Photography tools

Seeing in the Dark: Tools Used by Nature Researchers for Nocturnal Observations

Many of us who love nature, wildlife, or just being outdoors have one thing in common: we all love the sensory experiences the outdoors provides. Like the sight of the flowing river, the touch of the cool breeze in the mountains, the smell of the forest, the calls/songs of the birds just to name a few. These are rarely experienced within the confines of our homes, especially for the city dweller, who is mostly locked away from nature while hooked up to laptop, cell phone and headphones.

People have embarked on various activities to experience the joy of being outdoors – hiking or trekking, bird watching, wildlife safari, etc. A simple answer to this question is, yes.

There are countless creatures that are active at night and are rarely seen during the day. For those living in cities, one would notice the occasional break in the silence of the night with the cries of Barn Owls, moths fluttering around bulbs, bats flying around Singapore cherry trees or the glow of the glow-worm.

For the more adventurous and nature-loving among us, venturing out into the dark in search of our planet’s nocturnal inhabitants (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, frogs to name a few) is almost like awaken our sixth sense. There is always a degree of surprise, a hint of uncertainty about what the reward of being out at night would be.

To make the experience of exploring nature at night more productive, you need to be well equipped.

Personally, I venture out at night looking for reptiles, insects, etc. To be able to see in the dark, it is essential to have a good flashlight. Flashlights over 1000 lumens should provide sufficient range and brightness for nighttime viewing. Other aspects that need to be considered are size, battery life, and battery type. A small and handy flashlight provides comfort for extended use and having enough battery life is essential as one would usually be outdoors with no place to recharge. Fenix ​​and Nitecore are the top selling brands on the market, both offering multiple models, each varying to some extent in the aforementioned features. The following models offer a good mix of these features: Nitecore (MH12V2, MH25GT, MH25S, MH12S) and Fenix ​​(UC35V2).

Some of these flashlights also come with a UV light feature, which is very useful if you want to see scorpions at night – as they glow under UV light (as shown above).

A bamboo viper clicked Kolar
Photo credit: Krishna Murthy

For those who want to keep their hands free while walking, Nitecore offers some of the best headlamp models like HC60 and HC65, which you can also buy online.

For those wishing to observe mammals at night, a pair of binoculars (with a >40 lens, which determines the amount of light the binoculars collect) as well as a flashlight with good range will be useful. Personally, I use Carl Zeiss Terra 10×42, which is sleek and light to carry with the harness that comes with it. It is also necessary to choose water-resistant or waterproof binoculars, so that they can be carried even in the event of rain. Other models in the same budget range include Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42).

Wait no more, prepare to be amazed at what the dark has to offer.

I’m an engineer by profession and I work for a semiconductor chip design company. Outside of work, I try to find time to observe the natural history around us. With the advent of online platforms like eBird and iNaturalist, which are citizen science projects, I document my observations by uploading observations to these websites. I also try to encourage others to do so.

I would like to thank Shankar for his suggestions on various night observation tools.

This series is an initiative of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), as part of its “Nature Communications” program to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. For more about birds and nature, join The Flock.