Digiscoping Challenges

Hello blog readers! Or should I say hola lectores del blog? I am back from my Guatemala birding adventure and am sorting through photos. I want to thank everyone who entered the guest blogging contest. There were many fantastic blog entries and I'm sorry that we couldn't post them all. Be sure to check out the voting for the top ten and select the entry you liked best (I'm having readers decide because Non Birding Bill and I had a tough enough time picking the top ten, let alone the best of all 53 entries).

I had a great time and learned something very interesting while birding in Central America: digiscoping is really hard! I'm pretty good at digiscoping, I'm fortunate to be able to do it often and I'm very familiar with my equipment. I can set up the shot and get my camera on the right settings without really thinking about it. I'm also very familiar with North American birds, I can sometimes predict how they will move on a perch to get a shot.

It was not the same in Guatemala, I had all new vegetation to figure out and the birds moved in different ways.

When I give digiscoping workshops, one of the things I hear the most is how someone can't get their equipment to work--usually because they've taken (at most) 20 photos that all turned out crappy and they don't understand why. You have to take dozens, if not hundreds of photos to get one decent shot. The more you work with your equipment, the more prepared you will be when a bird shows up and in the "perfect" pose. I've helped out at enough optics booths to know that many people buy their scope and digiscoping equipment right before they leave for a trip of a lifetime, barely enough time to get familiar with their equipment. If I had a tough time, how could someone with new equipment possibly get anything good going to a new area, with new birds, and not know how to work the camera and scope?

So, here are some conclusions that I came to while birding in Guatemala:

First, I had to pick my battles. I figured out quickly that I was going to be in sensory overload being around so many new species. The group we were with was very much a listing group, not so much a photography look. We'd try like the dickens to see certain species, but not really try for photos. So, when a cool ass bird like a pink-headed warbler was found, I needed to decide, "Do I want to try and aim the scope on a warbler, quite possibly missing it completely or do I want to really savor and watch this amazingly colorful warbler?" With most new species, I chose to watch the bird instead of trying to digiscope it. I did go for the pink headed warbler after a minute and the best I got was the above photo. You can see part of its head and vent from behind a leaf in the above photo.

Second, the lighting conditions in the neotropics were rather crappy. In the forest canopy, it's shady and many birds had a knack for perching with the sun directly behind them. Add incredibly tall trees and precarious scope angles and you end up with a blurry shot of a collared trogon (above).

However, there were many times when birds perched nearby, the lighting was not too bad and I could get that great shot of a berylline hummingbird--right down to its little white socks. So, I didn't get photos of every single bird (or even very good ones) but I do have some great stories and amazing birds to share.