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Scope for pelagic birds from shore


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I’m not quite ready to go on a pelagic, however people are seeing some good birds from some of the piers along the coast here, and I can never get some as I can’t zoom as far as I need to with binoculars. 
My question is, will getting a scope help me see birds lie, jaegers, shearwaters, and scoters in the ocean better? Or am I better of saving the money and using my 600mm lens on the crop body to get 960mm? Thanks so much for any thoughts. 

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A scope will help you see birds from shore, while a camera only lets you take photos of birds from shore. You will never get the kind of looks you need (diagnostic looks) of pelagic species with just binoculars, or even worse, your camera's viewfinder.

There are some birds one could reasonably expect to see from shore with binoculars under the right conditions, but there are many other species that almost assuredly will require a scope. Without getting into it too much, there are definitely situations where people claim pretty good pelagic species from shore with a scope or binos, and yet, in my experience, they are almost always mis-identifications and/or fabrications.

Granted, certain places such as Pt. Pinos in Monterey County get truly exceptional results (https://ebird.org/checklist/S60196395), which is often largely attributed to the natural geography of place (Monterey Bay), combined with the right weather/wind conditions and very veteran observers. Yet, more often than not, a spectacular pelagic bird is an extremely hard thing to come by from land, and documenting it with a picture is even more difficult.

Don't get me wrong, I love sea-watching very much, and the challenges it presents are unique, but you can't expect to get the same stuff as just simply going on a pelagic. What will help you get ready for a pelagic, besides dreaming of all the juicy birds you will never possibly see from land|?!?!

 

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This is strictly an uninformed, inexperienced opinion, but I don't see how a scope would be of much value for pelagics.  If the birds are flying, it will be VERY difficult to keep them in your field of view.  If they're on the water, they'll be obscured by waves a lot of the time.

Is there somewhere local you could rent a scope as a test, before you buy something that won't do what you want?

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If you feel confident enough to ID by sight, a scope.  If not, then camera and hope for the best.  If you have a stable enough tripod you can do a live view on the camera screen and get a better look than a scope.  Drains batteries quicker, but I have done that from time to time.  Tripod isn’t weighed down, so it gets very shaky when you go 10x on the zoom on screen.  

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3 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

This is strictly an uninformed, inexperienced opinion, but I don't see how a scope would be of much value for pelagics.  If the birds are flying, it will be VERY difficult to keep them in your field of view.  If they're on the water, they'll be obscured by waves a lot of the time.

Is there somewhere local you could rent a scope as a test, before you buy something that won't do what you want?

I think that the OP is asking is should they get a scope or use their camera to sea-watch instead of going on a pelagic trip. In my response I hope I didn’t make it sound like one should bring a scope on a pelagic trip; which I would never recommend, at least on the west coast.

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Just now, DLecy said:

I think that the OP is asking is should they get a scope or use their camera to sea-watch instead of going on a pelagic trip. In my response I hope I didn’t make it sound like one should bring a scope on a pelagic trip; which I would never recommend, at least on the west coast.

And if you meant pelagic species, well then yes, as a scope is of great optical assistance.

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11 hours ago, IKLland said:

My question is, will getting a scope help me see birds lie, jaegers, shearwaters, and scoters in the ocean better? Or am I better of saving the money and using my 600mm lens on the crop body to get 960mm?

This sounds like a hardware question to me - buying a scope vs using an existing lens.

4 minutes ago, DLecy said:

And if you meant pelagic species, well then yes, as a scope is of great optical assistance.

And yes, I did mean using a scope on land to spot pelagic species.  I'm glad to hear my assumption was wrong.

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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3 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

If the birds are flying, it will be VERY difficult to keep them in your field of view.  If they're on the water, they'll be obscured by waves a lot of the time.

You are not wrong about this. However, part of the allure and challenge of sea-watching lies directly with the fact that it is difficult...and when you can pick out or ID something from shore it's very rewarding.

