:

I was having so much fun working my digiscoping mojo on the wigeon. I just love this duck: some rust, some green and then that big ole honkin' white stripe down the forehead. If you ever hear someone refer to a duck as a "bald pate" they are talking about the wigeon.

Sometimes you get birds that are back lit, like the above Savannah sparrow (there were a ton of these guys scurrying around all the surrounding vegetation, running along the trails, and hiding just as you were about to get the scope on them. You generally want the sun behind you when you're taking photos, but you can get what I call arty shots. Okay, sure this bird is never going to grace the cover of a birding magazine, but since I'm the person in charge of my own blog and I say it's arty, it's all good. Incidentally, I did work my way around this bird so the sun was behind me. It teed up on a stalk, in perfect light. Just as I was getting it in focus I heard the familiar "per CHUP per CHUP per CHUP" of a peregrine falcon. Just as I was thinking, "Crap, that sparrow is gonna bail," it ducked down in the grass before I could snap the photo. Peregrines, I love you guys, but not when you spook my photo subject!

When we took our group out for the field trip portion of our workshop, the rain had stopped but the wind picked up. We decided to go for it and though a few drops fell here and there, we stayed mostly dry. We went to the beach at the meadows and participants got to practice taking gull shots while being pelted by beach sand. Taking shots when it's cloudy is a challenge too, not always the easiest light to work with. In this shot, you can see some of the sand blowing around the great black-backed gulls.

We did work our way around and got the chance to get some waterfowl in the evening sun. I love the gadwalls. It's a gray duck but has the funniest quack. I've actually got it as a ring tone on cell phone, but it just lovely soft grays and black...even with a bill full of aquatic vegetation.

There was also a male hooded merganser hanging out with the waterfowl, a pleasant surprise.

A fun selection of birds and I hope people had a good time and have time to really work with their cameras. One big digiscoping mistake is that people order all their stuff right before they leave for a trip of a lifetime. You really need several days to get used to using the scope, know how to adjust the head on the tripod, what your camera is capable of. The more you play and become one with your setup the more usable photos you'll have.