Science

Spotting Scopes for Birdwatching: All You Need to Know

Arrival of winters is indeed a pleasant emotion for everyone and a bit more for birders, since with fall migration arrives the mesmerising flocks of migratory birds. And every birder emphasises on making the most of it, but for a new birder arises the question, “Do I need a spotting scope?” specifically for waterfowl and shorebirds!

This is a complete self-decisive question — you are the only one to decide if it’s worth the investment. There are various perks and detriments of buying and using a spotting scope, which I will be elaborating here. Also, the question arises here is that whether it is worth investing on a spotting scope at this point of time. Let’s first begin with understanding what exactly is a spotting scope and how it works.

What is a spotting scope? What can it do for me?

A spotting scope is a compact high-power optimised tool for detailed observation of distant objects. It looks like a small telescope with one eyepiece for observation, instead of two. Unlike handheld binoculars, it always requires a tripod to set it up and obtain maximum stability.

There are a multitude of uses for spotting scopes. It is most commonly used for birdwatching, wildlife viewing, hunting, and astronomy. Regardless of our hobby, the same criteria apply while choosing a spotting scope.

scope single abhishekakrishnagopal xx

A scope is also used for hunting and astronomy
Photo Credit: Abhisheka Krishnagopal

A binocular has 8×42 or 10×42 magnification, but a spotting scope takes magnification to another level usually starting from 15–20x range while zoomed out to 40–60x when zoomed in. This certainly help us obtain a much clear and better view of any far away subject that we are trying to observe. To begin with, a binocular is always handy, so first get comfortable using it and then should you head towards investing in a spotting scope.

Requirements:

Before going for a spotting scope, one must refine the goals. You must first decide what (birding, hunting) and where (like low light environments), you are going to use it. However, the low light performance can be improved by the use of bigger objective lens, but the size and durability of the scope should be primarily considered. Choosing waterproof units with durable shield is always a bonus.

Specifications:

The main specifications to consider are its magnification and lens diameter. Also, the field-of-view and eye relief should be well-thought-out, specially for glass wearers. A high magnification unit will always require a large objective lens. For example, a 60X magnification unit will need at least 80mm of aperture (60×80). Another aspect to be considered is the type of erecting system, i.e. whether a roof or Porro prism is used.

Considering the varied parameters, here’s a list of scopes convenient to begin your journey with:

  • Vanguard Vesta 460A Spotting Scope: Lightweight and high in performance with 15–50x magnification. The larger 60mm lens provides compact viewing in low light conditions.
  • Celestron 52320 Landscout 10–30×50 Spotting Scope: Affordable, easy-to-use, and perfect for any outdoor activity with 10–30x zoom.
  • Wellshot mk78070 25–75×70 Spotting Scope: Multi-coated optics equipped with BK7 prism provides you with bright and crystal-clear images. It is comfortable and practical.
  • Celestron Ultima 65 Angled Spotting Scope: Features a T-mount threading upon the eyepiece barrel, acts as an ultratelephoto lens, with 65–45x.
  • Belity Astronomical Telescope 90x HD Monocular Telescope Refractor Spotting Scope: Entry-level refractive astronomical telescope with 50mm aperture, 1.5x erecting eyepiece and 360mm focal length, perfect for stargazing.

Spotting scopes: Pros

The best part of using a scope is having a much better detailed and clear observation of whatever target subject you have. For birdwatching and stargazing, scopes are very helpful since these activities do not require much movement, hence a scope could be set up in a tripod and hands-free observation of our subject with minute details can be carried out for a prolonged duration.

Spotting scopes: Cons

To be honest spotting scopes are expensive, and if you are dedicated towards using it for a more crisp, clear and magnified observation, you got to pay the hefty price. Hence you should always remember to buy the absolute best one that you can afford.

Unlike a monocular, scopes always need a tripod along with it to function, hence you must include a good budget for it, because a tripod can make or break your experience of spotting scopes. Sometimes carrying this entire setup along with your binoculars and camera, might make it a bit rough, if you are to travel long distances for your destinations.

scope group abhishekakrishnagopal x

The best part of using a scope is having a much better detailed and clear observation
Photo Credit: Abhisheka Krishnagopal

Using spotting scopes: A few things to consider

  • Scopes are complex units, so proper maintenance is a must. Always remember to wipe the lenses from the center outward and avoid touching them.
  • Storing units is also crucial for reducing adverse effects. Protective lens and dust caps are a must.
  • Always consider the level of your commitment to the hobby. Not having a scope does not make you any less a birder or stargazer. Your gears are never a status symbol, nor does it reflect your skills.

Get the most out of it. Happy birding and happy scoping!


Somoyita Sur is a dynamic individual with Masters in Zoology and specialisation in Animal Ecology and Wildlife Biology from Gauhati University and is currently a doctoral research fellow in the Department of Zoology, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam. She is pursuing her research work in the field of road ecology, and currently working on the animal vehicle interaction in National Highway 715, that passes through Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. Her field of interests include landscape planning and management in relation to linear infrastructure and their intrusions in critical areas. Also, she is highly attracted to herpetofauna and birds. She is keen towards the field of ornithology and is a regular birder and an e-Birder.


This series is an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), under their programme ‘Nature Communications’ to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. To know more about birds and nature, Join The Flock.


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