I have a really great spotting scope, an angled Swarovski 80mm HD scope with a 20 – 60 zoom eyepiece (and sometimes I alternate a 25 – 50 zoom eyepiece). I love using it and I especially enjoy sharing it with other birders when I can show them a new life bird or get a great look at a favorite. However, attending a lot of bird festivals, there’s some scope etiquette I’d like to share with people who do not have scopes.
1. Watch where you walk and place yourself: Keep in mind that in group settings, bird watchers could be on all sides of you, carefully setting up a scope view. When getting on a bird, avoid walking in front of the scope and if you can’t, please don’t stop and block the whole view.
2. Get on that scope! If someone says to you, “Here, let me get you this bird in my scope,” and then immediately lines up a bird, get in there and look at the bird. Don’t dawdle, birds rarely stay in one spot and a few precious seconds of hesitation could cause you miss the bird.
3. Don’t be a scope hog. If there is a large group and you get a look at the bird, try to count to 3 and step to the side so those behind you can get a chance at their life bird. Once everyone who needs it as a lifer as seen it, you can go in for a second look and perhaps longer if the bird is still around.
4. Careful with your digiscoping. I teach people how to take photos with a digital camera or smartphone through my scope. But don’t always assume that your field trip leader is on board with that. Digiscoping takes practice, especially if you are doing it with an adaptor and it’s the first time you’ve tried the technique. It’s incredibly easy to scratch a scope eyepiece with a camera lens.
This is my 25-20 zoom eyepiece. All those dots? Those are nicks on my scope’s eyepiece from people who tried to hand hold their digital camera up to my scope’s eyepiece.
Many scopes have lifetime warranties, but those warranties do not always cover a scratch on the eyepiece and the cost to repair it could be in the neighborhood of $250. On top of that, it can take a few weeks to get that repaired, nothing is as heartbreaking as discovering that you need a lens repair in the middle of spring migration and you’ll be scope-less for 4 to 8 weeks.
These are four rules that I have, what would you like other birders to know about scope use?
Might I also suggest a courteous acknowledgement if you must pass in front of someone’s scope.
Another good rule is never look through Sharon’s scope unless you are prepared to be disappointed in the quality of your optics later.
Great article! I hate to add to the gripes of sharing scopes, as I really enjoy sharing mine as well, but advice to those using someone else’s scope: tripods, eyepieces, and scopes vary quite a bit between companies, from the zoom mechanisms to the rotating levers. Unless you are friends with the owner, or have been OK’d to manipulate the equipment, try to only use your eyes! I have put my scope on a bird for others, only to have them attempt to zoom, focus, or rotate the scope without permission, and ended up losing the bird. This does not happen often, but it has, and can be a bummer. Thanks for the article!
Great post! I think you cover the best points. The only thing I can think of adding is asking to use someone else’s scope before looking through it. Most birders are good about that but when I set my scope up right next to me while eating lunch at sites with feeders in Costa Rica, strangers invariably come up and try to look through my scope as if it’s public property. Since people do it without any hesitation I have to resort to lowering the tripod and just about hiding it under the table.
#2 is more important than it seems, especially if the lovely Vermont birder you just met is telling you there is a horned grebe in the scope view. Those silly birds just will not stay in the view more than 2 seconds. (Thanks to all those who share scope views, I’ve gotten some great life birds that way.)
I don’t have a scope of my own but I borrow one from a fellow birder when I help out on trips.
If you have your children on a field trip with you — (and bravo for showing your kids there’s more to the world than their DS) — please teach them to be mindful of tripod legs. If they are too young to be quite that mindful of them, then please be mindful of your children. And be mindful of tripod legs yourself.
Please be patient with the person whose scope it is. Getting on a bird through a scope can take a little while, especially if a person without a scope is trying to give you directions to it. (The dot… by that rock… the rock on the rocky shore… it’s brown.)
If a person is scoping a raptor in flight, please know that they *might* then be able to ID it for you, but there is pretty much no way they can get you a look at the bird through the scope.
I think ALL guides for classes, tours, etc should state these 4 (or more) rules at the beginning. I do not own a scope, and have always had wonderful experiences with those that enjoy sharing theirs. That said, new birders have no idea about scope etiquette and it gets a bit “funny” to speak up about it when it isn’t even your scope. My biggest beef? The person who jumps in first…and acts like they are the only ones who can’t wait to see the bird and look as long as they feel like. The two habits seem to go hand in hand, often leaving the others frustrated and disappointed. If it is someones lifer, they should ALWAYS be first. Geez. Listen to me. I don’t even own one, but during a class (especially paid-for) it can be scream-inducing to get a scope hog. I really think newbies just don’t realize what they are doing in their excitement so these points really DO need to be brought up by all leaders before heading out.
Is that Crossly hogging your scope? I would have expected him to have his own by now!
You brought Crossley?