I think it's also worth saying that when you spend time looking through a scope at species flying over the open ocean through a scope, this will only aid you when you do go on an actual pelagic, as you will be more familiar with flight styles, structure, and GISS of the birds you are looking at.

3 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Is there somewhere local you could rent a scope as a test, before you buy something that won't do what you want?

This is solid advice. If you don't have anything local, there are companies online that let you rent scopes.

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@DLecy, thanks so much! 
Now, I’m willing to get bad photos of the species, I just want to have the ability to see them before I go on a pelagic. So, if I get a scope, do you recommend using my 960mm equivalent focal length lens to take distant photos of what I see through the scope, or use my phone to take photos through the scope? Thanks!

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7 minutes ago, IKLland said:

@DLecy, thanks so much! 
Now, I’m willing to get bad photos of the species, I just want to have the ability to see them before I go on a pelagic. So, if I get a scope, do you recommend using my 960mm equivalent focal length lens to take distant photos of what I see through the scope, or use my phone to take photos through the scope? Thanks!

Getting photos of any birds on a seawatch is often very difficult, and sometimes near impossible. I would say it's much better to attempt to get digis through the scope, because attempting to refind the speck of a bird through your camera is almost impossible.

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8 minutes ago, Connor Cochrane said:

Getting photos of any birds on a seawatch is often very difficult, and sometimes near impossible. I would say it's much better to attempt to get digis through the scope, because attempting to refind the speck of a bird through your camera is almost impossible.

How MUCH MORE zoom would I have with a scope than my 960mm equivalent on my crop body?

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Just now, Connor Cochrane said:

If you had a scope that was had 20-60x zoom (Fairly typical for spotting scopes), the 60x magnification equivalent in focal length would be 3000mm, so about three times your camera.

Oh, wow! I’m probably gonna get one! Thank you so much! 

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9 minutes ago, Connor Cochrane said:

If you had a scope that was had 20-60x zoom (Fairly typical for spotting scopes), the 60x magnification equivalent in focal length would be 3000mm, so about three times your camera.

Do you have suggestions for a scope for under $300? I’m on a pretty low budget right now, as I used a bunch of it on the 70d and sigma 150-600. 

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13 minutes ago, IKLland said:

Oh, wow! I’m probably gonna get one! Thank you so much! 

I’d recommend looking through other birders scopes to see the differences between brands, and what type you prefer (angled or straight) and see the differences between ones with different zooms. 

Edited by Connor Cochrane
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On 12/12/2021 at 10:48 AM, IKLland said:

Do you have suggestions for a scope for under $300? I’m on a pretty low budget right now, as I used a bunch of it on the 70d and sigma 150-600. 

I would suggest saving up till you can get one you will be happy with, not spend your money now, and wish you had a better scope later. Even if that means waiting a few months or a year, I did it and I am glad now.

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3 hours ago, Avery said:

I would also suggest Vortex, as it does have that sweet unconditional warranty (just had to use that for mine 😅). Also, great quality for a low cost scope. Have you used a scope before, or tried other people's?

  Somebody let me view a thick billed kingbird through theirs, but that was it.  

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I just traded up to a GoSky 20-60x80, for $329 on Amazon.  Forgot my tripod, but I glassed the gulls from the docks that were pulled out of the water.  Quality feels good.  Everything is smooth on it, and feels solid.  Was very clear glass.  I think I only went to 40x though as the gulls were surprisingly close tonight.  It had good reviews, even from Vortex users that weren’t happy with the CA.  

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On 12/12/2021 at 8:24 AM, Connor Cochrane said:

Getting photos of any birds on a seawatch is often very difficult, and sometimes near impossible. I would say it's much better to attempt to get digis through the scope, because attempting to refind the speck of a bird through your camera is almost impossible.

Do you recommend holding the phone up to the scope when you see something, or leaving it attached using the phone adapter on the scope?

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