Monday, December 17, 2012

Homemade digiscope test run

Last Thursday I put together a cheap digiscope adapter for my smartphone using a $20 phone case, the eyepiece protector from my spotting scope, and some super glue. On Saturday, we got a chance to test it out.

The first test subject was Bald Eagle perched atop a power pole near Boyd Lake State Park (Larimer County). The pictures below were taken with the scope set to 20x zoom, and with my smartphone camera not zoomed in at all (left) and zoomed in to reduce the vignetting (right).

Bald Eagle, digiscoped with my Samsung Galaxy SII and Barska Blackhawk 20-60X60 spotting scope.
Boyd Lake State Park, Larimer County. December 15, 2012.
I put the adapter together on an impulse after getting home from work late, and bought the first case I could find that fit my phone. I don't even remember what brand, and I'm sure I could have found something for half that price if I'd been a little more patient. I had originally hoped for a hard case that would provide greater rigidity while shooting, and the one I found was only semi-rigid. So far it doesn't seem to be a problem though, as it fits the phone snugly enough that the phone itself provides the needed rigidity.

Stoddard (hey, that's me!) wishing something exciting would show up on the phone's screen.
Boyd Lake State Park, Larimer County. December 15, 2012.
We didn't find anything great at Boyd Lake State Park. Despite many of the nearby ponds being frozen over, there was no real concentration of waterfowl as we were hoping for.

There had been some recent reports of a Brant hanging out with a flock of Canada and Cackling Geese at nearby Lake Loveland (Larimer County). We were unable to re-locate the Brant, since it had wandered to a nearby golf course where a couple of other birders tracked it down during a Christmas Bird Count. We spent some time practicing with the digiscoping rig on some Cackling Geese, Mallards, Ring-billed Gulls, and a few escaped domestic waterfowl instead.

Cackling Goose. Pond north of Lake Loveland, Larimer County. December 15, 2012.
Overall, the birding was quite slow. We meandered around a few other hotspots nearby, hoping something out of the ordinary might show up. Surprisingly low bird volume all around.

Red-tailed Hawk. Intersection of CR 17 and CR 18 in Loveland, Larimer County. December 15, 2012.
It's nice to have a new photography toy to try out on days when the birding is a little slower. It adds a different dimension to the day, and gives me a reason to slow down and pay more attention to more common species that winter in the area.

Great Blue Heron. St. Vrain State Park, Weld County. December 15, 2012.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the digiscope adapter. I need to take it out again on a day with better light to try for better pictures, but I'm getting better pictures than I've been able to get with previous digiscoping setups.

The best bird of the day was probably this Ross's Goose that was kind enough to hang out just 10-15 feet away from the road, gleaning corn from a field. This photo was taken with our regular camera, rather than my new digiscope setup.

Ross's Goose. CR 20 between Wilson Ave and Namaqua Road, Larimer County. December 15, 2012.
As we drove through one neighborhood, we spotted this Northern Flicker enjoying a feast of Russian-olives. Northern Flickers typically enjoy a diet of ants and beetles, which they supplement with fruits and seeds in the colder months. Dave Leatherman points out why Northern Flicker's love Russian-olives in an excellent article in Colorado Birds:
"The normal focal point of bird interest in Russian-olive is the fruit, which botanists classify as an achene. The pulpy coating that surrounds the hard, striped seed is mildly sweet (try it — it tastes not unlike a weak watermelon). Birds like flickers are strictly after the coating when they feed on these fruits, but they also ingest the seeds and then excrete them; in fact, nest boxes used by flickers often contain several inches of excreted Russian-olive pits."
Northern Flicker dining on Russian-olives. Near Loveland Reservoir, Larimer County. December 15, 2012.


  1. Thanks for this amazing tip and report!

  2. Have you continued to use this homemade digiscope? I had some success holding my phone to the binoculars in some crazy claw hand technique but I couldn't hold it for more than a minute. I should have thought of this already! Nice work.

    1. I actually don't use it all that often anymore. Nothing wrong with it, I just ended up getting a new superzoom camera (Canon SX50HS) that provides comparable magnification to what I was getting with the digiscope rig, but with better image quality.