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Tripod Selection for Use with a Birding Spotting Scope

If you are going to use a spotting scope you will need a tripod. High quality tripods can be expensive so a little research is in order before making a purchasing decision.  Here are some things to consider.

Seize and weight
Larger, heavier tripods provide a more stable platform, important when studying distance shorebirds on a windy beach.  On the other hand, lugging a large, heavy tripod a half mile down the beach can be a problem.  You’ll want to factor in your own physical ability when making decisions relative to stability, size and weight.

Material of construction
Tripods are made from a variety of materials, including wood, steel, aluminum or carbon fiber.  Aluminum is sturdy and lightweight. Carbon fiber is commonly used in higher-end tripods.  It combines excellent stability and stiffness with very light weight.  It is also expensive.

Mounting head
Some tripods are sold without a mounting head.  Make sure your purchase includes the mounting head.  There are several head styles, including a three-way head, ball head and geared head.  The three-way head is the most commonly used by birders.
 
A mounting head with a quick release feature is a good choice.

Leg design
The legs on spotting scopes extend and contract to make it easy to set up the spotting scope at the desired height.  The locking mechanisms for the legs vary.  Some are quite good and some are a disaster.  Make sure the tripod you select has a design that makes it easy to extend and contract the legs, and that the legs are in a stable position when extended.

Window mounts
Spotting scopes can also be mounted on a car door window.  Cars make excellent blinds.  Birding from a car can be quite productive.
 

spotting scope window mount

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This Bushnell car window mount makes it easy to use a spotting scope from the car.
 It includes the mounting head.

 

window mount for spotting scopeThis Manfrotto car window pod sells for about $35.00 at the time of this article. It requires the addition of a Manfrotto fluid head.
Several head choices are available and are sold separately.
 
Making the choice
Expect to pay a minimum of $100 for a usable tripod with mounting head.  A better unit (with a quick release, fluid head), will be in the range of $400 to $500 or more.
 
birding tripod

The Swarovski’s Carbon CT 101 features and ultra-light weight design, integrated mounting head and quick release leg clamps.

Birding Quick Hits

Take down hummingbird feeders about 2 weeks after the last observation. Leaving your feeder up too long will not prevent healthy birds from migrating.  More hummingbirds are over-wintering in the U.S.  If you live in Gulf Coast states condor leaving your feeder up all year.