Aleksandar Topalov started birdwatching when he was 10, after a face to face encounter with a penguin. Since then he has travelled around the globe, his passion for birds growing with each new encounter. In this blog, Aleksandar shares his digiscoping techniques and top tips for creating bird videos using the Leica Televid 82.
I remember vividly the day when my interest in birding arose. I was ten years old and curious about everything around me. My family had moved to New Zealand two years before. My dad took my brother and me on a fishing trip to Castlepoint, a small picturesque beachside town on North Island’s eastern coast. It was midday when we noticed three black shapes swimming in the water below the cliff. One of them jumped ashore and walked towards us. As it waddled closer we realised that it was a penguin. It approached us without fear, placed itself between us and whenever one of us got up it would call out as if in objection. It was a truly one in a life time experience! From that moment on I started to take notice of the birds close to my home, and in all the nearby gardens and parks. Of course, at that time, I was not aware of how peculiar and singular the appearance, habits and behaviour of island birds was compared to our continental species.
A couple years later we moved back to Europe, to Serbia, my home country. I immediately noticed the difference. The birds were more wary, more alert. That was intriguing and quickly became my primary focus. When I was old enough I began to plan my trips and travel alone. From that moment up until now I have journeyed the globe visiting continents and islands, from the windswept steppes of southern Patagonia to the lush tropical rainforest of the Seychelles archipelago. Besides purely enjoying birding I accumulated knowledge in bird behaviour and distribution by just observing them in their natural habitat. At one point I realised that if I was to observe birds from a distance, in order to truly watch their natural behaviour, I needed a spotting scope. I always kept a distance from scopes because I thought them to be quite cumbersome and a hindrance, especially because I like travelling light. Nevertheless, I took the leap and acquired the Leica APO Televid 82 which has been my trusty companion ever since. The deciding factor was contrast, it was truly amazing. The natural next step for me was digiscoping. Recording videos was the cherry on the cake. It opened up a new world in birding, and especially in monitoring behaviour. I was now able play back the videos I shot and see certain details in different species, which are sometimes near impossible to notice by just observing – and all this from the comfort of my home.
The key word when filming birds is ‘patience’. There is no rushing it. You just have to wait and then wait some more. Of course familiarising yourself with the target species makes things a little easier. You should learn where they live, what their diet is and various other traits which define a single species. Before I set off on a journey I always make certain preparations. I consult a bird guide for the destination country, research the species that live there, their behaviour and where and when to find them. Then comes the packing of necessary equipment. First of all I never leave the house without my 10×42 Noctivids, something I can always rely on. As for bird guides I prefer the Helm field guides accompanied by the Merlin ID app (or Collins when I am birding in Europe). Then comes the Leica Televid 82 along with the Scopac tripod carrier and various digiscoping accessories. I film mainly with a phone. And last but not least, I often consult local birdwatchers about target species that I specifically want to see and possibly film.
Some time ago I started my youtube channel with videos of birds from my home country and recent travels abroad. Also many of my videos are featured in a bird ID app that the ‘Society for the protection and study of birds of Serbia’ has created. It’s still a work in progress but I intend to fill the database with videos of every species that can be encountered in Serbia.
Here are a couple of bird videos: