Stop Phone Batteries Dying In The Cold

Common redpolls chowing down on thistle at a bird feeder.

Ah winter! Where I live it can bring a host of species we can’t see any other time of year like snowy owls and redpolls. There’s a famous birding destination in Minnesota called Sax Zim Bog. This top winter destination, which hosts a bird festival every February is popular because it’s easily accessible from airports and gets you a ton of boreal species you can only see in the United States in winter. Quite a bit of birding can be done from your vehicle with some residents purposely setting feeders (and a donation box) near the road. If you want to get photos, you’re generally going to have to exit your vehicle like I had to in order to get this snowy owl shot:


Note how I didn’t have to be as close to the owl to get the video like those other photographers are?

If you’ve ever tried taking pictures with your smart phone out in the cold, it can really eat up your battery, especially if you are taking photos and videos with location services on. I’ve had the phone be at 40% battery power and then suddenly just shut down mid-redpoll video because it couldn’t take the freezing temperatures. It can be really frustrating especially when it happens right when you have your shot lined up.So what can you do?


I have several tricks and PhoneSkope helps me with some of them. The first and easiest is that my phone is always plugged into the car charger while I’m driving. The second is that I always keep hand warmers in my pocket with my phone or keep my phone on an inside pocket of my coat so my body heat will keep it warm. That only goes so far when you’re filming in -3 degrees Fahrenheit and your phone is attached to your scope. At that point you need to have an external battery to keep the phone warm and charged.


Solar/USB Battery, regular USB Battery and cable for charing either an Android or iPhone.

PhoneSkope now offers two different batteries to help with this problem. One is the Electronic Power Bank and the other is the Dual USB and Solar Charger. Both are handy for keeping things charged. Both batteries can be charged ahead of time with a USB cable but the Dual version can also be clipped to your backpack or jacket to charge up for solar. Where I live, winters get dark early, sunset in November is around 4:30pm and more often than it’s cloudy. I may not get a full charge on the Dual battery walking around outside in winter, but I’ll get a little bit to help me out in an emergency.


The flat shape of each of these external batteries make them easy to keep in my winter coat pocket while I’m digiscoping. If you partner the Power Bank with the Bluetooth Remote Shutter, you can keep your hands warm in your pocket while you take photos to your heart’s content.


Also, if you want to be a hero among among your birding friends, check out this little charging cable that works for both Android and iPhone. When someone forgets their charging cable and you can offer this doo-hickey to your battery, you will not pay for lunch or drinks for the rest of the day.

Resolutions – What are your Birding Goals for 2018?

What are your birding resolutions for 2018? Since it is the time of year when people set resolutions, I was thinking about what some of my birding goals and resolutions might be for the next year. I’m happiest when I’m outdoors and getting a great shot of a bird. I had some great trips this year but didn’t feel like I birded nearly enough and time outside is way better than time getting irritated with people on Facebook. Here are some ideas for resolutions that I’m kicking around. I’m not sure that I will do all of them, but certainly incorporating one of them will help insure that when I’m debating between one more load of laundry or spending that out hour outside will put me on the right track and out with my PhoneSkope set up.


Photography Big Year


Birders are known for their lists of new birds. Some are even known for doing a Big Year or trying to see as many birds in a designated area in the span of a calendar year. There’s a book and movie about it called (surprise) The Big Year.


You could also try this but make it how many different species of birds can you photograph in a year’s time. Some have done it via traditional photography means, but I don’t think anyone has done with a smart phone. You could be establishing new ground! If you’re just trying to see how many photographs of species you can get, remember that they pictures don’t have to be perfect, just identifiable. Years ago I was part of a big day competition to see how many species of birds my team and I could photograph. We one and I took one of the blurriest photos of a prothonotary warbler. Yet, it was identifiable and counted!


Here’s a photo of a Virginia rail that I need to add to my patch illustrated checklist in eBird.

Help eBird with Illustrated Checklists.


In 2017 eBird released their Illustrated Checklist feature which will show photos of each species that were taken in that region. I have a favorite patch that I visit and there are very few photos that are part of its checklist. My goal is to see if I can have a photo for every bird seen in my patch or at least have the most contributions for my for my patch. If you enter in your eBird sightings using your computer, you can add your photos as you go. If you’re like me and use the eBird app on your phone to enter your sightings while in the field, you’ll have to add the photos later while on your computer. But how cool to have a record of all the birds in your patch taken by you.


Enter Photography Contests.


What are we doing with all of our photos, just sharing them on social media? That’s all well and good but I think I’d like to try my hand at some contests. Smart phones have come a long way in regards to photo quality. A few years ago, an editor in the UK asked for submissions of digiscoped images for a special edition they were working specifically about the technique of using cameras with spotting scopes. They asked if I could submit 12 photos for them to chose from. I asked if they wanted images from an SLR or iPhone. They scoffed at the idea of the iPhone and said SLR only. They scoffed at the idea of iPhone images. So I submitted 12 images, six using an SLR and six using an iPhone with my scope. They chose four and three of those were taken with my iPhone and one eded up on the cover. If you take your time with images, you can get some quality shots. 


