PhoneSkope Can Capture More Than Just Birds

Phone Skope Digiscoping Snapping Turtle Head

This may sound scandalous to birders but sometimes you can pay attention to other things besides birds when out on the trail. And I’m going out on a limb here, sometimes it’s even ok to digiscope things besides birds.

Case in point, earlier this summer I was scouting for a birding by ear class and came across a female snapping turtle laying eggs right on the trail. I generally like to give snapping turtles plenty of personal space, especially while one is moving several ping pong ball sized eggs through a small opening. However, I had my scope so I was able to capture a great shot of her face as well as even find an angle to watch eggs coming out of her and going into the nest hole. Here’s a video that I got at a safe distance:

The snapping turtle breeding process is fascinating. After a female mates with the male, she can store the sperm for a few months to a few years. This allows her to lay eggs every year even if she doesn’t manage to hook up with a male snapping turtle that season. Temperature influences when the eggs will hatch and what the sex of the eggs will be. After a female lays her eggs and covers the hole, the young will emerge anywhere from nine to eighteen weeks later…provided that a raccoon hasn’t found the eggs and eaten them all. The sex of the young snapping turtle in the egg is determined by incubation temperature. Eggs that are incubated at 68 degrees Fahrenheit will all be female. Eggs kept a little warmer at 72 degree Fahrenheit will produce both males and females.

So considering a female can lay over 80 eggs in one sitting and that snapping turtles can be a bit feisty on land, they make for ideal digiscoping subjects. They’re not moving and it’s going to take some time to drop a load like that.

But turtles aren’t the only things you can digiscope with your smart phone. Have you considered aiming your scope towards the sky? I have a Swarovski ATX spotting scope set up. With its exceptional glass and coatings I can get views the Earth’s moon and even Jupiter and its moons. The fun thing about smart phones is that if you tap the brightest part of the viewing screen—like the moon, the camera will not only focus to that, but also adjust the exposure to compensate for its brightness in the dark sky. It’s especially fun in the moon is only partially lit, because the shadows really bring out all the craters on the surface.

One evening two summers ago, there was a “blood moon” which is when the moon is in total eclipse and appears reddish in color as it is illuminated by sunlight filtered and refracted by the earth’s atmosphere. We had an Eclipse Party and that night all of our friends and neighbors came out on our sunroof to watch. As soon as I took a couple of shots of the eclipse with my scope, everyone wanted a shot of the it and a line formed behind my scope. Before I knew it, I was handed phone after phone getting everyone a shot. That night my Facebook and Instagram were filled with eclipse pictures from my friends that I had taken for them.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you keep your finger held down to your smart phone’s screen, you can even lock the focus and exposure in place. This can lead to some interesting possibilities with silhouette shots at sunrise and sunset.

One of my favorite things to do is get my scope set up at sunrise or sunset and then use the time-lapse feature on my phone. The PhoneSkope case stabilized your smart phone to your scope to eliminate shakiness (unless there’s wind, there’s not much you can do about that). Always remember with video or time lapse to set your smart phone horizontally on your scope because most video sharing platforms are set at landscape and not portrait. Your videos will look so much better in landscape.

So, once the exposure is locked, the phone takes care of the rest in time lapse and gets you some cool videos to share on your social media accounts. A few years ago I was doing bird surveys in Texas. The sunrises were always spectacular. One morning before my surveys started, I aimed my scope towards where the sun would come up. Just as it peaked on the horizon, I held my finger on the orb to lock the exposure and then let time lapse do it’s work and came up with this. With a phone, a PhoneSkope case and spotting scope, your only limit to your photography is your imagination.


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