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Tripods for Birdwatching

Buying a tripod

A tripod is not a piece of equipment that you buy with the telescope, the purchase of the tripod is as important as the telescope and which tripod you should use depends on the following factors.

  1. How tall are you and your partner?

    You should use a telescope while stood or sitting straight, if you constantly lean forward or stoop down to view through a  telescope you will develop back pain and shoulder pains. This where a angled eyepiece can be of benefit especially if you are particularly tall.

  2. Do you bird watch in windy exposed area I.E on large reservoirs or marshland where there are no hides?  
     A heavy, wide legged tripod with a heavy head is ideal for windy conditions and will help when using high magnification such as 40 - 60x, or when using the telescope as a camera lens, as it will provide a much steadier image.  A heavy duty tripod is needed for large heavy telescopes or the structure will be come top heavy and the chances of the telescope/tripod being blown or knock over increases.

  3. How heavy will the combination of a telescope and tripod be ?

    When birding for a full day and walking several miles the weight of the equipment you carry becomes an important consideration. Many birders carry their telescope and tripod separately as this spreads the weight and if they are carried in a haversack will free the hands to use binoculars more effectively. A birder should have his telescope & tripod assembled and ready for action at all times when birding in the appropriate habitat, I would suggest that the only birding done without the assembled telescope & tripod would be in woodland where the birding as mostly at close quarters.  The difference between the birder who has hi telescope ready for use and the birder who has not is often one of them sees the bird and the other does not.

     Therefore if you feel you may struggle with a heavy assembled telescope & tripod purchase light to medium weight equipment that you will be ready to use quickly and effectively. Many of the manufactures now  provide light versions of the heavier scopes which have excellent optical quality.

  4. What type of  mechanism for tightening do the extending legs have ?

     if a build up of sand occurs between the clip and the leg, if you try to force them closed.  Some mechanisms catch the loose skin on the hand when closing them and can be very painful.

  5. How manoeuvrable is the head of the tripod ?

    The head is an  important feature of the tripod as it will determine how easy the telescope is to use when following moving birds such as a Sanderling running along the beach or a Hobby chasing hirundines on an autumn evening. The head should move easterly and have tightening screws to adjust the speed and ease at which the head moves. Some head have a guide which when twisted tightens the head in to position, leaving the other hand free to change focus. Take in to consideration whether you are right or left handed  and which eye you prefer to view through when testing a telescope & tripod.

  6. Do you need a hide clamp ?

    Many tripods a now fitted with a hide clamp which separates from the tripod and is very useful when using hides for  long periods as it makes viewing far more comfortable. The clamp does add more weight to the tripod though is a worth while purchase if you spend a considerable amount of time birding in hides.

How to use and carry a telescope & tripod.

Any visit to a nature reserve will revel how not to carry your telescope & tripod, the awkward, unbalanced look of many birders as they struggle to cope with all their bird equipment highlights those that saunter past with the same equipment though hands both free and no weary despair apparent on their faces.

You telescope needs to be ready to use, comfortable for long periods and not a hindrance to you or your fellow birders.

The telescope & tripod should be assembled together, the cover on the telescope and the strap attached to one or the other and slung over one shoulder. Some birders attach the strap to the tripod and the telescope hangs down, this causes two problems, firstly, if the telescope comes away from the tripod as they may do,   it will hit the ground and damage will occur, secondly, all the weight of the head and the telescope is low and therefore weighs more because it is further away from the centre of the body.

The strap should be attached to the telescope cover and then the strap put on one of the shoulders,  this will keep the assembly close to the centre of the body therefore weighing less and if the telescope and tripod part you will still have the telescope on your shoulder and little damage, if any, will occur to the  tripod which probably cost 10 - 15% that of the telescope. This is also a very comfortable way of carrying the assembly and it is ready to use immediately. Some clothing will allow the strap to slip off the shoulder even with the  none slip texture of a wide strap. A little Velcro helps or a patch stuck or stitched on the shoulder will prevent slippage.  
Most birders will have their telescope ready for use in 20 - 30 seconds and you should practise putting the tripod up as this will ensure you have a good chance of seeing the bird. Before you begin the days birding ensure that the plate that attaches the telescope to the tripod  is secure and that the fit is a good one . After some time the plates can become lose and a thin piece of cardboard or cloth can help keep the telescope secure. Additional plate that prevent the telescope becoming lose during the day can be purchased at most optical retailers.