There are several photography contests out there. Simply by typing in “photography contests” you will find many photography sites with links to favorite contest. There are some contests that are specific to digiscoping like Swarovski’s Digiscoper of the Year and some that are specific to iPhones. But don’t worry if it’s smart phone specific, the quality in a smart phone can rival many traditional cameras on the market. You could also look into you submitting your images into your local or state fairs. Just give it try. See if your images do well. If they don’t, try to see what you can do to up your coming. At the very least it will be a learning experience.


A white stork photo could be a new bird or it could also be perfect for a photo contest looking for urban wildlife shots.


Try Finding 12 Birds You’ve Never Seen.


OK I may have stolen this resolution from eBird and their suggestion to see ten new birds, but I think the game can be upped to a new bird for each month. Maybe there’s a sparrow that shows up to a nearby wildlife refuge that you haven’t looked for before. Perhaps there snowy owls are popping up in your state. Have you heard that harlequin ducks sometimes show up on a nearby lake during the fall migration? Follow up on these birding adventures–and get a souvenir photo of your new bird.


What are your birding resolutions for 2018?


We want to know what your birding resolutions and goals are for 2018! Let us know in the comments and be sure to share this post with a birder that needs help setting goals this year. Happy New Year!

The Birdchick – Digiscoping Tips for Beginners

Digiscoping Tips
Sharon Stiteler

One of the big complaints I hear from people about digiscoping is how awful their photos look. My first question is always, “How many photos have you taken?”

“Oh, maybe sixteen or twenty,” is the usual answer.

That’s not nearly enough. For every great photo you see online or in print, there are anywhere from 20 to 500 terrible photos that came before it. As a matter of fact, the more bad photos you take, the closer you are to being a pro!

As easy as digiscoping with a smartphone can be, there are some tried and true photography tips that come into play and those tips are what lead to the fantastic photos you see on Digiscoping Gurus or Worldwide Digiscopers pages on Facebook.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Take a day and take as many craptastic photos as you can. It’s very easy to delete them, but use that time to see what works and what does not. Find a bird feeder either in your yard, a friend’s yard or nature center. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or soda and just allow yourself a few hours of time to get to know your setup.

Figure out which feeder gets the most activity, aim your kit at that feeder and practice focusing. Even if a bird isn’t there, just focus on the feeder and take a few shots. As you focus on the feeder, inevitably a bird will fly in and you’ll mostly be in focus at that point.

Bird feeders are a great way to practice using your equipment. As you watch the birds move, you’ll notice that some like the White-necked Jacobin may perch on a nearby branch while not feeding you can try to get “natural” shots. Photo by The Birdchick.

If you want to try and get shots of birds that come to the feeder but don’t want the feeder in the shot, consider placing branches nearby. The birds will often sit on those branches before coming into the feeder and if you aim your setup at that you can get some “natural” looking shots.

Keep Sun In Mind

On an overcast day you don’t have to worry about sun angle so much. But when it’s out, it can affect your shots. Many photographers like the golden hour of just after sunrise or just before sunset when the birds are in a lovely golden light that brings out their colors. The harsh glare of the noon day sun can really wipe out colors and bring on heat shimmer that will make it impossible to get a sharp photo.

When the sun is out, try to keep it behind you so you are using its brightness to light up the bird. Keep this in mind when you’re looking for places to digiscope birds. This can save you a lot of time in the field when you’re planning on going out. Photography blinds at lakes and wetlands can be fun, but they’re useless to you if the sun is facing the blind when you go. A very handy app for planning your outing and thinking about sun is the The Photographer’s Ephemeris available for both iPhone and Android.

If you are setting up feeders in your yard so you can digiscope birds, try to keep sun angle in mind to make getting shots easier.

Get Closer To The Bird

The advantage of using a spotting scope and smart phone to take pictures of birds is that you can give the bird a comfortable distance. However, that doesn’t mean that eagle nest that is two miles away is going to be a great picture. Yes, you can see it in the scope and depending on the quality of your scope have a great view, but a warm day will give you lots of heat shimmer making a tack sharp photo impossible. The closer you get to your subject, the less atmosphere you will have to deal with while taking the photo.

Here’s a series of photos showing you the difference in quality from distant bird shots to those that are much closer.


This is an ok shot of a Turkey Vulture that was very far away. To get better photos, try to get closer with scaring the bird and get it in a more colorful background than the sky. Photo by The Birdchick.


Note the Turkey Vulture is on the ground with grasses and daisies behind it. This colorful background enhances the colors of the vulture’s head and feathers. Photo by The Birdchick.


This is the same turkey vulture but a little closer. I waited until the bird was preening its feathers and took twenty steps closer and got a head shot. I dared no closer, vultures vomit in self defense. Photo by The Birdchick.


Phone Skope Digiscoping Tips – What should you do with your optic adapter?

