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.

Birdchick – Castle Birding

A White Stork with a nest on a church in Trujillo photographed with Swarovski ATX 65mm scope, iPhone 7 and PhoneSkope adapter.

When birders get together and talk about their favorite places to go see birds you usually hear Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador…but me? I like Europe. Don’t get me wrong, going south of the Equator has lots to offer but if you sometimes travel with a non-birding spouse who isn’t a huge fan of the outdoors, Europe can be a great compromise. And as cool as it is to be on top of a volcano after a five hour hike up uncountable switchbacks in high humidity to glimpse a guan or warbler, there’s something to be said about wandering centuries old streets where you can stop for a quick coffee and pastry watching Eurasian Kestrels and listening to the haunting song of a European Blackbird echo off of city walls. And all towns are full of rich history to add flavor to stories learned long ago in history classes.

The luck of the draw with some of my work commitments has put me in Europe twice this year. Some of my time was spent in Austria and some of it was in the fabulous Extremadura area of Spain.

While you’re birding around Hohenbregenz Castle make sure to take in the view of the town and Lake Constance. You might see some kites or buzzards.

Austria offers alpine birding as well as some great shorebird and marsh opportunities. I spent some time in Innsbruck and then headed over to Lake Constance. After we finished our meetings, the man who organized the trip knew that a few of us were birders and there was one particular European specialty we really wanted: a Wallcreeper! When you get into birding, you will scan field guides for birds you’d like to learn about and see. Some birds just pop out at you and you know in your gut you need to see one before you die. In American field guides these would be Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Scarlet Tanager—you get the picture.

Check out those flashy pink wings of the Wallcreeper on Hohenbregenz Castle

In European field guides, it’s the Wallcreeper. Imagine a sleek looking nuthatch covered in silver with bright pink wings that likes to crawl up and down the sides of castles. I’ve tried for it more than once and every time failed. This time, our organizer knew a local bird guide who had a solid lead on a Wallcreeper spending the winter on a castle in Bregenz.

So on my final day in Austria, we found ourselves heading to Hohenbregenz Castle to look for the elusive bird. It took some time, but the Wallcreeper was found and put on quite a show on the castle walls. It started up high while foraging for insects and then worked it’s way down where we were all able to digiscope it. I even got some video and posted it to Facebook Live because really, there’s nothing quite like trolling your friends who are stuck in an office while you are watching one of the birds of your dream. Here’s a video of the Wallcreeper:

About a month later, I spent some time birding in Extremadura in central Spain. Most people think birding involves being up at 4am and trudging out all day. Things are much more relaxed in Spain. We would have a lovely breakfast and then head out to Monfragüe National Park to climb up to a castle to watch Griffon Vultures soar by.

After a leisurely hike up a mountain, you can rest at Monfragüe Castle and watch Griffon and Black Vultures rise up with the thermals. There’s also a coffee stand nearby to keep you alert for photos.

Griffon Vulture nest.

It’s not a bad uphill climb and you can take your time to see other species like European Serin and Great Tits as you go. Once at the top you get a gorgeous view of the landscape and vultures and there is a little coffee cart ready to caffeinate you while you take vulture photos in perfect sun. The birds show up late morning because they need the sun to warm up the ground to create warm currents of air they can soar on to get their large bodies floating high in the sky, on the look out for carrion. As a bonus perk, there’s a tiny cafe where you purchase snacks, coffee and a beer to fortify yourself as you spend the day photographing the birds and gorgeous landscape around you. There are plenty of other areas to explore in and it’s a great opportunity to view Spanish Imperial Eagle and find Griffon Vultures on nests.

Towards the end of my trip we spent time in Trujillo. The fortified castle in that town is supposed to be part of the set in an upcoming episode of Game of Thrones. When you’re at the top, you can see so much of the untouched countryside. The town dates back to 600 B.C. and includes stunning residents built by Spanish Conquistadors using their newfound wealth after returning from their colonization quests. We were on a history tour and I brought along my spotting scope and PhoneSkope kit. Every time I take along my kit and a guide says, “You won’t need that,” my response is, “I always regret when I don’t have my digiscoping set up, never when I do have it.”

Besides birds, you can use your scope to study the art and architecture of the buildings.

And even if birds aren’t part of the official agenda, I like to use the scope to focus in on architectural details. Sometimes you find great scary faces carved in homes or in some cases a sneaky restoration professional will incorporate their favorite football team’s logo. But time in towns with a scope might also allow me a chance to get a great shot of a bird that is very common for a person who lives there but new and special for me. For years I’ve wanted a photo of a stork nest but the birding trips I’m on rarely get me to where they are nesting in good light. And as luck would have it, as we were walking around Trujillo we found a beautiful stork nest from the castle walls and I was able to get photos and video.

Don’t forget that while you are birding in a city, there are plenty of ways to celebrate from coffees, cheeses or beers.

Celebrating European life birds with a beer from Budvar, the original and more flavorful Budweiser made in the Czech Republic.

Phone Skope Digiscoping Tips – Using Autofocus for Sharper Photos and Video

The Problem

Using your smartphone for digiscoping can be fun and rewarding, but also challenging. One of the the more challenging aspects is locking the exposure and focus in on the subject you’re photographing. If your subject is not in focus, the resulting video or picture can be undesirable. Therefore, figuring out a way to optimize your settings is essential for producing high quality content! An easy way to remedy this situation is to lock the focus on a specific point on the phone screen. You can do this by simply tapping and holding your finger on the screen until the focus locks. This can usually be accomplished within the standard camera app on most phones (Note: this may only work on newer smartphones or in some 3rd Party apps).

In This Video

In the video below, Zac Griffith demonstrates how easy it is to use the built in autofocus feature on the iPhone to improve the quality of the video. He also shows the difference between the video quality when using autofocus and when autofocus is disabled. 

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If you have any other tips, tricks, or tactics for improving quality of pictures and videos captured using your smartphone and optics, please let us know by sending an email to!

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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?