Ask the Experts: #7

Ever thought about buying a spotting scope? Our Experts have some advice for you.

Question: From SVBC Member Calvert Byles in Swansea in Wales. “I am fairly new to birding and would like to know about spotting scopes.  Should I invest in one?  What should I look for in a spotting scope?  Thank you.”

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide.

A few ecosystems demand the use of a telescope which are reduced to coastlines and shallow extensions of water. This is because the primary species tend to be scattered in these vast areas visited by shy birds thus making identification very difficult with just a pair of binoculars since you can’t get too close or because the access is not fitted for humans. Sometimes in the forest there is a weird-shaped bird sitting on a branch on a top of a hill where access is also limited and here is where a telescope can come in very handy. Europe and some of the east coast of the USA have a large coastline visited by migratory shorebirds that also justify the use of a telescope. In practical cases, you will always need one for sure when you didn’t bring it! If you don’t want to expend extra buying a camera, a telescope can also play a good part in digiscoping: the art of taking photos with your phone through a scope. Today you can find all kinds of adapters that can cost $10 or less and be able to take very good videos and photos of not moving or very slow birds. So it all comes back to what could be the primary reason behind the purchase and where will it be used the most.

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

If you are a new birder, I don´t think it is very necessary to buy a spotting scope. It is true that spotting scopes help us a lot to be able to identify species, but for a beginner, my recommendation is to buy a pair of good binoculars and enjoy watching birds with them.In case you just really want to buy a spotting scope to have it, my advice is to buy a good one, and when I say that it means to buy one that is not cheap. I know people who buy cheap ones and after a year or so they need to buy a new one, so at the end of the day in five years you will spend almost the same amount of money as if you made the decision to buy an expensive one.To give you an idea, I already have used the same scope for five years, it is a Swarovski ATX 65 mm HD. This model comes in pieces, so you have to buy the objective lens, the eyepiece, and the tripod with the head. For me, this was a great investment because besides being a bird nerd, I am a tour guide and in many cases, my clients don´t have binoculars, so the spotting scope is like my machete that I use to show them the species of birds we find.But like I said, if you just want to buy one to have with you, it would be a good tool to go birding, especially if you go out looking for shorebirds or if you are going to stay in one place where you don’t have to move.

Basil (Baz) Kirilenko: Owner and Operator of Mindo Valley Tours; Mindo, Ecuador

If you’re fit and strong and fit enough to tote a spotting scope around (or can hire someone to carry it for you), I say…It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.