Saturday 9 May 2015

Digiscoping Dinky Little Ringed Plovers

What about the birds, I hear you cry?! I seem to have spent the last week completely distracted and captivated by butterflies. Shame on me for allowing shiny new things to temporarily turn my fickle head. Yesterday, though, it was all about the birds. Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) to be precise. They are a schedule 1 species which means it is an offence to cause disturbance at, on or near an active nest. Ordinarily, you need a license to photograph a schedule 1 species nest site but I was viewing from a public hide, at a warden run reserve, where no disturbance or intrusion was caused. I doubt anyone even slightly dodgy reads this blog but, just in case someone sinister should accidentally stumble across the threshold, I’ll be ultra careful and withhold the location.

As their name suggests, these migrant wading birds are Little, approximately 15cm long. Not much bigger than a Robin really. They winter in Africa and arrive in England and Wales in March, all set for breeding. At the end of June, early July they’re off again and head back to Africa. Until yesterday, I’d only ever managed distant record shots and certainly never glimpsed the eggs, like I did then, as they were devotedly brooded by both male and female in half hourly shifts.

This was my first outing with my “new to me” Swarovski ATS 80HD scope. Ever since I learnt about birding telescopes, some 6 years ago, I’ve wanted to get into serious digiscoping. Peering through rose-tinted spectacles, it’s a technique which seems to be the ideal way of watching and photographing birds. Disturbance is minimal, if not completely absent: the magnifications involved mean you rarely get anywhere near the threshold of tolerance in terms of proximity to the bird. And, it's even better if you’re hidden behind a conveniently placed bush or in a hide! I know it has its limitations and drawbacks but the idea of viewing & photographing fine detail, at a comfortable distance for both me and the bird, has always been very appealing. It is perhaps a string to add to one's bow rather than a catch-all photographic solution.

Anyway, to my first attempts at serious digiscoping. I don’t for one minute expect to get this right straight out of the box. In fact, I’m looking forward to the trial and error of it all and experimenting with different camera settings and adapters. But, to kick things off, I’m using the DCB-A adapter and 30x wide-angle eyepiece. The camera is a Panasonic DMC-G3 with the 20mm f1.7 lens. It was overcast, gloomy and even drizzled. From the hide, the birds were approximately 40 metres away. All images and video were digiscoped.

As I mentioned, the parent birds were brooding at least 2 or 3 eggs (I couldn’t quite see) and would change over every half hour or so. Lapwings occasionally bothered the sitting adult but for the most part nesting success looks possible.

Mrs LRP having a wriggle. You can just make out an egg at the base of her chest feathers.

Below: The head pattern of the male (left) and female (right). Essentially, the female has more brown mixed in with the black of the bands across the forehead (forecrown) and around the eye (from the bill, across the lores onto the ear coverts). The distinctive yellow eye-ring is slightly thinner too, making it seem less bright. With this pair, the male also has a pale pink base to his bill. The black forehead/forecrown band is lost completely in non-breeding plumage on both sexes.

The digiscoped video shows both the male and female brooding the eggs. First shift is the male. He clearly thought the nest was in need of a little housekeeping and also couldn’t quite decide which direction he wanted to face whilst brooding. After the switch over, the female also changed her mind about positioning before settling in for her stint.  I hope you’ll forgive the odd wobble or two. It’s impossible to keep the kit steady in a hide when people are coming/going/moving.

Overall, I was thrilled with the new scope and more than happy with these images/film clips as first attempts on a cloudy, grey day.


  1. What a beautiful design! Lovely little birdies! From ARF

    1. Thanks ARF. You're right, they are beautifully patterned :o). Glad you liked them

  2. Awesome! Great work Lucy!! Not the set up I thought you were going with, but great results obviously! I have some of these from Crete to post - on migration so could have been the same birds!

    1. Thank you Martin. Yes, the digiscoping is part of my "grand plan" to cover all eventualities with birds, lol. I'm still considering the camera gear side of things. My old G3 is getting increasingly temperamental so will need updating in the not too distant future. Anyway, I'll look forward to seeing your Crete LRPs :o). They are such attractive little birds.


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