drones for birders

To: 'Tony Russell' <>, "" <>
Subject: drones for birders
From: Paul Dodd <>
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2016 12:31:50 +0000
Whilst Tones is probably just having a bit of joke with his posting, I'll
treat it as a serious discussion point for the moment, because I am certain
other birders have considered the use of a drone for precisely the purpose
Tony suggests. In addressing this, I speak from experience as I do, in fact,
own a drone.

Drones are interesting, but I would strongly suggest that they are NOT
suitable for traditional birdwatching and there are quite a few reasons for
this. In no particular order, the first reason is that they have very
limited flight time, measured in minutes, so you wouldn't really have much
time to find the bird(s) that you were looking for. This limited flight time
has the consequence that you absolutely cannot use a drone for pelagic
birdwatching as you would have nowhere near the flight time to get out to
the continental shelf!

Secondly, a drone is a line-of-sight radio-controlled aeroplane. Try flying
a drone behind a large obstacle and you lose radio contact. The more
sophisticated drones (those that have in-built GPS) will detect the loss of
signal and immediately switch to a fly home mode. Similarly, if trying to
use a drone for long-distance work, such as pelagic birding, assuming that
you had plenty of flight time, the drone would soon run out of radio range
and would automatically fly back home! If it didn't, the drone would be lost
for good and you'd never be able to recover the footage! The drone I have is
radio-controlled of course, but also sends live camera view to my iPhone -
and the live view has a much shorter range than the radio controller - I
estimate that I can control the drone up to a kilometre or so distance,
whereas the live view cuts out after just a few hundred metres. Since the
live view is often used to navigate the drone, this can be problematic.

Thirdly, most drones are either equipped with a wide-angle camera or are
designed to accept an action cam like a GoPro. These cameras are designed
for sweeping cinematic shots or shots that combine action within a landscape
of sorts. I'm sure we've all seen drone footage of mountain bikers doing
heart-stopping things for example. Most bird photography, no matter what the
platform, requires a telephoto lens. Telephoto lenses are heavy and few if
any drones on the market could carry one. Drones that offer "live view" to
an iPhone or iPad from the camera are only ever fitted with wide-angle
lenses, and those that don't have live view would be impossible to point to
the birds.

Fourthly, drones are notoriously hard to fly and manoeuvre accurately. At
the very least, they require a lot of practice. So whilst a quadcopter drone
with a gimbal camera mount is a very stable photographic platform, it is
remarkably difficult to get the craft in the correct location, pointing in
the right direction and close enough to the subject.

Lastly and definitely not least, drones are noisy and disruptive to
wildlife. A drone that is very high or distant is not that disruptive, but
with a standard wide-angle camera attached, distant means that you cannot
get the detail that you would traditionally be looking for as a bird
watcher. As the drone comes closer to the animals, they will attempt to get
away from it - I suspect mostly because drones are entirely unknown to most
birds and animals, and their natural response is to move away from the
unknown. In my experience, most shots of wildlife from drones are the sorts
of footage we've probably all seen - large herds or flocks seen from above
or from a distance, rather than close-ups.

Paul Dodd
Docklands, Victoria

-----Original Message-----
From: Birding-Aus  On Behalf Of
Tony Russell
Sent: Thursday, 23 June 2016 10:09 AM
Subject: drones for birders

I've never been much good at photography, much too fiddly. However, I've
just been looking at drones as a way of obviating the need for scrambling
over rough ground , slugging away through heavy sand or mangroves, or even
going to sea on a pelagic trip. I'm getting too old for all that stuff. But
with a drone one could go out to sea, go up cliff faces, get into or over
all sorts of excellent places where birds go and get video pictures of them,
almost without disturbing the birds at all. And when the batteries start
running out the drones come home automatically. Just imagine, no more
lugging tripods, telescopes, cameras, or any other heavy clutter into
inaccessible places or getting sick on boats. Sounds like twitcher heaven to


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