I know that quite a few of us now own thermal imagers and use them regularly while mammal watching. However, I think it’s fair to say that they are not always the easiest devices to use, and it takes some practice to get the most out of them. For instance, the Pulsar models that many of us have can be quite grainy and the screen is viewed through an eyepiece that tends to blow out your night vision in that eye for 60 seconds or so after use. It also cannot be used through glass (i.e. a car windscreen or window), and grass or leaves often easily obscure animals. I suspect that many of us have got better at using our imagers over time and have learned tips and tricks to make them more effective for finding mammals. I thought it might be useful to share some of those tips here, so we can all benefit from the shared knowledge. I have the Pulsar XQ30V model which I believe a number of others here are also using. Some of you might have one of the much more expensive all-in-one models that have an external screen and better graphics, and if so it would be interesting to hear how well those are working for you. Assuming we get some useful responses, we can post the thread under the resources menu so that people can easily find and refer to it.
Personally I have found that it’s really useful to use an external monitor for my device. Paul Carter recommended a couple of monitor models to me and I plumbed for the KKmoon 3.5″ TFT Color LED Portable Test Monitor CCTV Camera Security Tester, which is available cheaply on Amazon. It’s not perfect, as it’s fairly cheaply constructed and the connection can be easily dislodged while walking, but viewing the screen this way is much easier on the eyes, plus it allows the screen view to be shared with more than one person. If you are using a monitor, it is the yellow plug that you insert into your thermal imager. There is a 4.5” version from the same company that might be a bit more robust. I usually put my imager onto the red heat setting, as I find the animals stand out more on the screen.
I have tended to use the imager most effectively under the following circumstances:
a) When sitting waiting for animals to come that might be spooked by light. This worked really well for instance at night at the hide at Dzangha Bai, in C.A.R. The elephants would have really freaked out if we had used torch light, but the imager allowed us to see what was coming and going. With no vegetation to impede our view, we could easily see several hundred meters across the Bai. On that occasion I hand-held the device and scanned regularly, although putting it on a small tripod would also have worked well.
b) When standing in the back or out of the moon roof of a slow-driving vehicle at night. I have mostly used it this way when moving through areas where spotlighting is not allowed, such as in National Parks, or around residential areas where people wouldn’t appreciate being lit up by torchlight. I hand hold the imager and scan it slowly from left to right as I would a spotlight, while driving at 10-20 mph. It’s easier if there is someone else to hold and view the monitor, but it’s perfectly feasible to do it by yourself. Obviously you need someone to drive as well. Scanning while driving yourself is possible, but you have to be moving pretty slowly, and preferably be on a road with little or no other traffic. You also only see one side of the road. Once I’ve seen something interesting, I will usually light it up briefly with a torch to get a better view of the animal, and look at it through my binoculars.
I have had some luck using the imager on foot but not as much as with the other techniques. I typically walk a bit, stop, scan and then walk on. However, I normally don’t use the monitor when I’m on foot, as it’s one more thing to carry, and I find that the loss of vision in the viewing eye can make it tricky when I’m walking along narrow paths. Even without the monitor, you still have to juggle your imager, torch and binoculars. I usually have my binoculars around my neck with the imager and torch in each hand.
I have found that you can generally get a pretty good outline of an animal through the view finder, which can often be enough to make an id (specially for the bigger species), but if you need to see colour then obviously you need to get some white light on it. Determining the size of an animal can also be tricky, as it’s often hard to gauge how far away from you it is.
How do you use your imager? I know some people use theirs during the day, and some attach it to the outside of their vehicle for night driving use, and it would be useful to hear the details. Venkat, I saw a recent post of yours saying that you found using your imager to be a much more reliable way of finding rodents than using a torch. Do you use it from a vehicle or on foot, and, if the latter, how do you avoid breaking your legs?