We get asked this question frequently. “What should I do with my optic adapter?” The Phone Skope is a two-piece system, a phone case and a optic adapter. The phone case is always on your phone and the optic adapter locks into the phone case. For spotting scopes, the optic adapters are bigger, so they do not always fit in your pocket. What should you do with it?

Warbler Guide App for Android Devices

I have used the Warbler Guide App for iOS for over a year now and am in love with the function and content of the app, so I was excited to see that the app is now available to Android users! Here’s more from Princeton University Press:

Introduction to the Warbler Guide App (Version 1.1) from Princeton University Press on Vimeo.

The Warbler Guide App is the perfect companion to Princeton’s revolutionary and widely acclaimed book The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. Whether for study or field use, this innovative app delivers the full power of The Warbler Guide in your pocket—plus unique new app-only features.

The app allows you to identify birds by view or song, quickly and intuitively. Exciting new 3D graphics enable you to view a bird from the exact angle you see it in the field. And the whole range of warbler songs is easily played, compared, and filtered.

Breakthrough features from The Warbler Guide book that are included in the app:

  • Rapid and confident two-step ID process using visual finders and comparison species
  • The first complete treatment of warbler songs, using a new objective vocabulary
  • An intuitive visual finder that includes side, 45-degree, and undertail views
  • Master Pages with detailed ID points
  • Complete guide to determining the age and sex of warblers with photos of all ages and sexes
  • Annotated sonograms showing song structure and key ID points
  • Complete songs, chip calls, and flight calls for all species
  • Comparison species for making confident visual and audio IDs
  • Many additional photos to show behavior and reinforce key ID points
  • Highlighted diagnostic ID points
  • Color Impression Icons for narrowing down ID of warblers from the briefest glimpses
  • Behavior and habitat icons

Unique new app-only features:

  • High-resolution, zoomable, and rotatable 3D models of birds in all plumages, to match field experience of a bird
  • Intuitive, visual, and interactive finders with filters for possible species based on audio and visual criteria chosen by the user
  • Playback of all songs and vocalizations with sonograms makes study of vocalizations easy
  • Selectable finder sortings grouped by color, alphabetical order, song type, and taxonomic order
  • Interactive song finder using objective vocabulary for fast ID of unknown songs
  • Simultaneous visual and song finders make identifying an unknown warbler even easier
  • Half-speed song playback allows for easier study of song structure
  • Comparison species with selectable side, 45 degree, and undertail views
  • Features 75 3D images
  • Covers 48 species and 75 plumages
  • Includes 277 vocalizations, 156 songs, 73 contact calls, and 48 flight calls
  • Detailed “how to use” tutorial screens

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 7.0 or later or Android 4.1 or later.

Tom Stephenson‘s articles and photos have appeared in Birding and Bird Watcher’s Digest, at, and in the Handbook of the Birds of the World. He has guided groups across the United States and Asia. A musician, he has had several Grammy and Academy Award winners as clients, and was director of technology at Roland Corporation. Scott Whittle lives in Cape May, New Jersey, and has twenty years of experience as a professional photographer and educator. He holds an MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York, is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony, and is a onetime New York State Big Year record holder.

iPhone 6 Plus Field Test

I decided to try something different in this blog post. I just finished up my first round of field testing with a iPhone 6 Plus. I used it in a variety of situations and lighting conditions and on two different spotting scopes via a Phone Skope smartphone digiscoping adapter – Celestron Regal M2 80ED and a Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85. Check out the story I put together using the Steller app for iOS below!


Video – May 2015 Birding Highlights

I started out the month of May scouting for the 9th Annual Delaware Bird-a-thon. My team, the BirdsEye Birders, competed in the County Challenge, where we set out on May 3rd to try and find as may species as possible within the boundaries of New Castle County. The results are not in yet, but we tallied 139 species in 24 hours and raised $500! After the bird-a-thon, warbler migration peaked, then shorebirds followed soon after. I also had to deal with finals, wrapping up the semester, and giving two talks, one in the middle of May and a digiscoping talk at the end of the month. In between, I birded as much as I could in White Clay Creek State Park, Middle Run Natural Area, and Port Penn Impoundments in search of new additions to my New Castle County year list! Overall, I submitted 56 eBird checklists and tallied 181 species. I compiled a video of highlights from the month of May that I shot with a iPhone 5c + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. Enjoy and bird on!

Note: Be sure to watch on 1080p for best quality!

PhoneSkoping the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland’s Warbler is on the top of every birder’s most wanted list. It is federally endangered and breeds locally in young Jack Pine forests in Wisconsin and Michigan. Fortunately, my friend, Craig Miller, had a chance to visit a breeding location last week and coincidentally, he purchased a Phone Skope adapter right before he left! Craig was able to see and digiscope at least one Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan! Here’s one of his favorite shots:

Kirtland's Warbler in Michigan. Digiscoped with a Samsung Galaxy S3 + Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope & Phone Skope Adapter. Photo by Craig Miller - used with permission.

Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan. Digiscoped with a Samsung Galaxy S3 + Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope & Phone Skope Adapter. Photo by Craig Miller – used with permission.

Find out more about the Kirtland’s Warbler at this link.