Enough Light to Digiscope at Night

I recently had the great pleasure of joining Leica Sport Optics’ David La Puma and Jeff Bouton at the 2014 Biggest Week in American Birding.  The event is hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory at the famed Magee Marsh and nearby Maumee Bay State Park along Northwest Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline.  Droves of neotropical migrants make their way through the region each spring, earning the area its nickname, “The Warbler Capital of the World.”  I thoroughly enjoyed the abundance of warblers and other gorgeous passerines, but the chance to see American Woodcocks (aka Timberdoodles) doing their thing was certainly among my personal highlights.

American Woodcock, Maumee Bay State Park, OH, May 2014.  Photo by Bill Schmoker, Leica Birding Team.

American Woodcock, Maumee Bay State Park, OH, May 2014. Photo by Bill Schmoker, Leica Birding Team.

Seeing nesting woodcocks was new for me, and something I almost certainly would have missed if not for the cordoned-off unmowed areas near the entrance to the famed boardwalk.  Even with the knowledge that a woodcock was in plain sight within the flagged perimeter, finding these secretive birds takes plenty of patience &/or help.  But once they are in the scope their huge, high-placed eyes and cryptic camouflage can really be appreciated.  At dusk the males get revved up for an amazing territorial display.  From their preferred patch of open ground they “peent” in many directions for a while before launching into an aerial twittering & chirping display as they ascend orbiting around their territory.  When their flight goes silent you know they are careening back to their patch of ground to repeat the cycle.

"Peenting" American Woodcock, Maumee Bay State Park, OH, May 2014.  Photo by Bill Schmoker, Leica Birding Team

“Peenting” American Woodcock, Maumee Bay State Park, OH, May 2014. Photo by Bill Schmoker, Leica Birding Team.

On one evening during the Biggest Week I noticed a  family along the road just down from out cottage.   A dad & his young daughter were enjoying their discovery of a cooperative male timberdoodle along the mowed roadside, illuminating its antics with a flashlight while it peented away unconcerned by their respectful presence across the road.  I took some conventional flash-lit pics with my DSLR but felt they didn’t adequately convey the whole timberdoodle experience.   On a bit of a whim I grabbed my APO-Televid to see if I could get any video via night digiscoping.  The photon-gulping Leica scope matched with the low-light loving iPhone 5s proved to be a great combination, melded together via a PhoneSkope adapter.  With the help of my new pals holding their light on the bird for me I was able to get really satisfying results.  Check out the nesting & displaying American Woodcocks in the short digiscoped video below- I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed seeing these charismatic shorebirds!!