First, we invite you to read our previous article on “How to choose my Telescope”, which mentions essential things to consider before buying a birding scope.
Now, let’s talk about how to use a scope for birding.
Before anything else, it is important to mention that it will come in different components when you purchase a telescope. Depending on the brand, those components may differ in number. Still, your telescope will likely arrive separated in body, eyepiece, and support or tripod. In some cases, the head of support will also come separately.
So, the first important thing to do is to ensure you set up your birding scope properly according to the indications of the brand.
A man practising using his new telescope.
Once you manage this first step, it’s time to get familiar with your scope. We encourage you to practice a few things in a safe environment, such as:
- How to use the pieces on the tripod that allow you to extend or close it;
- The best way or the most comfortable way for you to carry the scope;
- How to adjust focus, use magnification and combine both.
Then, to master the use of your scope before wanting to spot birds without disappointment, you need to take it outside and use it in different contexts and scenarios.
Choose fixed points or objects to get familiar with distances, points of reference to pass to the image on the scope, and differences between binoculars and scope. And start practising the positioning of the scope in your range of action so you don’t stumble in your or others' tripods, your posture while using the scope and using either eye and with both eyes open to reduce eyestrain over long periods.
A Swarovski telescope with a sight-targeting line.
Now that you have spent some time learning about your scope, there is only one way to improve - practising!
Some bird groups are easier to get improvement in scoping observation, such as aquatic and shore birds. Others, on the other hand, like passerines or raptors, can be a nightmare. But everything has its own pace and way through.
If you wish to be able to spot raptors in flight, let’s say, for instance, during migration, you have to get used to looking at the sky and looking for references. You can practice with clouds and planes before going for smaller and faster things like birds. Another way to improve this skill is by using the telescope to line up the bird you are trying to see, similarly to the barrel of a gun. You may find on some telescopes a sight line to help you do this.
Men doing sea birdwatching on their knees due to strong wind.
It might also be helpful to know that you can adapt your scope observation according to the natural elements, adjusting the tripod to different angles or altitudes. For example, if you enjoy sea birdwatching, you are likely to face strong winds, which sometimes is the best forecast to spot marine birds near the coast. So one way to prevent discomfort, accidents or failure is to kneel down and reduce the exposure to the wing. Even better if you can protect yourself using a car or a lighthouse, for example.
On the other hand, if you like to observe the raptors' migration, you are likely to need to adjust the altitude of your telescope using a combination between the tripod's extension and the tripod's head. That will give you more angles to aim the scope to higher altitudes in the sky without getting stuck in the tripod feet. Another way to do it is to extend the tripod feet to their maximum, “opening it”, which also gives crucial stabilisation when facing strong winds.
Stretching the tripod’s legs and raising the tripod’s head extension to offer better angles and stabilisation in a telescope.
Finally, for many possible reasons, you may have to use your scope from inside your car. For instance, when the weather is too extreme (strong wind, warm temperatures, etc.) or when you leave the car can cause the birds you want to see to fly away. For these situations, you can figure out a way to stabilise your telescope in the window yourself or look for a specific adapter.
As a final note, we would like to remind you of the importance of preserving your telescope to ensure its quality and prolong its durability. Getting a case for the body of the scope, using eyepiece covers, and keeping a constant and proper cleaning are three great ways to increase the life of a telescope.