Digiscoping In Low Light

I mentioned in a previous post that I went up North to get a look at all the boreal owls that are showing up. The trip was originally intended for just Sax Zim Bog birding, but we spent some time in Duluth first to see some owls.  Speaking of which, there is some major public shaming going on with a few well-known photographers who are accused of baiting birds across busy highways or just being complete jerkwads and walking in front of large groups of people to get closer to the owls and causing the boreals to fly away. So anyone with a camera going to see owls, I encourage you to follow Wheaton's Law. Friends of Sax Zim Bog

We didn't have as much time for the bog as I'd like and we didn't get to see everything, but we saw some cool birds nonetheless. I may go back up again later on to try and get photos of the birds I missed photographing like black-backed woodpecker and boreal chickadee.  If it weren't for my Big Half Year Challenge, I would just say, "Ah, next year." But I'm really digging this challenge I've set for myself.  Our guide, Erik Bruhnke took us to the site where Friends of Sax Zim Bog hope to build their welcome center--this is the site I'm raising money for!  They already have some bird feeders (and a port-a-potty) set up but hopefully there will be a building there soon to help people find the best places to visit to see birds.

redpoll at feeder

By the time we got to the bog, I knew that light would be fading fast for photos.  So long as some of the specialty songbirds like common redpolls would hit feeders in sunshine, I knew I would be fine.

hoary redpoll and common

The redpolls were quite cooperative, except for one hoary redpoll who only allowed me blurry photos of it (the light colored redpoll with the smaller bill on the left in the above photo).  But I considered it a triumph that for once I was able to pick out a hoary redpoll on my own.

pine grosbeak


The pine grosbeaks were also very cooperative and readily perched in the sun...though they may also appreciate the little bit of warmth that comes with it.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 9.19.31 AM

We had great views of boreal chickadee, but all my shots are too dark and blurry. That's one of the shots of the snowy road at the boreal chickadee spot...the chickadee photos are worse!  I even tried to experiment using my Nikon V1 in video mode while digiscoping to see if that would get a shot. Usually when it's lowlight conditions, video is a great way to document birds.  But the video on the Nikon v1 made them all too dark. I thought about trying the timer on the Nikon, but the boreal chickadee is not a bird that sits still very long...

Then we had an opportunity when two great gray owls appeared right at dusk along the road.  I HAD to try and digiscope that, even though the sun had set.  I played with the settings on my camera and used it as an opportunity to test out the timer features on the Nikon v1.  The upside about owls is that if they are not actively hunting (or pestered by people) they will stay in the same spot and not move too much. So here is what I came up with by using my timer:

great gray timer


Not too bad.  Don't get me wrong--there were several photos of the owl's head facing the other way or the head in mid spin, but I got about three photos leaving the camera attached to the scope and setting the timer to go off 10 seconds haver I pushed the shutter button. It does have the option to take a photo 2 seconds for 5 seconds later, but I wanted to give the camera enough time to stop shaking after I pressed the shutter.

Great Gray Owl iPhone

Since there were two owls and they were being stationary, I tried getting a photo or two with my iPhone 4s.  It actually did very well and this is with me HAND HOLDING the phone to the scope and not using a timer.  Not bad considering that it's dusk.  The 4s handles low light much better than the Nikon V1.

I even tried to video the encounter and realized that if the light is this low, get video with the iPhone and not the Nikon V1:


There is some hand shake because it was 12 degrees with a windchill of 6 degrees Fahrenheit. But still, not bad at all for a souvenir bird.

Sax Zim Bog


One last thing about visiting Sax Zim bog...make sure you have a high clearance vehicle that and drive gravel roads that are rarely (if ever) plowed. That's one of the perks of hiring a guide...they usually have vehicles that can handle it if you do not. Again, as far as guides go, I can't recommend Erik Bruhnke enough--he's enthusiastic, full of naturalist info and personal observations. After hearing about what he finds here in summer, I may have to brave the mosquitoes and hire him to take me birding up here in warm weather. Plus, I love supporting a young kid making his way in a birding career. Other guides that I've birded with and highly recommend include Sparky Stensaas (the guy who created the Big Half Year concept) and Frank Nicoletti.

To see my most up to date tally of my birds for my Digiscoping Big Half Year, visit my Flickr set. If you are interested in pledging to the Big Half Year, either to for me or any of the other participants, please do.  It's a great cause for a great birding area and you can even pledge as low as $10.  Thank you to everyone who has donated so far.  I truly do appreciate it!