Paddlebirding

And no I didn’t misspell the subject.

Just curious if there are many folks here who use their canoe or kayak a great deal of the time for birdwatching. I know that probably most of you appreciate nature a great deal while out paddling. And of course a lot of photography is done.

But I was wondering if there are many serious bird watchers who do a lot of it from their boats, folks who get their canoe or kayak loaded specifically to go bird watching.

For those that do, what, if anything, do you do to make the activity easier or more efficient? I am thinking in terms of holding steady for viewing through binoculars or for use of the camera for pictures as clear as possible. I know that most cameras these days have image stabilization. But that doesn’t help with composition.

What about note taking or a quick reminder sketch? It seems that some of this might be better accomplished by landing the boat for steadiness but that isn’t always possible.

Any paddlebirders out there?

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While I don’t take my kayak to go birding, I do focus on birding while kayaking, if that makes sense. I am a birder, just not as intense as some.

I find a kayak that is stable and responsive is very helpful. Prior I had a WS Zephyr, a nice kayak, but you had to be “on your game” as far as stability, especially when still. I now have a P&H Cetus, far superior in almost every way, and the ability to sit still and move around in the cockpit focusing on photography and birding is phenomenal.

I find that having a camera with a long Lense, the one I use for birding is the Panasonic FZ300, is sometimes easier to use than binoculars, but good waterproof bins are very useable from the cockpit.

And, I find the “glove box”, small day hatch just in front of the cockpit, a great feature. I keep a notebook in there, "Rite In The Rain waterproof paper, with a pencil. Some small bins will fit in there too, but I prefer to keep cameras and bins around my neck for immediate access. When conditions make me want to stow the camera, I can easily turn and stow it in the day hatch behind the cockpit.

In sum, the things I have done to make this work well was primarily to purchase a kayak that would work well, smile.

A sea kayak can be used for birding photography, but there is a learning curve. A good friend of mine was in a sea kayak that he had been out in only a few times after switching from a rec kayak. He was attempting to photograph a low flying flock of geese that flew over him. He capsized trashing a $1,500 camera and lens.

I photograph wildlife from a sea kayak, but not in a serious way using a Canon D10 waterproof point and shoot. It’s good enough for me, although a real camera would be a lot better. But I’m not going out in a sea kayak with an expensive DSLR.

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My better half and I have a section of a local river that we take a good camera on. That gives us much better views of the wading birds and such than trying to wait for them to come to us. We make a calendar every year as stocking stuffers from those pictures.

We also hike the beaches some, for shorebird views, but don’t have boats that would be good for takes pictures in the salt.

One of the perks of living in Florida is that we are on a bunch of migratory paths, and a migratory destination for many.

Yes, dealing with stability of viewing is a major concern of mine. I would be in a solo canoe on mostly quiet water but at my age I’m not the steadiest. But I do have some nice places near by with birding potential.

The camera and/or binocular issue is something to consider as well. What I have is not water proof or even water resistant. I may consider investing in something. I like that Panasonic mentioned earlier but they only classify that as splash proof.

Yes, I wish it were waterproof. That said, it gets splashed a lot as I wear it around my neck a lot of the time. And as I am in brackish water, I rinse it off when I get home, under the faucet. So far so good, though I have had it get fogged, and so have taken to leaving it on a heating pad for a bit after rinsing.

If memory serves, another member, perhaps Castoff, had his camera go under and stop working, until he got home and thoroughly dried it off, and then it was back to normal. So, not as good as submersible, but seems pretty good for kayaking if you typically stay upright, and can stow it when conditions get iffy.

Depends on where… along shore on a slow river you have a lot of options for an extremely stable boat etc.

But there are also the pelagic birds on the ocean - ones that simply don’t exist much closer than a half a mile out. They are where it will take a proper sea kayak. Petrels, shear waters, gannets when they migrate. Puffins and guillemots that may hang close to a shoreline but that shoreline will be on an offshore island. Scoters tend to do the same. Also some other birds when they migrate like the brown and white ones that are cuter than the devil but I can never remember what they are.

This bunch makes life a bit more challenging if you want a fixed steady shot platform. I am not sure that a good kayak solution exists for these.

I try to ID birds any time I see or hear one. Wherever I am. I use some apps on my smartphone to help me out. One is Merlin Bird ID which is especially good for identifying birds by ear. It has a “Shazam” for bird sounds feature. The other is called iBird Ultimate. So far I haven’t dropped my phone in the water.

The bird that stumped me for a long time was the Spotted Sandpiper. Took me a couple of years to finally ID it. It feels good to finally figure it out.

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Thanks for the replies everyone. I expect to restrict my paddlebirding to a solo canoe on quiet inland waters. A sea kayak is not a likely acquisition for shore birds and as suggested by Celia probably not a steady platform for photography.

I checked out the other thread on cameras and there are a few good choices in a rugged waterproof camera. The only problem is they have a limited zoom capability. I really like the reach on that Panasonic FZ 300. From Greg’s description it seems to be pretty splash proof just not really submersible. I don’t need the underwater capability. I just worry about a dunking. I want to stay under $500 and preferably $400 so something like that FZ 300 would be good. Maybe I will try and make that work. If someone knows of something like it with a similar zoom capability I’d like to hear about it.

Whatever develops I plan to try and use my canoe quite a bit for birding trips.

