Camera Versus Binoculars, A Bird's Eye View
For Every Season
There are always two or more schools of thought on nearly every topic. In order to keep our feelings of justice without prejudice and as impartial as possible, we must sometimes broaden our horizons and try something new, perhaps missing a good sighting for the sake of learning that what we are currently doing is not always the best way to obtain information.
Having volunteered as a wild bird rehabilitator, my love for birds increased while I observed both their behavior and how different species reacted to one another during the Athos I oil spill in 2004. This experience eventually led me to photograph birds, and then become a serious bird watcher and ornithologist. In order to do that, getting out of my comfort zone as a wildlife photographer was a little unsettling. Not only was I no longer at one with my camera to never miss a shot of that elusive bird, my skills with a pair of binoculars, or “bins,” as they are often referred in the birding world, took a little time and patience. You’d better believe that I missed birds while using two mediums in which to view them.
Can a Wildlife Photog Be a Serious Birder?
Practicing my skills with both a camera and bins at the same time was hard on the psyche as well as my birding numbers for eBird, which collects and compiles data for the world to see. eBird shows other scientists and ornithologists where bird populations are going at any given time, and during an El Nino year, such as 2015-2016, any bird can turn up anywhere. Unless that bird is properly documented, science will not count that bird at that reported location. That’s where the camera comes in, for it is impossible to dispute the fact that your bird was there.
This brings up a valid question that has been discussed in various circles: Can a wildlife photographer be a serious birder? Undeniably, but that photographer must be skilled in bird behavior, flight patterns, and where these birds are found. In other words, that American Pipit, a relatively common bird was not seen in a tree. That is not its behavior as a ground nester and a ground denizen. Behavior plays a large part in bird identification. What you believe that you see, isn’t always the case, especially with sunlight, and that can change coloration a great deal, but I am getting off the topic.
Movin' On Up
Having begun watching birds through a camera lens and moving to binoculars opened up an entirely new world for me. Not every bird sings, especially not when out of breeding season, and not all birds vocalize. If one seeks warblers in Oklahoma, many of them are silent, and the trees must be scanned for them, which is why one must be knowledgeable on where they might be found. The Hooded Warbler and Ovenbird are often on the ground, whereas the Red-eyed Vireo is high in the trees.
Another important aspect is birding by ear. In order to complete your journey as a good birdwatcher, you’ll want to learn what your area birds sound like, since they will never always be in view. However, if you know that a bird that is a lifer is in the area and you watch that area closely for a little while, you just might nail a lifer.
Camera, Bins, Or Both?
For the good points and bad points of camera vs. bins and heaven forbid that you use both, like I now do, there are some things that you need to know.
Your camera will help you find birds, and if you see a target bird, you can capture it right away. Looking through bins and then trying to get that photo, might cost you a little time and you could well miss that bird that you have been trying to photograph for three years.
On the other hand, there was a glove, BUT those bins will help you see more birds than that camera ever will, and you can bet your bottom dollar that your naked eye doesn’t even hold a candle to either one. When using eye enhancement, keep that medium close to the eye(s) if you really want to find those birds in a timely manner. There is a lot of truth in those words, “here today, gone tomorrow.” I learned that from experience, as have many other birders.
General Thoughts On Equipment
As with any other product, get the best that you can afford if you’d like binoculars. There are a number of manufacturers out there, and with this item, you will get what you pay for. A harness is a good option to keep your bins at the ready, and you’ll want to keep the glass as clean as possible, so there are cleaning kits out there, but the simplest way to go is a lens pen that you can carry with you.
You photographers already have your weapon of choice, so I won’t even begin to touch upon that, unless you require a telephoto lens, so do your research and perhaps discuss your concerns with a sales professional.
There is also a learning curve for both camera and bins, and they are both different. With bins, it is so much easier to follow the flight of that American Bittern, but if you can get that shot, I commend you. Unfortunately, it was such a cloudy day when my good fortune came along, but there will be another time.
Just touching upon some of the important points will give you a good idea on what pitfalls there are with camera versus binoculars. There are more, and you’ll see what they are, but it all depends on what is important to your individual needs. It all comes with experience, and that truly is the best teacher that we have.
My final opinion is that I will continue to use both the camera and the bins, but you’ll never be able to use both at the same time, and I’m smiling when I say that. Go birding with a friend or a family member, and have fun while doing it. Yes, some will get away, but it will only improve your skills in finding those birds. Not only for that reason, one of you can use the bins and the other can focus that telephoto lens in order to capture that bird. Communication is the key.
Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!