Seeing in the Dark: Tools Nature Researchers Use for Nocturnal Observations


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

People have taken to various activities to experience the joy of being outdoors – hiking or trekking, bird watching, wildlife safari, etc. One would wonder, can we experience this buffet of sensory inputs even at night, when most of the world is sleeping? A simple answer to this question is, yes.

There are innumerable creatures that are active at night and are seldom seen during the daytime. For those living in cities, one would notice the occasional break in the silence of the night by screeches of Barn Owl, Moths fluttering around the bulbs, Bats flying around Singapore Cherry trees or the sparkle of the glow worm.

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

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

Personally, I venture out at night looking for reptiles, insects etc. To enable one to see in the dark, having a good flashlight is a must. Flashlights with more than 1000 lumens should provide sufficient range and brightness for viewing at night. Other aspects that need to be taken care of are – size, battery life and type of battery. A small and handy flashlight provides comfort for long usage and having sufficient battery life is critical as one would typically be outdoors with no place to charge. Fenix and Nitecore are the best-selling brands in the market, both offering multiple models each varying to a certain degree in the above-mentioned 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 UV light feature, which is very helpful if one is interested to see Scorpions at night – as they glow under UV light (as shown above).

koral viper krishna murthy viper

A Bamboo Pit Viper clicked at Kolar
Photo Credit: Krishna Murthy

For those interested in keeping the hands free during the walk, Nitecore offers some of the best head torch models like HC60 and HC65, which you can buy online too.

For those interested in observing mammals at night, a pair of binoculars (with objective >40, which decides the amount of light the binoculars gather) along with a flashlight having a good range will be helpful. Personally, I use Carl Zeiss Terra 10×42, which is sleek and lightweight to carry around with the harness that comes along with it. One must also choose binocs that are water-resistant or waterproof, so that they can be carried even during rains. Other models in the same budget range include Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42).

Wait no more, prepare yourself to be surprised by what the darkness has to offer.

I am an engineer by profession and work for a semiconductor chip designing 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 the sightings to these websites. I also try to encourage others to do so.

I would like to thank Shankar for providing suggestions on various tools for nocturnal observations.

This series is an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), under their programme ‘Nature Communications’ to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. To know more about birds and nature, join The Flock.

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