Paddlebirding the estuary, islands, and mangroves of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon is a very rewarding, and favorite activity. Paddling a pack canoe (12’x28”) when very calm, warm days on the creeks and prongs of the St. Sebastian River (or near shore) beckon. Or a recreational kayak (14’x26”max, Swede form hull) when wind is forecasted or when covering more distance is desired.

A properly fitted recreational kayak (with sealed bulkheads fore and aft, secured hatches, and generous cockpit area (for keeping needed birding gadgetry protected, secured (lashed), safe, dry and within reach) is worth looking into.

After a few months now, learning to paddle a sea kayak (16’x22”, cockpit 29”x16”) in the same places, I quickly realized how much of the time and attention normally given to birding (paddling or loitering) in a canoe or rec. kayak, needs to be re-directed towards managing a sea kayak’s wonderful, however less forgiving hull form. Also, cockpit ‘clutter’ in my sea kayak is very inconvenient - and poses added risk, especially to paddler, and of course any exposed (expensive) equipment.

I am a big bird nerd, I don’t do much Photogarphy just identifying. I pretty much take the same kit as when I am on land, small mono, field guides,…etc you know the drill.

When I am in my canoe I live it up pack a cooler, my spotting scope, and rhino blind.

Now you got me thinking about spring migration in March ….more :slightly_smiling_face:

Funny, I asked for waterproof binocs for Christmas so I can improve my birdwatching. Officially a bird nerd, I guess.

I can’t say that I have progressed to serious bird nerd yet. But I thought I would try to get more serious about it this year. The type of quiet water canoeing I do lends itself nicely to nature observation. It just seemed like trying to do more serious birding while I am out would give a pleasant purpose to my paddling. I have a decent pair of binocs and a camera. But neither are waterproof.

It seems that if I stay in shallow water near shore I can minimize the risk to those things. Maybe a good waterproof container would be an inexpensive way to go.

Most of the people that I know that use DSLRs and other non-waterproof cameras bring along a Pelican or other waterproof box and take the camera out when they are ready to use it. This makes sense since for many canoeist and kayakers, the most common time for a capsize is launching and landing, no matter how experienced they are. This also gives you option if conditions go downhill or if it begins to rain. You can often resurrect a piece of electronics that is flooded with fresh water, but salt water is often a death nell as salt water is highly conductive and can fry electronics. There are numerous sites online that deal with trying to save flooded electronics. Complex mechanical/electronic devices like cameras and lenses are more problematic and professional repairs are often more expensive than they are worth.

I strongly recommend tethering things like GPSs, cameras, radios, knives, phones, etc. Two means of attachment for some things is even better. There is all sorts of expensive gear on the bottom. A camera can be especially heartbreaking as you can lose many memories. If possible, I try to offload camera pictures and GPS tracks daily.

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When my wife and I go out, she brings simple birdwatching things like binoculars, camera, cell phone to record bird calls. Once in a while birdwatching is our primary goal. But I’m sure we wouldn’t be taken seriously by serious birdwatchers. That said, well-executed paddle strokes in a tandem kayak or canoe rarely feel so peacefully elegant as when you’re silently maneuvering and holding position for the perfect view in nature. I believe herky jerky movements by anything out in nature catch the attention of every other living thing at a level way beyond what preoccupied humans realize or experience themselves. It helps to approach things as a naturally flowing and silent progression, as if you’re not focused on the thing that you wish to focus on. So my suggestion is to work on perfecting silent compound strokes, so that you’re moving and maneuvering with minimal splashes and herky jerky movements. Silently and pleasantly flowing, holding position, maneuvering to change angles. A nice thing for my wife and I is she gets more out of seeing the birds, and I get more out of positioning her to see the birds, as elegantly as this clumsy ol’ bugger can manage anyway. Blade angle control and developing an understanding of your leverage against the boat while your paddle is in the water are the keys. During a static stroke, your blade is moving through the water because your paddlecraft is moving through the water. As your paddlecraft loses speed, you can maintain your blade’s solid purchase against the water by introducing sculling motion. No jerky movements. No trip-ups. No splashes. Elegant, powerful control. It’s all a beautiful dance. You’ll have the birds coming out to watch you.

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Love the FZ300. It is fantastic for IDing birds, which is why I have it. I’m a newbie birder so I need all the help I can get. But the small sensor does make for blotchy pictures.

I paddle with a greenland paddle so my skirt is soaked all day long, as in the camera, so dry box for launching and getting out just wouldn’t help me. (And yes, the only time I’ve dunked was getting out, twice now!)

All these were taken with the FZ300 from the boat, a Cetus MV.





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Love all of these, but especially the first. Immature Bald? Total bad ass look.

The Loon looking at you is very cute too!

CapeFear,

I love the description of how you and your wife enjoy your time on the water together. And I fully appreciate how you approach the paddling. My problem is that I will be solo most of the time so I have to handle both the paddle and the binoculars/camera.

NotthePainter,

What is the extent of the blotchiness in the images? The pictures you posted look pretty good to these old eyes? Is it a loss of resolution as you zoom?

I paddle bird a lot in Florida. I use a Canon SX70HS which is a non waterproof bridge camera but if it gets soaked its not a huge financial loss. This pic though is from the lake I live on IMG_2859_60_61_fused|690x484
.

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Kingfishers are common on the Chesapeake Bay, but I would like to know who taught them to precisely gauge how close they can let you get with a point and shoot waterproof camera before they fly another 100’ to keep you from getting a useful picture.