Spotting Scopes

Your Own Private Nature Show
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Wildlife viewing is a low-tech activity, which as far as I'm concerned is a virtue. Our inherent human qualities—curiosity, powers of observation, our senses of hearing, taste, touch, sight, smell—are the most important equipment, though a field guide and a pair of binoculars always help.

Still, call it a luxury item, but there is one piece of gear that is definitely worth considering: a spotting scope. Though they cost a fair sum of money, spotting scopes enable wildlife viewers to go beyond mere identification, to enter a world most of us know through TV nature shows—close-up observation of wild creatures as they go about their business undisturbed.

A spotting scope can be used for locating wildlife, though a pair of binoculars or the naked eye is still the best tool for this initial step. A scope comes into its own once you have found something wonderful—a bird nest, a herd of bighorn sheep on a distant cliff, a red fox den out in a field—and want to watch it closely over a longer period of time.

I know people who use spotting scopes in their homes to follow the progress of nesting birds on their property. They find the nest, then set up the scope on a small, separate table (this helps minimize bumping and jarring of the scope, and the need to constantly refocus it) along with a comfortable chair. Whenever they feel like it, they plop down in the chair for a look at how the babies are doing.

How good is the view? With a spotting scope on a bird nest, you can watch as the eggs crack and the newborn babies struggle out. Depending on the species, you can see which parent is doing nest duty. You can see when the nestlings are sleeping or have their eyes open; you can watch them develop plumage, grow, and, later, test their wings. Children are crazy for the experience.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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